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Construction association issues alert about changes to policy

Contractors worried new approach to procurement will undermine government's duty to fairness
Visitors tour the UNBC Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George when it was under construction on Nov. 13, 2013. Changes to the public-sector procurement process prompted the BC Construction Association to issue an alert this week to contractors warning about the possible implications.

The B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) is raising alarm bells over a change in the province’s public-sector procurement policy.

That policy establishes the framework that allows private-sector builders and contractors to bid on taxpayer-funded projects.

The removal of Contract A provisions which set the rules on project deadlines, evaluation criteria, privilege clauses and the security/privacy of bid proposal is seen by the BCCA as a grave concern which could lead to unfair treatment from public owners to general contractors and trade contractors who would be left with no legal recourse to argue discriminatory practices.

“This industry alert raises a red flag as we see a trend where public owners are increasingly opting for the explicit removal of Contract A in procurement, undermining the duty to fairness,” said Nicole Bryant, chief executive officer of the Prince George-based Northern Regional Construction Association.

Contract A was established as a precedent in 1981 in a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in favour of Ron Engineering and Construction (Eastern) Ltd., which clarified the law on tendering for contracts. It enshrined the rules and has been used ever since to ensure fair, open and transparent procurement.

“This trend heightens risk and erodes the bedrock of open, fair and transparent bidding practices, veering away from the established precedence set forth by Ron Engineering," Bryant said. "As an association we owe it to our members to stand firm to uphold integrity and equitable opportunities within our construction community.”

BCAA president Chris Atchison called the removal of Contract A "the most significant violation of public sector procurement processes that the construction industry has seen to date. When a public sector owner wilfully removes an obligation to act fairly in its dealings with you at the start of a project, you have to ask yourself: do you really want to bid on that project and work with that government entity?”

The BCCA provided a list of 44 examples of construction procurement documents which show that Contract A provisions from a growing list of public owners have been removed.

It lists three City of Prince George projects, including a request for proposal for the Kin Centre heat energy recovery (dated June 23, 2023); an invitation to tender  for the reroofing for the Wastewater Treatment Centre on Landsdowne Road (Feb. 6, 2024);  and a request for proposal of the LED Light replacement at Spruce City Stadium (May 15, 2024).

Three College of New Caledonia projects are also highlighted, including: an RFP for the Medical Laboratory Science expansion (May 14, 2024); a request for quote for sidewalk construction projects (April 3, 2024); and a quote for an LED lighting installation (Jan. 30, 2024).

Procurements missing Contract A were also identified in proposal notices issued by B.C. Housing, B.C. Transit, B.C. Securities Commission, BCIT, Capilano University, City of Kelowna, City of Vernon, Corporation of the District of Saanich, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Interior Health, District of Lake Country, District of Peachland, Regional District of Central Okanagan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Simon Fraser University, Thompson Rivers University, and several school districts.

B.C. has more than $160 billion worth of construction projects currently underway with another $170 billion scheduled. The construction industry accounts for 10.3 per cent of the province’s annual gross domestic product and is the top employer of B.C.’s goods sector, employing about 229,000 people.

The BCCA and the province’s regional construction associations issued an industry-wide alert to warn its members and other businesses of the risk associated with the changes to the procurement process.

A webinar to warn contractors about the possible implications of the removal of Contract A and discuss the changes will be presented on Tuesday at 10 a.m. To register, go to the website.