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SASKATOON – A group of Saskatchewan business owners have said other provinces are giving their companies competitive advantages when it comes to bidding on local government projects.
Premier Brad Wall has tasked Saskatchewan’s Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant with establishing a new branch of SaskBuilds, Priority Saskatchewan, which aims to create a fairer bidding process.
Saskatchewan’s largest steel fabrication company, Supreme Steel, has had to lay off 75 employees this spring.
“There’s a lot of social impact of layoffs, it affects families,” said Ross Fraser, Supreme’s senior vice president.
Fraser said there will always be an ebb and flow of layoffs in the construction industry, but he said there’s another important factor: companies like his are being out-bid by businesses from other provinces.
He explained that some provinces offer subsidies to their local companies, such as tax breaks and grants, that give the businesses a competitive advantage when it comes to out-bidding Saskatchewan companies.
“If tax dollars are being spent to help a company take business from a company in a jurisdiction that’s not getting a subsidy, that’s a pretty tough pill to swallow,” explained Fraser.
Saskatchewan sends equalization payments to Ottawa and Fraser said he finds it frustrating that a lot of the funding is transferred to provinces like Quebec, to ultimately subsidize his company’s competition.
“Quebec has heavy corporate subsidies, across the board. Billions of dollars go into that area of economic development,” said Fraser.
“We think those really distort the market and give those companies an unfair advantage. So what we asked the province to do, is step in and create a level playing field,” said Mark Cooper, with the Saskatchewan Construction Association.
Cooper said he hopes Priority Saskatchewan will address the problem and come up with solutions.
“We’re pleased the premier has made this decision and we think that it’s headed in the right direction. We’ve got lots of questions, but we’re certainly prepared to partner with the government,” explained Cooper.
Cooper plans to meet with Wyant in the coming weeks.