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Council debates local hiring policy

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 12/01) - Some city councillors want administration to develop a local hire policy even though the idea was torpedoed in the past.

Coun. Dave Ramsay leads the most recent charge to develop such a policy following a recent decision to award PCL Constructors Northern Ltd. a pre-engineering contract for the new arena.

Ramsay said Yellowknife-based Hovat Construction, who bid $50,000 more than PCL, deserved the contract.

"The difference between Hovat's contract and PCL's was about 2 per cent," said Ramsay. "The choice was between a local guy and a huge conglomerate."

In a tendering process the city must award the contract to the lowest bidder.

The city's track record shows local companies reap most municipal contracts.

A report from 1999 shows between 1992 and 1997 the city chose local goods and services 85 per cent of the time and in 1998 it went local 88 per cent of the time.

Since April, the city awarded 17 contracts. Three went to companies outside Yellowknife. PCL, which has an office in Yellowknife but is headquartered in Edmonton, won two contracts.

Some members of council agreed with Ramsay's premise but argue it's not feasible to create a local preference policy.

"I think it's hard to define what a Northern company is," said Coun. Kevin O'Reilly.

"Is it 50 per cent Northern employees? If so, what do you mean by that? Do they live here, for how long?"

Coun. Ben McDonald said if the city wants to buy local it has to identify the increased cost in the capital budget.

"It would have cost $50,000 more to go for Hovat, that $50,000 dollars should be identified," said McDonald. "You can't have local programs without a cost associated."

Administration will report back to council on feasibility of a local hire policy.

A 1999 report said such a policy would hurt competition, lower the level of service and discourage outside investors.