Local councillors must send message on open tendering

Current legislation does not allow many qualified Waterloo Region companies to bid on major projects says Ian McLean

As the Oct. 22 municipal election is rapidly approaching, a dominant issue for the local business sector is the newly-elected Ford administration’s response to the ongoing issue of municipal tendering.

For many years our Chamber and business organizations across the province have been asking Queen’s Park to change the Ontario Labour Relations Act for exempting municipalities and school boards from the definition of construction employers.

Current legislation does not allow many qualified Waterloo Region companies to bid on major infrastructure projects based solely on the condition that they are not affiliated with one or more designated unions. It is now estimated that 70 per cent of the provincial construction industry is not able to compete for work on publicly owned and funded projects.

The economic and budgetary implications for all levels of government as a result of restricted tendering practices are substantial. Research indicates that open tendering can cut costs by 20 to 25 per cent. In the Region of Waterloo, where tendering has been closed since 2014, the number of bids has dropped by 50 per cent. The cumulative impact of restricted tendering is increased property taxes and inflated project costs which divert municipal expenditures away from other vital social and community services.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Thunder Bay on Sept. 24, a resolution was passed directing the federal government to institute a policy that all federal dollars going toward public infrastructure projects must allow open tendering. The experience of Waterloo Region was prominently highlighted as an example of closed tendering resulting in fewer bids and higher prices.

Our Chamber, along with the Cambridge Chamber, has requested a meeting with Premier Ford to further discuss municipal tendering and financial sustainability for cities and businesses. It is anticipated that new legislation will be tabled imminently to meet campaign commitments on other urgent matters that need attention, and our organizations have requested that this issue be included.

At upcoming Chamber forums for regional council and mayoral candidates (who will also serve on regional council) we will be asking if candidates support a tendering system that is open and fair to all qualified bidders. It is important that if the matter is not resolved before Oct. 22 all municipalities and businesses across Ontario maintain pressure on the province to implement the necessary legislative changes for fiscal sustainability and allowing all qualified companies to participate on the bidding process for major infrastructure projects.

Ian McLean is the president and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at imclean@greaterkwchamber.com.

This article was written for the Kitchener Post. Read the original article here.