Saskatoon looking for contractors that 'provide value back to the citizens'

"It gives an opportunity to the business community to provide value back to the citizens and that's money spent that creates wealth in the community as well," said Mayor Charlie Clark.

The city is evaluating procurement options with an eye toward social procurement

Matthias Ballantyne works on a Saskatoon Housing Authority apartment. He is employed through Build Up. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

Mathias Ballantyne isn't job hunting anymore. 

Ballantyne is a former gang member with a criminal record. He said this made it difficult to find a job.

He was referred by Str8 Up, Saskatchewan's non profit gang exit organization, to Build Up, a social enterprise in Saskatoon employing labourers with criminal records.

Now Ballantyne is working on a contract with the Saskatoon Housing Authority, renovating an apartment for incoming tenants.

He makes repairs, paints and does so without complaint. He likes the work. 

"I love it. Gets me away from my family, " he laughs, before throwing in a "just kidding!"

"It helps me provide for my family actually and keeps me pretty occupied and pretty positive at home too."

His plan is to learn on the job, then move up.

"It helps me open doors to better jobs in Alberta."

'Sometimes the lower price doesn't get you the right value'

The City of Saskatoon is looking for added social value in contracts it signs in the coming year.

The tender process would still be as fair and transparent as possible, according to Mayor Charlie Clark, but it could be more integral in providing social services.

The city already has a few such contracts, like the long-running Cosmopolitan recycling contract, or Youth Works, where young people are hired at a small price to clean up graffiti.

"It gives an opportunity to the business community to provide value back to the citizens and that's money spent that creates wealth in the community as well," Clark said.

The city has identified several sectors where value could be added to contracts.

"Sometimes the lower price doesn't get you the right value," Clark said.

Charlie Clark says Saskatoon can be a leader in social procurement. (Submitted by City of Saskatoon)

Companies that provide onsite service and maintenance are especially attractive.

For example, the city has historically provided grants to run social programs and create job opportunities. In the future, it may hire more organizations that run social programs and create job opportunities.

Clark said companies with a large number of Indigenous employees, or Indigenous ownership, could also be candidates for this kind of contracting.

The city is currently evaluating procurement options and reaching out to the community for feedback.

Build Up a potential candidate

Ron Ratt, the business manager at Build Up, is planning to partner with SAIT to provide courses in construction basics for his employees.

The Saskatoon Housing Authority has awarded Build Up several contracts since July 2018. (Bridget Yard/ CBC News)

"We've had to go back and touch up a few contracts simply because some of our members haven't got a lot of those well-trained skills or the experience, but they're learning."

The training will help Build Up provide better services and allow employees to eventually move on to more lucrative jobs.

With a potential Saskatchewan Job Grant, the training would help 10 employees learn the basics.

Build Up employs eight people, but it is always in flux. Ratt recently recieved a call from the Elizabeth Fry Society about employment for female labourers.

"One of the pre-requisites is that they have a criminal record," said Ratt.

 Build Up is in search of grants and funding, but Ratt said it will be self-sufficient in five years.

Rates are competitive and employees are paid just above minimum wage to keep overhead low.

Ratt says Build Up has had "positive feedback" from the city of Saskatoon.


Bridget Yard is the producer of CBC's Up North. She previously worked for CBC in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan as a video journalist and later transitioned to feature storytelling and radio documentaries.