Untendered contract irks industry

Construction association says province didn't open roadwork project to bids

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Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives have long-criticized the former NDP government for awarding untendered contracts. The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association is accusing the Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister of doing the same thing.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/03/2018 (1614 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives have long-criticized the former NDP government for awarding untendered contracts. The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association is accusing the Tory government led by Premier Brian Pallister of doing the same thing.

“Publicly funded contracts should all be tendered,” association president Chris Lorenc said Wednesday, focusing on this week’s announcement of $10-million of access roadwork leading to the $540-million channel projects near Lake St. Martin. It was a sole-source tender, in which the province picked a contractor and then settled on a price.

“It’s not just our members — industry at large was given no opportunity to bid,” Lorenc said. Previously, “I am not aware of a sole-source (untendered) contract being awarded by this government.”

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSS FILES Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc.

It was tendered, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler told reporters Wednesday, but the government chose only one bidder for each of two sole-source tenders, picking Indigenous groups which will provide jobs to residents of local flood-affected communities.

The minister said it should have been obvious to anyone who had checked the government’s website on open tenders and saw the roadwork was not listed.

“They are a sole-source tender — there’s an agreed-upon price” that’s reached after negotiations with the contractor the government chooses. The province acted to provide employment for the communities badly hurt by the 2011 flood, he said.

“This is a one-off. That community has suffered greatly. This is part of an economic opportunity for them,” Schuler said.

The minister said the agreed-upon prices were 10 per cent to 30 per cent less than the province had thought the project might cost. The bidders guaranteed 50 per cent of the work would go to Indigenous residents, and the rest would generally go to more specialized trades, he said.

Lorenc further challenged details of Tuesday’s announcement on the Lake St. Martin access work.

He said the road isn’t a $10-million project — it’s a series of road projects the provincial government has said could total $35 million.

“They still have an opportunity to correct this,” Lorenc said.

The $10-million access road leads to the point at which construction of the flood-management channels will take place, the minister said Wednesday, agreeing it will be followed by additional roadwork, which will cost roughly $20 million more.

The road project in the spotlight Tuesday has environmental approvals, Schuler said. He wouldn’t elaborate on where additional roadwork would go, because it hasn’t been environmentally approved yet — however, he said its construction would go to open tender.

It’s the first time the Pallister government has used sole-source tenders, and it won’t be a common practice, Schuler said.

The association has requested an urgent meeting with the minister, Lorenc said Wednesday. An aide to the minister said there were no details yet on any meeting scheduled.

“We’re very disappointed. We were aware they were considering it — we advised against it,” Lorenc said in an interview. “Sole source is not the way to go; they should be tendered.”

The flood-management project seeks to build channels to Lake St. Martin from Lake Manitoba, and to Lake Winnipeg from Lake St. Martin. They may be completed as early as 2025.

While still not finalized, an expected deal would result in Ottawa and Manitoba splitting the first $500 million of the project, with the province responsible for any further costs.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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