REPOST: Pattullo Procurement Strategy Takes BC Construction a Bridge Too Far
The new Pattullo Bridge Community Benefits Agreement patently illustrates what is unfair with our current government’s policy decision to mandate the nature and extent of procurement requirements in major public construction projects. For BCCA, an association that hinges its principles on fair, open and transparent procurement practices, this agreement is taking public policy in construction tendering a bridge too far.
Essentially, community benefits can be an effective tool to help solve social issues and bring value to all parties involved— but not if it is rooted in political partisanship. There are few who would dispute that the promotion and expansion of apprenticeship opportunities for equity seeking and indigenous populations is valued.
Yet there is no legitimate rationale to restrict competition in the realm of public procurement by potentially sidelining or segmenting-out a majority of proven and capable companies and their employees who have been successfully building major projects in BC for decades.
BCCA’s position on community benefit requirements is clear: we strongly oppose any procurement practice or program that seeks to confer exclusive bidding rights to companies based upon any system of quotas or legislated wages within the province. We advocate for a transparent procurement strategy in the public tendering process that allows for fair competition.
The imposition of subjective “benefit” criteria will likely have negative consequences for taxpayers – and may well undermine the competitive integrity of the public tendering process. Competition means more bidders; competition means more innovation; and competition means a best value bid that will both maximize project efficiencies as well as community benefits. Restrictive tendering that limits competition will inflate costs to taxpayers and inhibit an individual’s choice of affiliation.
This new community benefits agreement places added stress on a vital industry that is already facing serious challenges to its future that are limiting innovation, driving up costs and stifling the naturally occurring community benefits that this new policy chooses to ignore. Currently across the province, there is great work being done to; improve access and retention to traditionally underrepresented groups; increase apprenticeship training and completion rates; strategically address the skills shortages of today and tomorrow. In addition, the wages and benefits being offered across this industry throughout BC are already amongst the highest in Canada.
To the government of today we say: Leadership must be above partisanship.
We recognize that there is room for union and non-union labour on every major project in B.C. and we must keep political favouritism out of the mix. Both are proven entities who believe in safety, training, apprenticeship, and in building a strong workforce for the future and in giving back to their communities.
B.C.'s construction sector is driving the economy today, and to burden it with unnecessary policy with incalculable unintended consequences is a step in the wrong direction for any publicly funded project – large or small.
The new Pattullo Bridge will endure as a symbol of what we as an industry and a province can build together. Let's not make it a representation of a divisive political decision that compromises the collaboration, competitiveness and freedom of choice that have shaped one of B.C.’s leading industries.
Let’s return to a fair, open and transparent procurement process that is open to both non-union and union workforces.
Virginia Keast, on behalf of BCCA
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