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Innisfail council takes deep-dive into municipality's procurement policy

Administration to look for possible ways it can fit in social procurement within the thresholds of the Canadian Free Trade Agreement and New West Partnership Trade Agreement
The Town of Innisfail is continuing its look into the Canadian Free Trade and New West Partnership Trade agreements to see if there is a way to include social procurement into its own policy without violating the national and regional agreements it must follow.

INNISFAIL – Senior Town of Innisfail administrators are taking a deep dive into the Canadian Free Trade and New West Partnership Trade agreements with a hope they can find a way to include a social procurement provision in the local Procurement Policy that has not been altered since being adopted in 2016.

“We are definitely looking at doing a review of our Procurement Policy this year, and how we can implement social procurement into it,” said Erica Vickers, director of corporate services for the Town of Innisfail.

“We will still have to maintain and meet whatever thresholds the newest (New West) Partnership Agreement (NWPTA), as well as the Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) have within their documents.”

On March 10, the town’s Procurement Policy was brought up during a series of capital expenditure requests by administration.

Mayor Jean Barclay wanted to know whether the town had any “leeway” to have preference for local contractors instead of having to choose from outside the community.

Todd Becker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Innisfail, told Barclay the town’s “tools” for procurement go through a “pretty robust policy” that outlines how the town tenders and how it scores.

A motion was ultimately passed by council directing administration to bring back additional information on procurement, specifically as outlined by the CFTA, which was entered into force on July 1, 2017, and the NWPTA; an accord establishing in 2010 between the governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Both agreements have procurement guidelines and obligations around “openness, non-discrimination, non-circumvention and transparency” that provinces and municipalities must follow.

“We need to make sure we meet those thresholds and don't violate the New West Partnership Trade Agreement or the Canadian Free Trade Agreement, but still implementing aspects of social procurement,” Vickers told the Albertan on April 3.

“And what that looks like, we don’t know yet. That'll likely come up sometime in the summer months, like July or August, is when we'll focus on that.”

On April 1 at council’s Agenda & Priorities Meeting, Vickers gave a thorough presentation to town council on both the NWPTA and CFTA.

Vickers' report also showed that the current local Procurement Policy has an entire section dedicated to “Local Preference”, which can grant local approval if the maximum price variance allowed is five per cent for goods and services less than $75,000, or less than $200,000 for construction services after the price variance is applied.

Extending a preference for local or domestic goods, services or suppliers is in a list of practices that is considered to be “inconsistent” with the openness, non-circumvention, non-discrimination, or transparency obligations that are included in both the NWPTA and CFTA.

Barclay noted the current town council has “dabbled” in the past with “some” social procurement discussion but it has not become a priority as there were more important issues to deal with.

However, council was reminded the procurement issue has become important for other Alberta communities.

In 2023 at the Alberta Municipalities (AM) conference a motion from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Lac La Biche County was presented and adopted to have AM advocate for the provincial government to abolish the NWPTA, as it would “permit greater opportunities for local sourcing.”

Barclay did concede social procurement is a “huge” topic with various aspects and will take time to fully understand and how it can be applied.

There is, however, a local precedent of sorts for the town to rely on.

In 2021, Elemental Energy, the B.C.-based company that created Innisfail Solar in 2020, began operations with annual donations of $20,000; a local community benefit that is used to support other local initiatives.

“If people are bidding on our project in Innisfail is there an opportunity where something may be donated to the community, such as Elemental does to their community benefit agreement?’’ Barclay wondered.

“So, when you're doing millions of dollars in infrastructure projects are there opportunities there? That I don't know,” added the mayor. “We'll have to see what the whole council wants to do.”



Johnnie Bachusky

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