Evidence of meeting #44 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was procurement.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Shahid Minto  Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman
  • Oriana Trombetti  Deputy Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman
  • Francine Brisebois  Principal Procurement Practices Review, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Yasmin Ratansi

Thank you.

Monsieur Nadeau, pour cinq minutes, s'il vous plaît.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Ladies, Mr. Minto, good afternoon to you.

I would like to ask you some questions about the $25,000 and $100,000 contracts. If I understand correctly, a contract of less than $25,000 does not necessarily have to be advertised publicly, and may be negotiated directly between the public servant responsible for a file and the suppliers. Is that an accurate picture of the situation?

4:20 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

I think there are exceptions provided to the fundamental principles of competition. For contracts under $25,000, that's one of the exceptions. You can invoke an exception, but I would just add that it's not automatic. You need to have a reason to go to this contractor and you need to have documentation to support why you went to this one and not somebody else.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

Very well. So that is the case also for construction contracts of less than $100,000?

4:20 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

That's for services.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

I am the member for the Gatineau riding, where a debate is ongoing concerning goods and services contracts in the region. We know that the City of Ottawa obtains about 98% of contracts and that the City of Gatineau gets about 2%. So we feel that there is unfairness in that regard. I am talking here about contracts awarded on the basis of merit.

However, in order for small and medium businesses in Gatineau to have a better awareness of opportunities, must they know who the public servants who review the files are, or is the normal process to simply make an offer in reply to a call for tenders from the federal government?

4:20 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

One of the things we're looking at for the next year is the whole regime around the rules for contracts under $25,000. One of the things we'd like to explore is how those possibilities are publicized, so that everybody has a chance to know they exist. Perhaps MERX can do something on that for contracts under $25,000. We haven't gotten to that work yet.

The honest answer to your question, sir, is that I really have not done enough work to give you a proper answer on that. Perhaps the people at Public Works would be in a much better position than I would be. We haven't done enough work to give you a full answer on this.

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Nadeau Gatineau, QC

I'm going to tell you about something. At a certain point, in a federal building on the Gatineau side, the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises was moved from the sixth floor to the ground floor to attempt to find a solution to this inequity. I think that more needs to be done than simply moving an office. I don't want to present a caricature the situation, or play on words.

I met with people from the Gatineau Chamber of Commerce and they want to know about the opportunities. On the one hand, there is the matter of obtaining the contracts. On the other hand, when a contract is not awarded to a company—and here I am still talking about small and medium businesses that make up the vast majority of businesses—how can the information process be improved? Businesses see that they don't obtain contracts but they don't know why and sometimes the situation is repeated in other cases.

What could you suggest in this regard, Mr. Minto, to see to it that our small and medium enterprises do not get discouraged before the vast apparatus that constitutes the federal government?

4:25 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

Madam Chair, we consider SMEs to be a very important constituent for us and one of our objectives is to find ways to assist them.

We are not lobbyists for SMEs. Let me just begin by saying that. Our job is not to get them business. Our job is to level the playing field. I think most SMEs don't want to be given handouts or business just like that, but they want a level playing field so they can compete. We are not apologists for the government, but we're not lobbyists for SMEs.

There are two things that I would say. One is to try the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises, OSME. Their job is to facilitate and to make it easier for SMEs to get business. That is their mandate. Their main mandate is to help small businesses get more business. That's not my mandate, because then I would become a lobbyist for them. I have to be in a neutral position.

The second thing is that if you look at our chapter on debriefings, that was the heart of what we were trying to say. Please tell people why they haven't got those contracts. Explain to them how they can do better next time.

The reason we were given was that “we'll get sued if we do that”. What we asked was why we didn't just create a safe zone, explain to people that you can talk within these rules, and that's the end of it.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Yasmin Ratansi

Thank you.

Mr. Warkentin, for five minutes.

December 1st, 2009 / 4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Minto, I appreciate your coming to our committee today. We appreciate the work you do.

One of the things I have often been concerned about is the structure of RFPs, and I'm wondering if you could tell our committee if businesses of any size are concerned about this.

At one point, we heard from a group of people who were bringing forward what they thought was an innovative product. They felt it was leading edge. They felt it was something the government could utilize. However, when they went to seek the RFP that would have been the entrance for their particular product, they found that the RFP was so prescriptive that it didn't allow them to even bid.

Do you find that people complain about that? Do you find that is a concern of businesses?

4:25 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

We've had people come to talk to us about the complexity of the RFPs. We've had people say they didn't really understand the requirements. We've had people tell us that there are too many mandatories in it. We've had them asking why we need all these mandatory requirements just for the RFP and saying that maybe they could be rated requirements other than mandatories.

One of the projects we have on our books for next year is to look at the whole procurement strategy, and that procurement strategy includes the requirements for an RFP. We have people working on that now. I'll be in a much better position to give you some additional information when they finish the report.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

I'd appreciate that. I'd be interested to hear if you find that there is as much concern as there was in this one company, especially as it relates to the high-tech sector. This person I am speaking of actually had what they felt was an innovative product. It was something that would have revolutionized the systems that governments use. What they found was that the RFP was very prescriptive for what they felt was an antiquated system. They felt they were being cut out from being a leader of innovation within the government.

I know you're not rules-based and that you are actually fairness-based. That may give you the latitude to consider this as you move forward. I would just be interested to hear about it as you proceed to look at that, and I know you will.

4:25 p.m.

Procurement Ombudsman, Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

Shahid Minto

We'll take note of your concerns and the issues you've raised. We'll put them into our planning hopper and see what we can do.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

In terms of reviewing files, you spoke about the fact that a well-documented file is a file that's good for you, and I can understand that. In my own office, I know, I have certain staff members who are excellent at taking notes as they relate to case files, and I have those who are not so good at note-taking. However, at the end of the day, I keep them both around because they both are good at what they do and they get the job done.

In the case where you find there are not adequate notes or sufficient notes, are there other types of interviews or different mechanisms that you're able to undertake to evaluate whether an appropriate process has taken place, or do you depend on or will you continue to require departments to take better notes?