Last Monday night’s regular meeting of Telkwa council got a bit heated when the local contractor hiring process policy was on the table.
The definition of ‘local’ divided council members and caused grumbling among the small audience sitting in on the meeting.
According to the policy, the purpose of it is to ensure that benefits are optimized during all of the Village’s opportunities for work for the area residents, local communities, First Nations, and to ensure that local companies receive priority consideration.
The policy came up for discussion at the previous meeting on Oct. 10 but council couldn’t decide if local should mean the entire Bulkley Valley going as far to include Houston to Hazelton, or just Telkwa. It was decided at that meeting to see what the Town of Smithers includes in its local policy and do something similar so things are equal.
At the meeting on Oct. 23, CAO Debbie Joujan reported back to council saying that she spoke to the Town of Smithers and their local hiring policy includes Telkwa. Most of council agreed that if Smithers was including Telkwa, Telkwa should include Smithers.
“What I’ve been pushing for in every discussion,” said Coun. Brad Layton. “If we are going to be considered local, if Smithers is considering us local then for us to turn around and say Smithers is second to us — it goes against what we are trying to do, to have an equal status back and forth.”
Mayor Darcy Repen echoed Layton’s suggestion.
“If Smithers includes us, we should include them,” said Repen. “On my end, I’m prioritizing the taxpayer in Telkwa, the opportunities for us to have the right contractor to do the work for the right price. We are two municipalities and a regional district, but really we are one community and [for example] there are contractors that live in Telkwa and work for other contractors that are based in the regional district (of Bulkley-Nechako) or Smithers. Ultimately, we are making a decision to either being isolationists or be part of the community.
“There will be times when it makes sense to go with whoever is here or whatever supplier is here, but there will be times when it makes sense to go to a broader opportunity for people.”
However, Coun. Leroy Dekens was in strong opposition and said Telkwa should take care of its own local contractors and suppliers first.
“Telkwa contractors should be contacted first,” said Dekens.
The local hiring policy was moved to include Smithers, with only Dekens opposing it.
One local contractor, Wilf Fuerst, spoke against the policy at the end of the meeting:
“You sit there and you say local, local, local and then we open the local part of it way up. Why? Why are we doing this? Our local company drops a half million dollars into this town every year, not including the taxes we pay. We are taxpayers too. We are part of this community. Smithers has preferred contractors. You say that Smithers includes us but that isn’t true. Why are we are singling out our local contractors?”
Despite Fuerst demanding an answer from council, he was not given one and left feeling frustrated.
Repen said during the meeting that he’s more than willing to talk to the Town of Smithers if they don’t live up to their agreement.
Town of Smithers CAO Anne Yanciw said the Town doesn’t have an official local hiring policy but they do follow a procurement best practice policy.
“One of the Smithers requirements is that they have a Town of Smithers business licence. Having a local procurement policy is risky because it does not follow best practices in procurement. We are cautious around this,” she said. “The procurement best practice means that you have an open process as oppose to a favoured process.”
Within that policy local suppliers are defined as those operating within the immediate surrounding area of Smithers and with a Town of Smithers business license.
“It does say the immediate area but we don’t have a map or a definition of what immediate surrounding area means,” she added.