Councillors not backing down on decision to relax tender rules

Saint John councillors are resolute in their decision to get rid of a bidding practice recommended by the Competition Bureau to make sure city construction contracts stayed aboveboard.

May 15 vote erases 'recommended practice' to control bid rigging

Construction companies in Saint John will now know who else is going to bid on city jobs. (CBC)

Saint John councillors have no plans to reverse their decision on the way the city handles construction tenders.

In May, a majority of councillors voted to toss out a contract-tendering policy created in 2003 with direct help from Canada's Competition Bureau to reduce the possibility of bid rigging.

Unless you've got reason to distrust somebody, then you give them the benefit of the doubt.- John MacKenzie, city councillor

Under that policy, potential competitors could not learn which other companies picked up the tender documents necessary to bid on a city contract.

In future, the names of potential bidders will be publicly available.

The change was made against the advice of city managers who fear it will lead to less competition and higher prices for the municipality.

On Monday, CBC News reported the policy of keeping the "plan takers list" confidential is recommended practice, according to the City or Toronto's auditor general, Beverly Romeo-Beehler.

Ignoring Competition Bureau 

It was also a key recommendation of the Charbonneau Commission after a five-year investigation into corruption and bid rigging in Quebec's construction industry.

And the practice is recommended by Canada's Competition Bureau.

Coun. John MacKenzie was not swayed by practices elsewhere or by concerns about higher prices.

MacKenzie, who voted to relax the rules in Saint John, said the city doesn't have the kind of problems found with contractors in Quebec and Toronto.

"Unless you've got reason to distrust somebody, then you give them the benefit of the doubt," said MacKenzie. "If they break that trust, then you've got reason to say, 'you know, we're going to change the way we do business.'

3 councillors stick by policy

Saint John Mayor Don Darling opposed the decision to relax rules about city tenders. (CBC)
"They could work together, knowing who is interested in what project and actually save us money, you know, by getting the best bids in."

Coun. Gerry Lowe also supported reverting to the old rules.

"We made the decision and I'm sure we'll stick with it," he said. "We passed it, and we'll see what happens. And if there's any problems then, I'm sure this council will vote the other way."

Council approved the change by a 6-3 vote at the request of the Saint John branch of the New Brunswick Construction Association.

Councillors Gary Sullivan and David Merrithew voted nay, along with Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary.

Mayor favours confidentiality

Mayor Don Darling opposed the change but can only vote in the event of a tie.

"No one's had any discussion with me about revisiting the issue," said Darling. "But I think concerns that staff communicated to us during the lead-up to that decision likely have not changed."

Sullivan said he'll accept the majority decision.

"The official policy of the City of Saint John now is to release the plan takers list," said Sullivan.

"I don't see an advantage to the City of Saint John for releasing [it]. I just see risk of potentially inflated prices."