Question re: Local procurement - May 10, 2016

Mr. Silver: After ignoring the concerns of the local business community over local hire and procurement for the last four years of the mandate of this Yukon Party, with an election on the horizon, they have finally agreed to talk about improving contracting rules. Last week, it released a glossy brochure that confirmed that a good share of the contracts go to Outside companies and that the Yukon Party has ramped up capital spending over the last two years, as the election approaches.

It failed to mention the fact that the two largest projects being built this summer have gone to contractors outside the territory. The government followed up by inviting local businesses to a conference and, for a $320 fee, they would be told by the Yukon government how the private sector can develop proposals to pursue government business.

Madam Speaker, what is the justification for such a high cost for this conference?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Again, when you listen to the Leader of the Liberal Party, you often wonder what documents he is reading. The document that I tabled suggested that 19 of the 20 largest capital projects that have been completed by the Yukon government have gone to local companies. The one outlier was the F.H. Collins school and there were significant local benefits provided by that project, including 75-percent local labour. Again, a number of subcontractors worked on that as well.

When it comes to the Whistle Bend continuing care facility, one only needs to look at the press release issued in January by the local carpenters union. The title of it alone speaks for itself — and I’ll quote: “Whistle Bend Continuing Care Facility Goes Local.” Again, this is a similar agreement that the local carpenters union had with PCL on the hospital project. It’s unfortunate that the Leader of the Liberal Party seems to have his head stuck in the permafrost, but we’ll continue to work hard with local companies to ensure that there are local benefits.

The local procurement forum was a big success, from all accounts. It’s the second one that we’ve hosted. We’re moving on a number of initiatives to promote local participation in the procurement world and we’ll continue to do so in spite of the suggestions by the Leader of the Liberal Party.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. We’ve heard these briefing notes before. For four years, the Yukon Party ignored the concerns of procurement and local hire. I have raised these questions, the NDP has raised these questions, and the Contractors Association has as well. At the last minute, the government is trying to paper over the cracks.

Let’s try to answer this question — $320 is a significant barrier for entry for many Yukon businesses and it would preclude all but the biggest players. Over the last number of years, we’ve heard significant concerns raised about the procurement process under this government, and this costly event does little to resolve those concerns. A similar conference in February this year was only $125 and it included the same facilitator as part of a panel.

Madam Speaker, why is the business community being asked to pay to hear how the government is going to fix its own mistakes?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. Again, this government continues to improve the procurement process. Of course, it’s something that started with my colleague, the previous Minister of Highways and Public Works, establishing the Procurement Support Centre. The February 23 and 24, 2016 procurement industry conference had approximately 200 attendees — not only for the conference, but there was also a reverse trade show — something that came up in conversations that the Premier, the Minister of Economic Development and I had at two roundtables that we hosted with local companies that were interested in the procurement side of things.

Madam Speaker, we continue to dialogue with the local business community. The numbers for local procurement, of the $294-million spent on service and construction contracts in 2014-15, $218 million — or 74 percent — went to local companies. In that same year, of the almost 11,000 total contracts, 4,400 were service and construction, and 82 percent of those went to local companies. The numbers are good, but we feel that we can do better, and that’s why we continue to work with the local business sector in multiple forms to address their concerns. Again, the member opposite fails to mention the recently tabled report of the Procurement Advisory Panel that our government started in November —

Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)

Speaker: Order, please.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. The minister’s own Premier has said they need to tighten up what it means to be local, but I am going to try to ask this one question again and see if we actually get an answer. They have not addressed the issue of procurement and they want the local business community to pay to hear how it is going to fix it. That’s unbelievable, Madam Speaker. The high cost is a barrier for many businesses and the government’s approach to this issue doesn’t seem very business-friendly. People are dissatisfied with the government’s approach to this entire issue, and I hear it every day from local business people. The government’s too-little, too-late scramble in the last few months before an election isn’t going to cut it.

Will the minister at least look into the prohibitive costs of this event?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. The Leader of the Liberal Party seems focused on one aspect of what we have been doing over the last while to address the procurement concerns of the local contracting community. As I have mentioned, the previous minister established the Procurement Support Centre. We have hosted two very successful industry forums on procurement over the past couple of years. We have hosted roundtables with Yukon businesses. We have talked to many individuals and work continues with the Yukon Contractors Association and the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

In our response to the Procurement Advisory Panel, meetings will be held with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Contractors Association, Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce and Association of Yukon Communities. Our government continues to engage with the local contracting community to improve upon the numbers, which are significant, as I mentioned. Again, the final statistic that was in the brochure that I tabled that the Leader of the Third Party — the Leader of the Liberal Party — failed to recognize is that 19 of the 20 largest contracts awarded went to local contractors. That is a 95-percent success rate. Local contractors and local companies can be successful. They are competitive when bidding against Outside contractors, and we are proud of them and the success that they have had.