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What does the federal government want from contractors?

Russell Hixson
What does the federal government want from contractors?
GOVERNMENT OF CANADA — A diagram shows the bones of Parliament Hill as part of research into earthquake resilience. Federal officials in charge of government procurement explained how federal procurement ticks at this year’s Canadian Construction Association Conference.

The federal government doesn’t just want a contractor for hire. They want a private sector partner willing to innovate, share risk and improve society.

These were some of the points made by procurement officials who shared their advice on federal government construction contracts during the Canadian Construction Association’s Virtually Unstoppable conference.

Stéphan Déry, the assistant deputy minister of Procurement Canada’s Real Property Services Branch, is in charge of billions of dollars worth of projects for 102 federal departments and agencies. He explained new targets for things like Indigenous participation in contracts are putting social procurement front and centre.

He stated this shift will have a strategy similar to green procurement. It will include roundtable discussions with the industry, pilot projects to gather data and developing policy.

“Contractors are already doing amazing things to promote social procurement and community benefits,” said Déry. “We want to harness that innovation.”

Rather than penalizing bidders, Déry said Canada wants to partner with the private sector to achieve social procurement objectives. And this isn’t just for large contractors. Déry said 70 per cent of the work is for small to medium sized firms.

Déry said he and his colleagues are also working to improve one of the biggest barriers to some government work: security clearance.

“We want to make it simpler and make those clearances transportable,” said Déry. “CCA you have our ear and we are ready to work on this.”

Déry also noted that there are tens of thousands of clearances conducted for companies that don’t end up bidding or working on government contracts. He believes cutting down on these unnecessary clearances would free up time and resources to work on others. Déry said Procurement Canada is also beginning to transition to electronic bidding.

Attendees also heard from Mélinda Nycholat who is in charge of Defence Construction Canada’s (DCC) $1-billion procurement program. The crown corporation manages thousands of infrastructure and environment contracts on behalf of Canada’s Department of National Defence.

DCC’s work mostly deals with military base work and each military base has DCC staff onsite.

“When you work for DCC you will find that they are ethical, competent, they know construction, they know good performance but are fair and solution-oriented,” said Nycholat.

She explained 90 per cent of DCC work is for small or medium-sized companies and they do all their tendering electronically.

Nycholat said DCC is also working to increase Indigenous participation in contracts. One of the first steps has been educating staff who interact with bidders on contracts about Indigenous history and culture. DCC is also working to build a registry of all the Indigenous companies around military bases and what their capabilities are.

“We want to make sure we don’t set unreasonable conditions in our contracts,” she said.

DCC has also been doing in-person and digital presentations to Indigenous firms to get to know them, introduce them to DCC’s electronic bidding process and explain what opportunities there are.

“I think we will have to help Indigenous firms get into this market, but I think in time once they know us and other partners, this participation will happen naturally,” said Nycholat. “And once we have learned to do this, we will turn our minds to more types of social participation.”

Nycholat also advised that DCC’s smaller contracts are still very price-focused so work can be done quickly and transparently.

“For major capital projects, we take a different approach,” she said. “Price is not the only consideration and is weighed a lot less heavily than technical aspects. We are looking for firms who will collaborate with us, who are willing to share the risks with us and be innovative.”

 

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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