Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My thanks also to all committee members.
My name is Rob Wright and I am the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Parliamentary Precinct Branch within Public Services and Procurement Canada.
I am here to speak to you today about our work in the Parliamentary precinct as part of the committee's study on small and medium enterprises in federal procurement, and on the procurement strategy for aboriginal business.
Joining me today is Nathalie Laliberté, Director General for the Program, Portfolio and Client Relationship Management sector within the Parliamentary precinct. Nathalie is currently supporting officials at Canada-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, as well as the national indigenous organizations and local stakeholders, to develop the vision for a national space for indigenous peoples at 100 Wellington, the former American embassy.
Also with me from our department is Matthew Sreter, Executive Director, Strategic Policy Development, Acquisitions. As it does for the Government of Canada more broadly, the acquisitions program provides procurement services to help us accomplish our important mandate here in the Parliamentary precinct.
The Parliamentary precinct is made up of 34 crown-owned buildings, 28 of which are designated heritage buildings. It includes Canada's Parliament buildings as well as the buildings along Sparks and Wellington streets. Our role is to operate and maintain these facilities on behalf of Parliament, and to undertake the planning and delivery of work to restore and modernize these important and iconic federal assets.
We are making good progress so far in our effort to to bring these 19th-century buildings into the 21st century. Since restoring the beautiful Library of Parliament in 2006, we have completed a number of major projects, including the Sir John A. Macdonald building in 2015 and the building we are meeting in today, the Wellington building, in 2016.
In the next few months, we will be completing the government Conference Centre, phase 1 of the Visitor Welcome Centre and the West Block. The completion of these state-of-the-art facilities will enable the Centre Block to be emptied and its major restoration to begin.
In undertaking our work, we engage the private sector for a broad range of services, including skilled trades, construction, manufacturing, and professional services, such as urban planning and architecture and engineering expertise. The procurement processes used to secure these services are led by our department's procurement branch in accordance with the policies set out by the Treasury Board of Canada.
Large-scale restoration and modernization projects, such as the West Block, for example, are extremely complex. While we engage directly with a broad range of small and medium-sized companies, we also typically have in place large contracts for architectural and engineering services and construction management to help us manage these large-scale infrastructure projects.
It is important to note, however, that for the major construction projects, over 90% of the value flows through to small and medium-sized companies through work that is competitively subcontracted by the construction manager. For example, on a project such as the West Block, on any given day, there are approximately 1,000 people from over 40 different companies involved in the work on site.
While the work is happening here, locally, on the construction site, its economic footprint is much more national in scale. There are a number of firms supporting the work that are situated here in the national capital region, but several others come to us from a range of large Canadian cities, such as Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Edmonton, as well as a fairly diverse set of smaller cities and towns, such as Hamilton, Saint-Canut, Saint-Georges, and Chatham.
We're making significant investments into the parliamentary precinct and where possible, we're looking to leverage them to support socio-economic objectives. Last year, we engaged Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton to conduct an impact analysis of our work. They concluded that our department is leveraging the restoration work in the parliamentary precinct to encourage widespread inclusion of Canadians, specifically increasing the participation of youth, women, and indigenous people, as well as indigenous firms.
Partnering and engagement, both internally and externally, has been a critical success factor for our work. We have established many long-standing partnerships with Canadian universities to provide youth with skills development opportunities, while affording us the opportunity to leverage innovation and unique research experience to overcome technical challenges in our work.
Another example is a masonry apprenticeship program that we helped to create for the West Block that had over 60 participants, 30% of whom were women. This is the highest ever recorded total for a program of this nature in North America.
Regarding indigenous participation specifically, we have also had success. Using voluntary set-asides through the procurement strategy for aboriginal business, PSAB, we have awarded over $15 million in work to indigenous firms since fiscal year 2014-15. Set-asides have been used on all of our major projects. They are provided for a range of goods, including artisanal millwork and furniture for parliamentary offices, the new cabinet room in West Block, and committee rooms, including the furnishings in this room here. They have also provided for an array of services, such as environmental engineering services, project management support services for the Centre Block, and also for the project to restore the building we are in today. Just this past fiscal year, a little over 2% of the expenditures on our major projects were made through indigenous firms.
Before proceeding further in my remarks, I would like to address statements made in previous hearings, regarding geographic barriers to bidding on contracts for work on Parliament Hill, specifically, requirements to be within a 50-kilometre radius of our sites.
The first thing that I would like to emphasize is that we want to reduce barriers to participation and not increase them. In general, industry capacity in our field of work is one of the most significant risks we face and therefore, working in partnership to increase capacity is critical to our continuing success in the future. We don't limit bidding to a geographic area. However, this particular contract was for on-site project management support services for projects here on Wellington Street and did require the ability to be on site within short notice. A 50-kilometre limit was used as a proxy to be able to perform the services on-site and support the efficient and effective delivery of the work.
The intent was not to limit bidding, but to indicate that services would be required on site. I agree with the critique that the language that was used could easily be interpreted as limiting. Therefore, when this matter was brought to our attention, we worked with our partners in the acquisitions program and took three steps. First, we removed the clause from the request for proposals. Second, we extended the tender time from 20 to 30 days, and third, we also excluded 100 Wellington Street from the contract, so that a set-aside could be used in support of indigenous leadership and participation on this historic project.
Going forward, we intend to continue to use set-asides. We are also committed to leveraging new and existing tools and engaging in broader partnerships, in order to increase the economic business, employment, and capacity-building opportunities for indigenous peoples, as well as other under-represented segments of society in this field of work, including youth and women. In this vein, we are committed to working with our acquisitions partners to require bidders for large-scale projects under set-asides to establish an indigenous subcontracting strategy, an indigenous participation strategy, and an indigenous internship or apprenticeship strategy.
In our 2016-17 annual report, which is public, we committed to doing this in 100% of our major projects and established a target of at least 5% subcontracted work to indigenous firms for our major construction projects.
We are also in the early stages of engaging with our federal partners at Employment and Social Development Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs to to develop an integrated indigenous participation framework that aligns with the ongoing review of PSAB and the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, and supports the government's broader procurement modernization agenda.
It will take some time to develop in full, but as a next step, we will be consulting our indigenous partners such as as the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and members of the national indigenous organizations so that we can collectively develop a meaningful strategy that produces sustained results.
In closing, we are fully committed to working in partnership to eliminate barriers, and to leveraging these iconic infrastructure projects as investments for the benefit of all Canadians.
Thank you very much.