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Qualifications-based selection of professional consultants gaining traction in Ottawa

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by Patricia Williams

In a move applauded in consulting industry circles, a parliamentary committee has recommended that Public Works and Government Services Canada consider the merits of legislating qualifications-based selection (QBS) of professional consultants. The move would ensure that innovation and quality are key determinants in bid evaluation.

Procurement

In a move applauded in consulting industry circles, a parliamentary committee has recommended that Public Works and Government Services Canada consider the merits of legislating qualifications-based selection (QBS) of professional consultants.

In a report to Parliament, the standing committee on government operations and estimates said the federal government must ensure that innovation and quality are key determinants in bid evaluation and contract awards.

However, the committee heard “compelling evidence” from the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies (ACEC) that the lowest price often trumps quality as the key determinant in bid evaluation.

“Though QBS is relatively unknown in the federal government, it is used in other jurisdictions in Canada and the world,” the committee said in its report entitled, In Pursuit of Balance: Assisting Small and Medium Enterprises in Accessing Federal Procurement.

While the committee noted that one of the risks is that QBS can raise the costs of a contract, it said this process “is not a blank cheque that allows contract winners to charge whatever fee they want.

“The value of QBS in terms of creating technologies and providing the best goods and services possible should balance out any increase in the cost of the contract,” the committee said.

A spokesperson for the public works department said it would not be “appropriate” to comment on the report’s recommendations as the government response has yet to be tabled in the House of Commons.

The parliamentary committee’s recommendation was hailed by ACEC president Jeff Morrison “as a positive step forward.” The association has long advocated that engineering consultants be selected on the basis of qualifications rather than lowest price.

“With this report, we will have greater ammunition to pursue this over the summer,” Morrison said.

The province of Quebec last year introduced legislation requiring provincial agencies to use QBS. Calgary and London have also adopted this procurement method.

“We feel we are starting to see some momentum and a better understanding within the federal government of the advantages of QBS,” Morrison said.

The case for government-wide adoption of QBS was made before the standing committee by ACEC past chair Andrew Steeves and John Gamble, president of Consulting Engineers of Ontario.

Meanwhile, ACEC has concluded an agreement with the Canadian Standards Association to produce a web-based course that will instruct procurement officers on how to implement QBS.

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