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Quebec is giving out more and more contracts without calls for tenders

Photo: Olivier Zuida Le Devoir Created to monitor the public contracts market in the wake of the Charbonneau commission, the Public Procurement Authority can carry out audits on all companies that transact with the government. In the event of non-compliance, it has the power to exclude them from the public market for a period of five years.

Isabelle Porter in Quebec

Published at 0:00

  • Quebec

The number of contracts without call for tenders given by the Quebec government has jumped by 30% in the last three years. A situation that “concerns” the Public Procurement Authority, the AMP.

“It is worrying that we are increasing over-the-counter contracts and decreasing submissions in public calls for tenders,” declared the CEO. of the monitoring body, as part of the study of Bill 62 on infrastructure projects Tuesday evening. Between 2020-2021 and 2022-2023, “the use of public calls for tenders increased by only 8%,” notes the watchdog of Quebec public procurement in a brief.

The AMP has also undertaken analyzes to try to understand the phenomenon. The exercise, which could last “several months”, aims among other things to see if this could be associated with collusion, indicates the organization's communications director, René Bouchard.

In its brief, the organization says it is seeing “increasingly the presence of organized crime, collusion and the sharing of territories” within the framework of its “surveillance mechanisms”.

Created to monitor the public contract market in the wake of the Charbonneau commission, the AMP can conduct audits on all companies that transact with the government. In the event of non-compliance, it has the power to exclude them from the public market for a period of five years.

The low number of bidders is one of the reasons given by the government to relax its tender system with Bill 62.

The average number of bidders participating in calls for tenders “has fallen by more than 13% in Quebec,” underlined the Minister of Infrastructure, Jonatan Julien, during the study of the legislative text on Wednesday. For large projects, there is often “no bidder, sometimes two, always roughly the same,” he also argued. Minister Julien is betting that by opening the door to a “collaborative” approach and new types of calls for tenders, such as the “partnership contract”, more companies will want to participate in calls for tenders.

In parliamentary committee, several groups have put forward this problem, particularly in the municipal world. “Examples have multiplied of calls for tenders without compliant bids,” related the mayor of Manseau, Guy St-Pierre, on behalf of the Fédération québécoise des municipalities, which represents the smallest towns in the province.

The AMP concerned about a breach

In its brief, the AMP also emphasizes that the low number of submissions “particularly” affects regions “where there is already little competition”. “We have […] information from entrepreneurs who emphasize […] not wanting to participate in calls for tenders, because their needs are poorly defined,” also writes the watchdog of Quebec public markets.

The organization said it was in favor of Bill 62 as a whole. However, he drew the attention of Minister Julien to a “breach”. Indeed, an article allowing the State to more easily conclude over-the-counter contracts following unsuccessful calls for tenders raises concern. As drafted, it risks encouraging companies not to tender “while waiting to receive an invitation to conclude a private contract”, argued the AMP.

< p>The minister was open to modifying the article in question.

On the other hand, the AMP does not share the concerns of law professor Martine Valois about the risks of collusion associated with “partnership contracts”. These contracts would be concluded between the government and companies through more flexible calls for tenders. Once the contract is signed, the consortium could make suggestions to the client on possible changes.

Questioned about this on Tuesday evening, the CEO. of the AMP, Yves Trudel was reassuring. “No, I don’t think it brings additional risks. We subscribe to it because the objective of this law is to open up to competition. »

A post-pandemic habit ?

As for Ms. Valois, she took advantage of her appearance in committee on Wednesday morning to reiterate that the government's lack of expertise as a client exposed it to abuse. “In the partnership contract, the problem comes from the lack of expertise of the donors of public works,” she declared during an exchange with Minister Julien.

The latter, for his part, stressed that there was no risk of collusion in his eyes in the process, because the collusion was done “in secret” while the work of the contracts partnerships were going to be “open book”.

Ms. Valois also referred to the “notable” increase in over-the-counter contracts. Since 2018, and with the pandemic, the government has become accustomed to awarding contracts over the counter, she noted. Quebec spent six billion dollars on such contracts during the fight against the pandemic.

The Office of the Auditor General was also questioned in the afternoon about the risks of collusion. Deputy Auditor Christine Roy said collusion could occur in any method of awarding contracts, including common public calls for tenders. Regarding the “partnership contracts” proposed in Bill 62, “it all depends on how it is framed,” she said in response to questions from Liberal MP Monsef Derraji.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116