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Quebec mandates qualifications-based selection procedures for provincial agencies

Patricia Williams

In a groundbreaking move, Quebec has introduced a regulation that will require provincial agencies to use qualifications-based selection (QBS) to retain consulting engineers and architects. The regulation governs procurement of architectural and engineering services by a raft of provincial agencies, all the way from those responsible for overseeing construction and renovation of healthcare facilities to transportation and infrastructure projects.

In a groundbreaking move, Quebec has introduced a regulation that will require provincial agencies to use qualifications-based selection (QBS) to retain consulting engineers and architects.

Part of a drive to harmonize departmental procurement rules, the regulation reflects the best practices recommended by the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure, according to industry experts.

That document promotes the principles of QBS, rather than price-based selection as the best method of selecting engineers and other consultants.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time QBS has been mandated by law by a provincial government,” said John Gamble, president of Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO) and chair of the procurement task force of the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies (ACEC).

“The government of Quebec seems to truly understand how to achieve value and sustainability,” he said of the requirement which takes effect Oct. 1.

“They have shown that they understand the importance of properly investing in engineering (and architectural) services.”

Introduction of the regulation comes in the wake of decades of lobbying by associations representing design professionals in the province, primarily the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec and the Association of Architects in Private Practice of Quebec.

The regulation governs procurement of architectural and engineering services by a raft of provincial agencies, all the way from those responsible for overseeing construction and renovation of healthcare facilities to transportation and infrastructure projects.

“This is a real victory,” said Montreal architect Alain Fournier, president of the architects’ advocacy organization. “We’ll be targeting municipalities next, which are governed by a different law.”

In the engineering sphere, selection of consultants on the basis of qualifications has long been advocated by associations at both the national and provincial levels.

Under this approach, firms competing for an assignment initially are evaluated and ranked on the basis of such criteria as relevant technical competence, experience on similar projects and proven performance.

The scope, schedule and an appropriate fee then are negotiated with the top-ranked firm. If the owner and the firm cannot reach an agreement, the owner is free to negotiate with the next ranked firm.

Johanne Desrochers, president and CEO of the Quebec consulting engineers’ association, said her organization’s lobbying efforts were aided by the fact QBS already was being utilized in some circles, namely at the transportation ministry.

“That enabled the Treasury Board to compare results,” said Desrochers, whose association represents close to 60 companies with 17,000 employees.

The breakthrough in Quebec was applauded by engineering industry officials outside the province.

“We’re hoping other jurisdictions will follow Quebec’s lead,” said ACEC president Jeff Morrison, who intends to promote QBS in a meeting with federal public works minister Christian Paradis.

CEO’s Gamble said the legislation “raises the bar and sends a message to other governments that the best way to achieve long-term value to taxpayers and realize savings over the life-cycle of a project is to invest in quality, upfront design.

“The Quebec government has sent a message that it is not going to do things on the cheap; it is going to do things right.”

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