Manitoba moves to loosen procurement rules
Proposed legislative amendments would give more room for sole sourcing: MHCA
April 18, 2018 – A bill before the Manitoba legislature contains provisions to allow the province greater flexibility in procurement, permitting it to set aside more often its duty to openly tender construction projects.
Bill 14, the Traffic and Transportation Modernization Act, amends or replaces a number of pieces of legislation. The Highways and Transportation Act will be replaced with a new Transportation Infrastructure Act.
The new act would rewrite the section that compels the Manitoba Infrastructure department to put infrastructure projects out for competitive bids, in an open tender process. The new act would say that construction or repair of infrastructure must go to tender unless the minister is of the opinion the work is “too urgent to be tendered” or can be done “more efficiently through a different arrangement.”
Further, a cabinet committee could decide to set aside the duty to tender on any project.
Those are substantial changes to the current duty to tender, which can be set aside only in a “pressing emergency” where delay would be injurious, or if the minister is of the opinion the work can be done “more expeditiously and economically” without tender.
“We are concerned to see that the province is moving to lower the threshold of the test it must meet in order to set aside open, competitive tender for infrastructure construction contracts,” MHCA President Chris Lorenc said. “We have asked for confirmation of our interpretation of this bill. If we are correct, we will be speaking to the bill when it is open to delegations. Taxpayers’ interests are best served by open, competitive bids because that process will always return the lowest price.”
Further, it appears the tendering rules would contain no requirement that the award and its details be publicly disclosed, Lorenc noted. That offends the principles of transparency on publicly funded projects.
Another worrisome section within the Modernization Act bill is a compulsion for municipalities to keep highways “properly maintained” when they have been constructed or repaired through joint funding agreements with the province.
“Highways should be properly maintained, of course. But there is no legislative compulsion for the province to do so, as well,” Lorenc stressed. “We’d like to see the province obliged by that same responsibility.”