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Improving procurement key among OAA issues

Posted By Morris On 10 Jun 2014 in Construction and Real Estate

Improving procurement key among OAA issues
The Ontario Association of Architects(OAA) has developed a list of policy issues that they would like all parties to consider for the next provincial election. “With the Ontario provincial election coming up soon, we want to ensure a number of important issues remain on the minds of those who will be elected,” said Bill Birdsell, president of the OAA. “Engagement is an important component in bringing about effective change. We are encouraging our members and the public to become familiar with the issues we have prioritized in order to together create a stronger, safer and more effective building industry.” The OAA, which is a self-regulating and governing profession under the Architects Act, has produced a position paper that identifies nine specific issues for parties to pursue after the June 12 election. One of the main issues is putting an end to lowest bid procurement and advocating for Quality-Based Selection (QBS). “The procurement of architectural services should not be treated like procuring pencils or toilet paper,” said the position paper. “Similarly, the government must realize that it is not procuring merchandise, it’s procuring hours and a level of service, more akin to hiring employees.” If the government selects architects based on who is the lowest bidder it demonstrates a commitment to devoting the least number of hours and the lowest level of service to public infrastructure. In sharp contrast, QBS puts design considerations first. This allows architects to focus on functionality and innovation, which ensures the public is getting the best value for its tax dollars. In the U.S., the Brooks Act prohibits the selection of architectural and engineering firms based on price, and mandates that they are selected based on merits such as competency, qualifications and experience. The Brooks Act was established in 1972, after the U.S. government realized that procuring architectural and engineering services by the lowest bid put the public at risk. The OAA is also concerned that building officials no longer have the authority under the Building Code Act, 1992 to reject illegally-submitted building permits. “The now-defunct provincial budget introduced in May 2014 proposed to enact amendments to the Building Code Act, 1992, that would have closed this gap and put an end to this risk by re-empowering building officials to refuse illegally-submitted building permits,” said the position paper. “However, the dissolution of Parliament puts this commitment at risk of being abandoned or forgotten.” As a result of a court case, public safety provisions were stripped from the Building Code Act, 1992 as well as the regulations that had allowed building officials in the province to reject building permits that weren’t stamped by a licensed architect or engineer. The OAA commissioned an independent review of the site plan approval process by planning and economic consultants in 2013, which found significant economic impacts as a result of the variation from one municipality to the next in the implementation. The costs associated with the time spent getting from site plan application to approval affects applicants, municipalities, other levels of government, existing communities and end users. The study concluded there is an opportunity to improve the manner in which the process is currently being administered. The issue is with the way in which the process is administered, not with the legislative framework, which provides for pre-consultation, delegation, an appeal period, limited appeals and required tools to implement control over exterior design. The OAA also opposes the bundling of contracts and cites a study produced by the Ontario General Contractors Association for the Construction Design Alliance of Ontario in 2013 to support this position. According to the report, bundling on the $4-billion Eglinton-Crosstown Line reduced competition and the number of qualified bidders, and increased the cost of the project. The size and scope of the project resulted in only two consortiums expressing public interest. One consortium is Canadian-based and the other is led by foreign multi-national firms. The study concludes that if the tender been broken down into smaller bites, and stations been tendered individually, about 10 small and medium-sized, Ontario-based construction and design firms would have bid on each of the smaller projects. This would have increased competition and reduced the cost to taxpayers, which could have saved up to $500 million. In addition, vehicles were purchased before the rest of the project was started, which locked bidders to a defined technology that was not necessarily the best choice. Another approach might be to separate the other rail system elements into a single package, and then break the stations and maintenance facilities into several packages that will generate competitive bids. The OAA is calling for greater transparency in the public-private partnership (P3) procurement process. They want the next provincial government to fully disclose all cost and risk projections on proposed P3 projects. Finally, the OAA hopes the next provincial government will remain committed to a bill on prompt payment and a review of the Construction Lien Act.

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