Yukon businesses, small and large, have a singular message for the government: buy local.
Companies here want more opportunities to do business in the territory, and for the government to make it simpler to bid on projects, according to
findings by a government report on procurement released Tuesday.
The Yukon Procurement Advisory Panel Report is the result of consultations with 82 business owners, government employees, municipal and First Nation representatives about “procurement,” that is, the purchasing of goods and services by the Yukon government.
The panel asked participants about their concerns with the process and the changes they would like to see.
The hope is the document will inform a discussion about how the government can refine the procurement process and increase opportunities for local companies.
The NDP raised the issue of hiring local businesses to do government work in the house on Tuesday.
“Time and time again, we hear from Yukon businesses — small and large — that on many occasions, contracts are awarded to Outside firms,” said NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft.
“When will the minister of Highways and Public Works actually change the procurement process to benefit local business?”
That minister, Scott Kent, said that in 2014-15, 19 of the 20 largest contracts awarded by the government went to local companies, and brought the Procurement Advisory Panel Report to the attention of the house.
“We will be actioning opportunities that have been identified for us from the panel experts and we’re going to continue to try to enhance local opportunities in the contracting sector,” said Kent during question period on Tuesday.
Panel chair Leslie Anderson said the issues raised by Yukon vendors were not unique, during a media briefing on the report Tuesday afternoon.
“The desire from vendors all across Canada ... are similar: they’re looking for streamlined processes, for highly competent and productive staff within the organizations they’re dealing with, for good information for themselves to make decisions.”
Top among their concerns was whether the government is doing all it can to buy locally.
In April, Premier Darrell Pasloski said he instructed all government employees to buy local when possible, but to also seek a bang for their bucks.
Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, said that buying local is about supporting the Whitehorse and Yukon communities at large.
“When you look at businesses that are established here in Whitehorse, they’re hiring local, they’re purchasing goods and services locally,” he said.
“We’re not saying not to look around and get the best deal, but it’s looking to local companies, because they hire local people, and if money stays here it gets circulated and helps local people.”
Karp commended the government for drafting the report, which includes 11 recommendations based on interviews with members of private and public sectors.
“Now we really have to implement some of the recommendations,” he said.
The report also determined that most people involved, on the business side and in government, found the procurement process unclear and difficult to navigate.
Participants called for more transparency and consistency in the procurement process.
Government employees asked for specialized training and a written guide so they can negotiate more effectively with companies.
What he’s heard from members of the business community, said Peter Turner, the president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, is that there’s a lack of consistency from one procurement staff member to another.
“The last time we checked, there’s only one person in the Yukon who’s a certified procurement specialist.”
Karp echoed this sentiment.
“It’s absolutely important that we have qualified people in supply chain management,” he said.
“The Supply Chain Management Association of Canada has more than 8,000 members across Canada ... there’s one in the Yukon.”
Another consistent complaint was that doing business with the government was an overly complex undertaking.
Business people said the amount of information they are asked to provide is excessive and some of it is unnecessary.
In his pre-budget speech to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce in April, the premier said that his government would tighten up the definition of what is a Yukon company.
“To be listed as a Yukon company, you will actually have to be a Yukon company,” he said. “Seems simple, I know, but over time our standards have become too lax on what it means to be local.”
The report did not make any recommendations to that effect, nor did it provide a definition for a Yukon company.
According to the government’s supplier directory webpage a Yukon business is one that:
• Employs Yukoners;
• Owns property in the Yukon that is directly related to the operation of the company;
• Has an office in the territory that is staffed year-round;
• At least 50 per cent of the business is owned by Yukon residents.
The advisory panel, which formed in 2015, was made up of six members from government and the private sector and included experts on procurement.