Edmonton

More work for local vendors: Wood Buffalo council votes for municipal contract procurement changes

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council has voted to make it easier for local vendors to bid on municipal work, in an effort to promote business.

'Many of our businesses don't have months or years to wait,' business leader says

An aerial view of downtown Fort McMurray on March 21st, 2018. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council voted Tuesday to make it easier for local vendors to bid on municipal work, in an effort to promote business. (David Thurton/CBC)

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council wants to make it easier for local vendors to bid on municipal work in an effort to promote local business. 

Councillors voted in favour of five different motions on the topic Tuesday, following a presentation from administration about social procurement — organizations using their buying power to create social change. 

The municipality is part of several trade agreements, including the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The agreements mean that the municipality cannot restrict competition, but can have required outcomes for all bidders. 

Rachel Orser, director of supply chain management, said the municipality's program goals are creating local jobs, diverse hiring and supply chain diversity.

In 2020, the municipality spent $148 million on local vendors, which represents 49 per cent of municipal spending. 

At council Tuesday, Orser brought forward three recommendations: that the municipality engage with organizations to develop a social procurement program; that it bring forward a policy no later than the first quarter in 2022; and that it and bring forward an Indigenous procurement policy in 2022.  

Michelle Toner, executive director of the Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association, told council she was disappointed with the recommendations because there wouldn't be any tangible changes for years.  

"Time and time again there have been calls to support our businesses," Toner said. "Many of our businesses don't have months or years to wait." 

She said the municipality can use under-threshold contracts to provide work for locals. The trade agreements do not come into play for services valued under $75,000 and construction under $200,000. 

"We cannot continue to push things out and find reasons to delay any longer. The very livelihood of our businesses depends on it," said Toner. 

She said that contracts could be broken down into smaller pieces, so that they aren't multi-million dollar projects that only a handful of companies can bid on.

Coun. Mike Allen said he is very supportive of local business and he and others have pushed for years on procurement policy. 

Orser said it would be difficult to bring forward a social procurement policy by September because the engagement wouldn't be finished, the training wouldn't be done and the procedure wouldn't be developed. 

Council voted unanimously in favour of the three recommendations brought forward by Orser, with the amendment that the policies be brought forward with a target date of September 2021.

As well, council voted to direct administration to support local vendors for procurements less than $10,000, effective in September.

Council also voted to have administration be directed to get quotes from at least three local vendors for goods and services valued between $10,000 and $75,000, and construction valued at $10,000 to $200,000. 

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