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Caution advised on how ‘social procurement’ introduced in Winnipeg

The MHCA has joined other construction industry associations to caution the City of Winnipeg about how it might include ‘social procurement’ as a feature in its procurement and tendering processes.

City council on December 17 directed the administration to collaborate with the social-enterprise sector and industry to “identify social procurement practices for appropriate City tenders with a goal of establishing a bid value for community benefits, consistent with the practice of other comparable Canadian municipalities, including a cost analysis of tendering under a social procurement policy where appropriate.”

The motion asked for a report back within 90 days.

“We are unclear, as yet, what would be the specific objective of the City’s desire to include social procurement in its capital programs,” MHCA President Chris Lorenc said.

The construction industry – both heavy construction and the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors – already engages in some practices that aim to meet the same or similar goals as public social procurement programs.

“Our industry already is involved in recruiting from groups within our community that come with barriers to employment – that in fact is the mandate of the Manitoba Construction Sector Council, which trains and gets ‘job-ready’ individuals who need help to break into the job market,” Lorenc explained.

Social procurement seeks to generate a social return from the tendering or purchasing of goods and services that an organization, such as a government or agency, engages in. Such policies or programs can include buying from businesses owned or operated by a target group or providing jobs and training opportunities for individuals under-represented in the labour force.

It can also mean including a ‘community benefit’ clause in a contract, which requires that a contractor leave a legacy in a community, such as construction of a recreation centre.

Any requirement of ‘community benefit’ within an advertised tender must be very specific as to what that benefit is to be, so that bidders can price accordingly and transparently, Lorenc stressed.

The MHCA joined four other industry associations in raising the concern that the City’s intent for social procurement is unclear, given the absence of foundational principles. Further, the concern was expressed that what works in larger cities may not necessarily work well in Winnipeg.

The MHCA participated in a consultation session Thursday, hosted by the City of Winnipeg. Lorenc suggested that rather than rushing to meet the March deadline for returning a report and recommendation to City Council, the administration should instead seek an extension and establish a working group among the variety of community and industry organizations that would be affected.