The provincial government is looking to save money, and the Heavy Civil Association says its got an idea that won’t cost a penny: issue public works tenders earlier.
Jim Organ, executive director for the association, said the government could make life easier for contractors, and save money along the way, by issuing public tenders earlier in the year so companies can take advantage of the entire construction season.
“We end up seeing work being awarded or tendered later in the spring or early summer,” Organ said. “We certainly feel that with earlier tenders, there definitely would be more competition; better planning always allows for better pricing.”
Right now, capital projects revolve around the budget process, which happens around the end of March or the beginning of April, which is the end of the government’s fiscal year.
“When we speak to our government about this, they say really, we can’t be putting the tenders out because we need to wait for the budget, which brings us up to March or April,” Organ said. “We end up seeing work being awarded or tendered later in the spring or early summer.”
But that leaves contractors in the lurch for the first few months of the year. Instead of being able to start work right away when the winter ends, Organ said, contractors have to wade through the tendering process.
“If you’re looking at building a house for yourself, I think you’d want to do your planning in the winter and have your construction crew started in the spring so your house is completed late summer, early fall. Those are the most productive months of the year,” he said.
It’s not just about competitive bidding and maximizing the construction season, either.
Organ said because contractors don’t have a firm sense of how much work they’ll do in a construction year, it’s hard for them to nail down their workforce.
“If the work can come out in December or January, the tenders go out and they get awarded. And if they get awarded in the February-March timeframe, at least then the companies know that,” he said. “If our contractors had their tenders sorted out in the early part of the year, they then have the option to guarantee work to their labour force.”
In Nova Scotia, Organ said, the government lays out a multi-year plan for infrastructure that helps companies plan.
“It might not be exact, but they’ve still laid out over a five-year period what work they’re hoping on doing and when, and what their priorities are,” he said. “I’ve certainly had the opportunity to speak to my counterparts in Nova Scotia who find that extremely helpful.”