Question re: Local Hire - November 3, 2015

Mr. Silver: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The government’s economic forecast released on October 20 confirmed that Yukon’s economy will shrink for a third year in a row, all under this Yukon Party government.

One of the reasons for the downturn is this government’s habit of handing out major construction contracts to companies from outside of Yukon. For example, the government went out of its way to ensure that local companies could not win the contract for F.H. Collins school.

I have asked several questions about this trend in the last two years, and in early June, the Yukon Contractors Association also added their voice and criticism to this government. Here’s a quote: “The Yukon Government's reliance on outside contractors for its large projects has forced Yukon companies to lay off workers this season because it's so slow…” That was from the president of the Yukon Contractors Association. He mentioned that the new continuing care was another example — and I quote again: “‘We're not in boom times right now... There's a lot of [Yukon] contractors looking for work, and they're not able to participate in these larger contracts.’”

Why is this government designing contracts —

Speaker: Order, please. The member’s time has elapsed.

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I spoke about this, I believe, in my response to the supplemental budget. We at Highways and Public Works did some research, and 14 out of the 15 projects have been awarded to local Yukon contractors in the past five years. That’s valued at more than $75 million.

The one exception, as noted by the member opposite, is F.H. Collins, but we’ve said on a number of occasions on the floor of this House that approximately 75 percent of the hire on that project was local and there were a significant number of Yukon subcontractors engaged in that project as well.

This is with respect to the vertical infrastructure projects. We have similar numbers that speak to the road-building and transportation projects, so the facts are saying one thing and the opposition is saying the other.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, our economy has shrunk for three years in a row under this government. Local contractors are being shut out of large contracts. The main contract for F.H. Collins went to Alberta. The company that is building the new Whitehorse General Hospital is from Richmond, BC, and the contract for the continuing care facility — well, that’s also going to be awarded to an Outside company. Those are the facts.

The government had the entire summer to come up with a new way to improve how they set these contracts. This budget for this election-year build season has the most money, by far, dedicated to capital asset construction by the Yukon Party, and too much of that money will be sifted out of the Yukon.

Why have there been no changes made to address the concerns over local hire, which are being raised by local private sector people themselves?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Our government, led by the Department of Highways and Public Works continues to work with the local contracting community on addressing their concerns. As I mentioned, the research and the facts show that 14 out of the last 15 projects have been awarded to local Yukon contractors, valued at more than $75 million.

The one exception is the F.H. Collins project, which came in at over $30 million, but the numbers show that 75 percent of the workforce on that project was local, and there was a very long list of local subcontractors that have been involved with that project. I’m sure the same will hold true as we work through the continuing care project that the member opposite referenced.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to road projects, outside of one paving project and some specialty work on bridges, all of those projects have gone to local contractors as well. I think the number is approximately 70 percent.

Mr. Speaker, we continue to award capital maintenance projects — almost all of those go to local contractors. You just have to take a drive around the city and look at many of the projects that are under construction right now, and you’ll see that local contractors are conducting that work.

Mr. Silver: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The point is: when the largest building projects keep being awarded to companies from Outside, we’re really no further ahead. Ottawa sends the money to the government, and they take this money and turn it around to give it to BC and Alberta companies. The Yukon Contractors Association said it wants this government to build local hire of Yukon subcontractors into large construction projects. They say that large companies from the south usually win the contracts, and those large southern companies tend to bring their own subcontractors with them. 

Here’s another quote: “There’s certainly lots of (Yukon) sub-contractors that could do the work on any of these, and they’re missing out on the work, just by the way the work is let out to these larger outside companies”.

The head of the contractors says that mechanical and electrical subcontracts accounts for up to 40 percent of these projects and that all of this money is leaving the territory.

Mr. Speaker, why are we not debating improvements to our contracting rules as opposed to debating whether or not these companies are from Outside?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It’s interesting to note the member opposite’s assertions about electrical contractors. I’m sure Arcrite Northern Ltd. will be surprised to know that they’re not local. They were the electrical contractor on the F.H. Collins project, and I know they’re partnered on Whistle Bend with one of the shortlisted companies as well.

Mr. Speaker, again as I mentioned, 14 of the last 15 vertical construction projects have been awarded to local companies. There will be work starting here on the main administration building shortly. That has been awarded to a local company. Sarah Steele is being undertaken by a local company. St. Elias Residence is being undertaken by a local company. The Department of Economic Development has recently leased space in a new building that is being constructed by local companies.

When it comes to the Transportation division, the top major work projects for 2015-16 — of those, 86 percent were awarded to local companies and 14 percent non-local, so, of the 29 projects, 24 of the 29 were awarded locally.

Mr. Speaker, again we recognize that we need to continue to do work when it comes to contracting. The bid incentive policy is something run out of the Department of Economic Development that encourages local manufacturers and local labour. As I mentioned in the initial response, the facts say one thing, the opposition says another.