Yukon contractor says gov't shutting young people out of bidding process

Clayton Thomas says a requirement for bonding on a project under $1 million goes against decades-long practice of making room for smaller and less established businesses.

Clayton Thomas says requirement for bonding on project under $1 million goes against decades-long practice

Clayton Thomas says the government is making the wrong choice by potentially shutting out less established contractors from the bidding process. (CBC)

The Yukon government has thrown a wrench into a well-established system for helping small contracting companies break into the business, says Whitehorse contractor Clayton Thomas.

The issue stems from a contract to provide a portable classroom to Golden Horn Elementary School, just outside the city.

Thomas said it is a simple project that basically involved getting a double-wide modular trailer and "plugging it into the school."

Previously, the government's practice has been that contractors bidding on construction projects costing more than $1 million need to be bonded, which provides protection to the client. If the contractor doesn't provide the service correctly, or within the specified time frame, the territorial government would be able to file a claim with the surety company and be paid. It can also cover damage or theft.

Thomas said that provides assurance the project will be completed.

But he said contractors have been able to provide a 10 per cent deposit on projects under $1 million instead of bonding.

That means a project costing $500,000 would require a $50,000 deposit, said Thomas. And even though the Golden Horn portable is costing around $500,000, the government wants it bonded, he said.

Government officials answered questions at Golden Horn Elementary School meeting for concerned parents in November. There are concerns there won't be room to register children in kindergarten for the next school year. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

"I guess theoretically the government being the owner has the right, maybe, to make a call on that, if they had a reason, but they have no reason on this," he said.

The system has been in place for decades, he said, and there hasn't been a problem.

Young contractors, however, who may have trouble getting bonded because they don't have a well-established business or the means to do the paperwork that's required, are not able to bid on the portable even though it's an ideal project for a contractor starting out, he said.

"I remember what it was like to be young... I want the world to be open to young contractors," said Thomas.

Yukon Party MLA Stacey Hassard says the government should have consulted contractors before stepping outside an established practice. (Steve Hossack/CBC)

Yukon Party MLA Stacey Hassard, the opposition critic for the Department of Highways and Public Works, said the government should reverse course and stick to the old system.

"Why didn't the government talk to the contractors in the first place? They would have had this issue resolved nine months ago if they would have just done their due diligence then," said Hassard.

The department was unable to provide a response Tuesday to Thomas's concerns.

Thomas provided an email sent to him by Shelby Workman, the director of capital development, in the public works department.

Workman says in the letter the government believes that bonding would provide greater certainty that the modular structure would arrive on time. The letter does not explain how bonding would accomplish that.

The letter also does not clarify if this is a one-off situation or if there's been a change in policy.

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