B.C. construction industry stakeholders have varying perspectives on the provincial government’s new procurement strategy.
The provincial ministry of citizens’ services announced the new strategy on June 25 which aims to modernize and streamline the current process.
The strategy lists four main goals: to realize the best value for British Columbians by using procurement strategically to improve social and environmental outcomes, make it easier to do business with the government, create opportunity for businesses of all sizes, and build greater procurement capacity in B.C.’s public service through training and support.
The strategy included input from more than 200 vendor representatives and industry groups representing technology, construction and economic sectors.
Reaction from the industry ranges from optimism to caution.
“I think it’s a good thing. Government, like every sector including our own, is reviewing how it does business in order to optimize use of people, leverage best practices and use technology in order to do more with less,” Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) president Fiona Famulak said.
“From a construction point of view, when looking at goals one through four in the strategy, we agree that procurement must be underpinned by fair, open transparent business practices,” Famulak added.
British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison voiced his support for the new strategy.
“We’ve needed changes for last decade at least. We’re pleased they’ve taken this on and feel confident they’re paying particular attention to the nuances and needs of procuring construction for province,” Atchison said.
Construction projects contain layers of detail that significantly eclipse the requirements of traditional tendering, and “a new platform will allow for the system to drill down into the special circumstances and levels of contracts that are required to be executed.”
Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner was more circumspect in his analysis.
“Anything the government can do to make business easier is good. But the devil in this announcement is in the details,” Gardner said.
Gardner pointed to mention of the use of community benefit agreements in the procurement strategy as “problematic for construction,” and said those agreements would favour union over non-union firms.
We are very encouraged by level of transparency and consultation to date
— Chris Atchison
British Columbia Construction Association
Though the procurement strategy makes no mention of preferential treatment for either union or open shop firms, B.C. premier John Horgan has said, in reference to the $1.37 billion Patullo Bridge project, that community benefit agreements and project labour agreements would be an integral part of the government’s approach to major projects going forward and spoke favorably about union participation in the process.
Famulak noted that conditions have changed in both the public and private sector, and said the new strategy is an indication the government is trying to adapt.
“We’re operating in a different world with different pressure points. In our case, we’re in a labour shortage and it’s going to become worse. We’re also seeing different construction methods of which zero emission is just one, and population pressures with a million people coming to the Lower Mainland over the next decades,” she said.
“As businesses we need to build faster, greener and more productively, and maybe that’s the way government is thinking,” she added.
“They are becoming more nimble and increasing market engagement with a view to delivering value to their constituents. We need to look internally at everything we do and be better, more productive, cost efficient and innovative,” Famulak said.
Famulak also praised the government’s stated goal of increased training.
“It’s good to see they are committed to Human Resources (HR) training for their professionals. They’re leading by example and there’s opportunity for both industry and government to benefit from what they’re doing,” she said.
Atchison said his association’s familiarity with procurement through its own BidCentral system meant he’s “seen what works well in a fair and transparent manner for general contractors, sub-contractors and everyone down the food chain.”
“We are very encouraged by level of transparency and consultation to date, and look forward to more discussions with the ministry,” Atchison said.