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Unsuccessful bidders on St.-Julien Road project remain mystery

“There’s a risk that we might be demoralizing our team of professionals… They all abide by professional codes of conduct and they work within professional ethical standards. We need to trust them.”

BANFF – Banff councillor Hugh Pettigrew has failed in his bid to have the Town of Banff release the names of unsuccessful contractors who bid on the multi-million redevelopment project for St.-Julien Road – and their bid prices.

A number of construction companies submitted work for the project – which comes with an $8 million council-approved budget – and it was awarded to Canmore-based Bremner Engineering and Construction Ltd (BECL).

Coun. Pettigrew, however, is concerned that the public is not being made aware of the results of all submissions, final rankings, or any of the tenders rejected and wants a list posted of those bidders and amounts.

“It is a very important piece of transparency that I am trying to move forward… it’s a simple ask,” he said during council’s meeting on Monday (May 9), noting other municipalities do this, including Grande Prairie as one example.

“I also want to make it absolutely clear this is not about project micro-managing or this is not about every project that the Town tenders, but our large expenditures like Bear Street, like Banff Avenue, like St.-Julien Road and others in the multi-million dollars.”

Under the Town of Banff’s current process, there is a ranking of criteria included as part of the public tendering process for a project. A committee evaluates all tenders and each bid is given a score based on weighted criteria. The name of the successful bidder and the value of the contract is announced on Alberta Purchasing Connection.

Coun. Chip Olver said the current purchasing policy sets out a good level of governance when it comes to the tendering process.

“I don't think it's necessary for us to get into this depth that’s being asked for,” she said. “Our evaluation criteria is public, the person who is applying for the job knows exactly what it is, it’s on a public document, anyone can find out what it is… I think what we're following is sufficient and that we’re complying with all regulations and our own policy.”

Coun. Barb Pelham agreed, noting the level of information being sought is not at governance level but is “in the weeds.”

“There’s a risk that we might be demoralizing our team of professionals,” she said, adding that the Town of Banff has professional engineers, chartered engineers, a certified engineer technologist and project management professionals.

“They all abide by professional codes of conduct and they work within professional ethical standards. We need to trust them.”

Coun. Ted Christensen, who was the only councillor to support Coun. Pettigrew's move, said other jurisdictions have a greater degree of transparency.

“We’ve always strived to be in the forefront of communications with our citizens and just because we're in compliance doesn’t mean we're doing everything we need to be or can do," he said.

Jason Darrah, the communications director for the Town of Banff, said the municipality does not publish the names of losing bidders and the dollar of their bids for business reasons.

“Most importantly, we always want to convey the lowest price is not the only criteria, which can be mistakenly inferred when price lists of bids are published,” he said.

“Our goal is to get the best value for tax dollars and grants, and we feel that the competitive process is able to secure that value if we do not publish the price and scoring of all the proposals.”

Darrah said the Town of Banff has chosen against asking all bidders for permission to publish their names and proposal evaluation.

He said the municipality believes many businesses would not like that information disclosed, and would not compete in the RFPs because they may believe it affects their future ability to secure other contracts.

“We want businesses to keep bidding on our projects without concern about publishing losing bids and evaluation of their proposals,” he said.

“Maintaining some confidentiality also avoids politicizing the RFP process, or turning it into a popularity contest, rather than a detailed analysis by experts.”

Some municipalities, including in other provinces, have moved more to publishing all proposals submitted as a guard against bid-rigging.

“But we feel we follow best practices outlined by the Competition Bureau of Canada to avoid these risks,” said Darrah.

Council, however, voted 4-2 to review the purchasing policy this year ahead of service review instead of waiting for the scheduled review in 2023.