I had never heard of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement before Mr. Hooke’s letter to the Village came up at the last council meeting, but I think there are a lot of good things about it. I’ve certainly been frustrated by a lot of the little differences between provinces, and often thought it would be so much easier if those technical and regulatory differences were removed. This agreement between BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan is intended to remove some of those barriers, and I see the good in that. (Maybe it could extend to all provinces, and maybe we could include universal street markings!)
But as with all things, there may be a downside. The flip side of this coin is that by legislating that you must treat people and businesses from other provinces and regions at least as well as you treat people and businesses locally, you’ve removed a small or a remote community’s ability to support the local economy.
Or have you?
The cost of shipping materials and getting qualified people to do a job are always going to be a reality in projects and purchases in small and remote areas, whether you are local or a big company from Edmonton or the lower mainland. But local people may have advantages that those companies do not – we may have the people and material handy, we may be used to doing things differently, we may be aware that a certain shipping company just doesn’t come here, and instead sends stuff to the post office, which of course is closed on Sundays. Maybe we know people who have experience or ideas about other ways to do things, sometimes out of necessity, because you just have to get things done.
We know theoretically that spending money locally means spreading that money around locally, which makes it that much better when a local business can win an open and fair bid against anyone else who chooses to try. But, let’s face it, putting in a bid is work, work you don’t get paid for.
If you don’t win the contract, you are out the time you spent on that contract. Maybe it was looking up prices, making calls, maybe a site visit. When you are used to doing that stuff, you just know it’s part of the job and you do it. But if you are not used to doing that, if you’ve never bid on a contract before, it might be overwhelming. And if you’ve never thought of doing it before, you probably have never looked for those bid opportunities on BC Bid, on the Village’s website, or on Alberta Purchasing Connection, or SaskTenders. What might you be missing out on? Is it worth spending the time to figure that out?
Whether or not our local government posts a call for bids is another matter.
There are different cost thresholds under the New West Partnership Trade Agreement procurement rules, which I find curious. There are lower levels for provincial government agencies than there are for local governments, and for goods, it’s a big difference – $10,000 for provincial agencies, verses $75,000 for municipal governments.
There is certainly time and money involved in actually deciding on and creating a request for a tender or proposal, and a cost associated with advertising it, and it certainly would not be feasible to do that for every little purchase or job. Maybe the thresholds are higher for municipal governments because of these costs, but it seems to me that lower thresholds would be better for all levels of government, and for smaller businesses.
If we all get used to the fact that bids and tenders are going to be on BC Bid, maybe we’ll all be checking there more often. Maybe it will be easier for everyone, because once you do it a few times, it gets easier. Maybe the way to help support our local businesses is to help them understand and use BC Bid, and to have our Village’s procurement policy have lower thresholds than what the regulations require. But does that mean that we don’t need to advertise locally? Is it hard to mention on social media, or in the local papers, that there is something of local interest on BC Bids? What about an email, or a letter to holders of a business license? That could be seen as a benefit to buying a businesslicense.
There is probably always going to be stuff that falls below those thresholds though, and this may be an area where a “buy local” policy could come into play.
Really, if the office runs out of toilet paper, no one is going to put out a tender for that, someone’s just going to buy it.
And here is where there are options. Do you spend your money here in town? Which store do you go to? Or is someone already out of town for some reason, and maybe you get them to stop at a big box store, to buy a bunch of toilet paper, maybe for a lower price than you can get it here normally.
These are choices that many of us make every day, and we probably don’t have a “policy” for our own purchases. It’s just not practical to consider a policy every time you run out of toilet paper, and the few cents or dollars in the difference is not worth worrying over. But for a bigger group, like a company that has a lot of employees, or a municipality, it might make a difference, to both that organizations’ bottom line, and to the community.
By: Korie Marshall