Ontario Construction Report staff writer
The ideas sound good, but the implementation of the provincial government’s Broader Public Service Directive (BPSD) for procurement of provincially-funded services and projects has been a disaster, says Clive Thurston, chair of the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO), an umbrella group representing several industry associations.
“Nobody’s in charge of it,” he said, of the directive, designed to set standards for “fair, open and transparent bidding and tendering.”
“As a directive, it is hardly enforceable,” he said. Owners — representing public institutions including health care organizations, colleges, universities and local school boards — “are equally frustrated,” he said. “They can’t get a clear direction on how things are supposed to work.”
Thurston, also president of the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA), says the directive is currently administered by a secretariat within the ministry of government and public services. It originated as a reaction to the E-health fiasco, where consultants were collecting hefty fees and claiming expenses without proper accountability and competitive bidding.
The trouble, says Thurston, is not the ideas behind the directive, but their implementation and the inability of anyone to obtain clear guidelines and adjudicate problems when they arise.
“Some owners are interpreting that they don’t have to open tenders publicly,” he said. Thurston said the directive doesn’t resolve issues or provide direction for the construction industry, which has different industry standards and practices than for many other products and services. “Many parts of the directive do not recognize the difference,” he said.
“We can’t get anyone to be accountable for them,” he said. “When we have found owners who are blatantly breaking the rules, don’t release bid results, don’t give information about who is the low bidder, we don’t have anyone to hold accountable.”
He said the directive’s secretariat originally was housed in the finance ministry. It has been moved to government services, but the problems remain because of the inability for the industry and owners to achieve recourse when public officials interpret the rules contrary to the directive’s objectives.
“Across the province, architects, contractors, engineers, and owners have been left hanging by a well-intentioned directive that has been badly used and is driving bidders away from construction.”
Thurston says he believes political leadership is needed to provide some teeth and and accountability to the directive’s guidelines, with a much clearer process to deal with circumstances when public agencies and interpret the rules in manners that are contrary to the directive’s intent.
“There’s a real lack of understanding on how it is to be used and applied,” he said.