Fewer contracts signed by the City of Vancouver will be subject to political oversight thanks to new procurement policy
It might not be a "sexy" topic to discuss just days prior to Christmas, but a move by Vancouver's senior public servants to significantly reduce the amount of political oversight on contracts signed by the City should be of concern to the public. The staff report requested that Council increase the upper limit whereby they need Council's prior approval before they can sign a contract. They wanted the limit to go from $300K to $2 million. The new procurement policy was passed yesterday with only NPA Councillor Anton opposed.
Unlike other major Canadian cities, Vancouver has been relatively scandal free when it comes to the issuance of major contracts. That's because all consultant contracts valued over $30K and all other contracts valued at $300K+ have always required political approval. As such, details of the contracts were completely open to public scrutiny before they were signed. Under the new rules which the Vision majority passed yesterday, only contracts valued over $2 million will go to Council for approval. In addition, the City Manager can now enter into sole-source contracts valued up to $500,000 without having to seek Council's prior approval.
In Montreal they are currently dealing with allegations of corruption and contracts being awarded to friends and insiders. The scandal helped to become a focal point of the last civic election. The whole issue has helped to raise the profile of how cities issue contracts for the billions of dollars worth of goods and services they sign each year with various suppliers.
Anton moved an amendment to the motion asking that all contracts valued at $1 million or higher come before Council for review. That motion was defeated. In addition, Anton asked that Council be regularly advised of all significant contracts being signed by the City of Vancouver. In response City Manager Penny Ballem told Anton this was completely doable.
Unfortunately, Raymond "partisan" Louie couldn't take off his political hat for a moment and decided to rally his caucus to vote against Anton's motion. As a result, elected officials will no longer be alerted to significant contracts, let alone vote on them. Here is what Anton had to say in reaction to the vote:
Councillor's exercise oversight. That's our job. We need to be alerted to sensitive and major contracts. It actually can be embarrassing to councillors and the City if elected officials are not aware of these things. The City Manager was very willing to do a regular reporting. It was beyond belief that Raymond didn't want that to happen. His allergic reaction to Suzanne Anton motions continues.
The staff report argues that the new procurement policy will help to save money while ensuring proper safeguards are in place. The new policy will take effect in April 2010.