The Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) has launched a campaign to encourage the provincial government to support local contractors when it comes to awarding publicly funded projects.
The group wants members to write to their MLAs and send the message that Saskatchewan contractors should be chosen over out-of-province contractors from Manitoba and Alberta whenever possible for infrastructure work that is publicly tendered and designed to stimulate the economy.
The purpose of the campaign is to maximize the potential stimulus to the people and economy of Saskatchewan, and ensure the province’s contractors there are not excluded in bids, explains SCA president Mark Cooper.
“What we’re saying to the Government of Saskatchewan is, ‘Let’s make sure that we have a level playing field between provinces,’ and ‘Saskatchewan doesn’t need to be the Boy Scout of the West.’”
The association maintains provisions in some bids make it difficult for Saskatchewan contractors to compete for work as 95 per cent have fewer than 20 employees. For example, if a tender document stipulates that to get work the contractor must have built several schools or recreational facilities in the last five years, local companies may not be able to compete.
However, if the tender was reworded to say the contractor just needs experience building schools or recreational facilities the Saskatchewan-based contractor might then be able to compete.
“We’re asking the buyers of services to be more judicious in framing their competitions in ways that don’t exclude Saskatchewan businesses,” says Cooper. “Through that approach and having those conversations earlier in the process, we’re making sure that our contractors are able to compete. That’s ultimately all we’re asking for.”
The templated letter to the MLAs urges the government to continue supporting local contractors when investing in infrastructure, especially when it’s designed to stimulate the economy. The letters also go to Premier Scott Moe, SaskBuilds and Procurement Minister Jim Reiter.
“The effect of this pandemic on the social and economic well-being of Saskatchewan will be felt for years,” the letter states. “It is more important now than ever before to continue to invest strategically in infrastructure, to position Saskatchewan for quicker recovery and a stronger future.”
According to the letter, the investment required to stimulate the economy over the next few years must be tendered to allow for quick turnover and maximize Saskatchewan contractor involvement, as the money spent on infrastructure ends up being spread throughout the province.
Cooper notes out-of-province contractors bring in labour from outside Saskatchewan which is detrimental to the labour force, and taxpayer money leaves the province through wages.
He says Manitoba doesn’t fund its infrastructure properly and the private-sector economy is collapsing in Alberta, so the reality is that Saskatchewan ends up propping up contractors from those provinces.
“They are absolutely welcome to bid, but the process needs to be open and it needs to allow them to compete for that work in a way that is fair and reasonable,” says Cooper.
While government must abide by the rules and allow out-of-province contractors to bid on work if that is the law, the benefits to the local economy also need to be considered in selecting a bid, he says.
The SCA wants government to work with the Saskatchewan contractor community prior to a competition to make sure contractors are aware work is coming up and see if there are ways the project can be bundled differently to make sure local contractors can compete.
“We’re asking governments to think differently and act differently than they have historically…and be more proactive in the development of that contractor base.”
The SCA letter states research by economists show that when $1 is invested in local infrastructure there is an economic return greater than the investment – and is even greater when the investment is made through local companies.
“The best way for our governments to turn $1 into nearly $3 is to spend infrastructure money with local companies,” the letter reads. “New jobs, tax revenue, citizens, homes, businesses…these are all the things, and more, that we get when governments support local.”
According to a statement posted on the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association (MHCA) website, the Saskatchewan government has signalled it will be removing clauses in its construction tenders and contract documents that give companies residing in that province an unfair advantage in the bidding process.
The association received word from the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association that confirmed the government’s intent to pull back on the barriers.
Clauses award points to companies that employ Saskatchewan workers in the tender-award process. However, the barriers offend the New West Partnership Trade Agreement and the Canada Internal Free Trade Agreement.
The MHCA was part of a broad, multi-association working group from across the west, with the Canadian Construction Association, which worked to pressure the Saskatchewan government to remove the trade barriers from tender documents.
However, Cooper maintains the Saskatchewan government is still onside with the SCA cause and, while it is committed to following the rules of trade agreements, wants to back local contractors.
“We’re trying to come up with new ways to be able to do that, but it’s something that absolutely is happening in partnership with government.”