Buying local not so easy for city thanks to provincial rules and free trade
Every year, Kawartha Lakes council is responsible for purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of capital and consumable goods from businesses across Ontario. Those goods can range in size from paperclips to snow ploughs.
Under provincial legislation, all municipal tenders must go through an open, transparent and secret bid process where Kawartha Lakes-based suppliers receive no advantages for the property taxes they pay or the jobs they provide.
With an eye on the bottom line, municipalities almost always go with the most cost-effective bid that meets the specifications that they lay out regardless of where that business is located.
That was clearly on display at the Dec. 13 Kawartha Lakes council meeting when the tender to supply 17 four-wheel drive pick-up/SUVs was awarded to Blue Mountain Chrysler from Collingwood, Ontario.
Councillor Ron Ashmore and Dan Joyce wanted much more information from city staff about this tender going to an out-of-town dealership.
“I am sure Blue Mountain Chrysler is a great company,” Ashmore said, “but it would be nice if we could (make it easier) for local vendors. It sure would be nice if we could get some local vendors who could win these contracts.”
“Local dealerships, foreign or domestic, produce a lot of jobs around here,” Ashmore said. “There should be a weighted advantage to being local.”
“It (preference to local suppliers) does fly in the face of our purchasing policy so I don’t know what we can do,” said Mayor Doug Elmslie.
“I am with Councillor Ashmore,” Joyce said. “We talk about shopping local and this (purchase) flies in the face of that. I am concerned about public pushback on this. There are a lot of dealerships in town. Can we go back to them and ask them to put a better bid together?”
“Effectively, what you are looking for is against legislation,” said director of public works Bryan Robinson. “There are laws that prohibit bonusing local suppliers through the tendering process. All of our processes are open public tenders. We notify all the potential local vendors that tenders are out and available, and they are available for them to bid on and it is up to them to bid on it. We only received in this case one bid. All the local suppliers were aware. This is the company that was successful through the tendering process. We cannot cater and direct work to local vendors.”
“Did I hear you right that we only received one bid,” Joyce asked. “Can we re-open the bidding process as only one bid was received?”
“I believe there was only one tender,” Robinson said. “You cannot close the tender and seek other bids as you are now into legislation that prohibits ‘bid shopping.’ These procurements need to happen.”
Supervisor of procurement Launa Macey told council that the Canadian Free Trade Agreement does not allow municipalities to avoid the competitive bid process on anything more than $25,000.
“We have to put it out publicly,” Macey said. “We even go as far as babysitting our local vendors. We send them addendums. We call them. We do everything we can to get them to bid. They don’t bid. They just aren’t coming to the party. This year was exceptional because dealers can’t get vehicles. Those that can’t get vehicles don’t even want to put a bid in and attempt it. Our hands are kind of tied for this year. We are hoping next year will be better. For right now this is what we are up against.”
“We are feeling the local impacts of Canada’s free trade agreements. Welcome to them,” said Councillor Mike Perry.
The Advocate contacted a number of Kawartha Lakes-based car dealerships to talk about municipal bidding, and no comment was received back from any by time of publication.
Council approved the awarding of the tender to Blue Mountain Chrysler 7-1 with Ashmore voting against the motion.