“Buy local” policy not allowed for Valemount, McBride governments

A letter from a local resident and business owner has prompted the Village of Valemount to update its procurement policy, but according to inter-provincial legislation a “buy local” policy for governments is not allowed.

Justin Hooke, owner of Valemount Home Hardware, sent a letter to council and the Village office in early September, formally requesting that the Village implement a “buy local” policy. He cited the example of the garbage collection carts, which he feels local vendors and contractors did not get a fair chance at bidding on.

Hooke told the Goat he feels it is wrong to not give local businesses the first opportunity to bid on contracts and tenders. He understands that small businesses don’t always have the resources to fulfill a complete bid, but some sort of “buy local” policy could give them a better chance at winning at least part of a bid.

Local buying is often seen to have many benefits, ranging from reduced shipping and environmental impacts to the multiplying factor of keeping money in the hands of local residents, who in turn spend it locally. However, when it comes to many large purchases, the New West Partnership Trade Agreement says that governments are not allowed to show preference to local businesses.

The New West Partnership Trade Agreement is an accord between BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, designed to remove barriers to the free movement of goods, services, investment, and people within and between the three provinces.

It came fully into effect across BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan in July of this year, and has replaced the Trade, Investment and Mobility Agreement between BC and Alberta since July 1, 2010.

One example of the benefits of the agreement is that for many skilled trades, certification in one province allows you to work in that trade in either of the other two provinces. What it means for government procurement is that most types of goods, services and constructions projects that are estimated to cost over a certain amount must be advertised and awarded in a manner that is open and transparent, and does not favor anyone from any particular place or province. This is seen as a benefit to vendors and contractors, because it gives businesses across all three provinces, particularly small and mid-sized businesses, a level playing field. Being small or not local or not having done work or provided services for a government before is not an impediment to winning a bid or tender.

For local governments, goods and services estimated to cost $75,000 or more, and construction estimated to cost $200,000 or more fall under the procurement rules of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement. The thresholds for provincial governments are lower ($10,000 for goods, $75,000 for services and $100,000 for construction). According to the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, these procurements must meet the four principles of openness, non-discrimination, non-circumvention and transparency. Procurement guidelines available on the New West Partnership Trade Agreement website say specifically “extending a preference for local or domestic goods, services or suppliers” and “imposing conditions… based on the location of a supplier’s place of business” are not consistent with the principle of non-discrimination. That means local governments are not allowed to favor locals, or do anything that is intended to circumvent the rules to favor locals in these circumstances.

The guidelines on transparency say that governments must make their tender notices accessible to all eligible suppliers, by posting them on their province’s designated electronic tendering system. For BC, that is BC Bid. For Alberta, it is Alberta Purchasing Connection, and Saskatchewan’s is SaskTenders. Governments must also make their procurement policies available upon request.

Regarding the issue of the garbage collection carts, Anne Yanciw, Valemount’s Corporate Administrative Officer, says that the carts were included in the Request for Proposals for the new garbage collection truck in order to ensure that the bins would be compatible with the truck. The Request for Proposals went on BC Bid, as is required by the New West Partnership Trade Agreement legislation, but Yanciw notes that there is also a link on the Village’s main website where requests for bids and proposals are posted.

“We find that contractors interested in Village contracts do check there for opportunities,” says Yanciw.

Mayor Andru McCracken noted that the Request for Proposals did include a truck, but that it is quite common for contractors and vendors to submit a proposal for part of the proposal. He notes that if there are barriers to local businesses, it is worth looking into, but not all problems can be resolved by Council. McCracken noted during the Council meeting on September 24 that some local contractors are using BC Bid very effectively.

“If that is not known about, or if it is not working perfectly for local people,” continued McCracken, “that might be something that the Chamber can work on, just raising that awareness.”

Yanciw says the Village’s current procurement policy predates the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, so the policy will be updated to incorporate the new legislation.

The New West Partnership Trade Agreement
The New West Partnership Trade Agreement is an accord between the Governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan that
creates Canada’s largest, barrier-free, interprovincial market.
Procurement guidelines available on the New West Partnership Trade Agreement website say specifically “extending a preference for local or domestic goods, services or suppliers” and “imposing conditions… based on the location of a supplier’s place of business” are not consistent with the principle of non-discrimination.
www.newwestpartnershiptrade.ca

By: Korie Marshall