Saskatoon Implements New Indigenous Procurement Protocol

An Interview with Scott Eaton, Director of Supply Chain Management for the City of Saskatoon

By Heather Exner-Pirot

HEP: Saskatoon recently announced it was implementing an Indigenous procurement protocol. Can you tell me what this means in practice?  

SE: The City of Saskatoon’s Council passed a new purchasing policy that recognizes Diverse and Indigenous Suppliers in December 2018. It says that the City will procure Goods and Services, and promote and participate in viable Procurement opportunities with Diverse Suppliers and Indigenous Suppliers.But the policy didn’t include any direction on how to include Indigenous evaluation criteria into the City’s procurements, so we developed an Indigenous Procurement Protocol that providesa framework and guidelines to support the City staff responsible for procurement.

There are weighted criteria in the protocol. It’s assigned on a case-by-case basis, and we’ve recommended that between 5-10% of points are accorded to Indigenous participation. But it is about more than just points or price. The City has adopted abest value framework for its procurement and we’ve structured the protocol as a way to generate a conversation with city staffand stakeholders. The intent is to discuss project deliverables and outcomes, and to get our stakeholders at the table having a conversation.

Our primary focus is on Indigenous job creation and employment, with a secondary emphasis on Indigenous ownership. We also consider the work companies do to support education, training, development and awareness for Indigenous economic development. All of it is geared towards the City leveraging our existing spend and being a good corporatecitizen.

HEP: What was the rationale for this new protocol?

SE: The City had been working away at this for a number of years. But it was the new procurement policy of December 2018, moving from low bid towards best value procurement, that really laid the foundation. And in anticipation of that, we held an Indigenous procurement workshop last October. We heard about barriers and challenges to Indigenous procurement, such as capacity issues for small or new businesses, the inertia of the status quo with regards to legacy supply chains, and opportunistic partnerships, where people or businesses were being used as a check box, without real benefits accruing to Indigenous peoples. And we had discussions about what Indigenous ownership of a business means.

Participants included Indigenous-owned businesses, Indigenous-employing businesses, Indigenous leadership, Indigenous economic development corporations, and community organizations.

The timing was also about leveraging the city’s spending power to address the TRC Calls to Action, especially #92. We are striving to be good corporate citizens.

We hope and intend that the use of Indigenous participation evaluation criteria will reward vendors for actions that add social value. It could also encourage vendors to look for new ways to increase their social value to improve their ability to compete for future procurement opportunities.

HEP: Is it true Saskatoon is the first city in Canada to implement such a protocol?

SE: Not exactly. We conducted a review of municipalities and businesses across Canada on different approaches to social and Indigenous procurement. I’d prefer to say it’s an emerging trend in public sector procurement and theres a lot of opportunity for learning and innovation. We were also able to draw on the policies of business procurement leaders like Nutrien and BHPright in our own province. I’d also like to recognize SaskPower,as our protocol was built from their approach to Indigenous procurement. So it would be pretty bold to say we were first.

But we do want to be municipal leaders. It’s not about being firstfor us. It’s about leveraging the City’s spend, giving people opportunities, improving quality of life, and doing the right thing.

Developing the protocol and evaluation criteria that recognizes our supplier’s efforts to support Indigenous groups is only the first step. The real challenge lies ahead in understanding capacities, aligning opportunities and outcomes, and having tangible and sustainable results. As I’ve said, I think there is an opportunity for continued learning and innovation and would prefer to focus on working with stakeholders across Canada tounlock this potential.

HEP: Now that the Indigenous procurement protocol is being rolled out, are you noticing any impacts? 

SE: The City of Saskatoon included Indigenous procurement evaluation criteria in several RFPs in early 2019. We are continuing to monitor early feedback to implement program revisions and continuously improve. But early results have shown that existing suppliers have Indigenous labour within their workforce, and we’re showing a positive trend towards social procurement.

It’s also provided opportunities to have discussions with Indigenous suppliers, created some awareness of our processes, and they’ve been able to present to buyers to communicate theircapabilities.

This is really only phase 1 of our approach. We need to havemore conversations, see what capabilities are out there and see where we can better align with Indigenous and non-Indigenous suppliers to move this forward in a sustainable fashion. We cannot stop now that there is a protocol, but it does provide a cornerstone to where the city’s procurement power needs to go.

HEP: Has there been any pushback to the protocol?

A lot of people are uncertain about it. It’s change, and they may be unsure of how to proceed. For some of our suppliers, margins were already tight and so they’re concerned with how points are being assigned. Others are wondering if they can even ask their employees what their ethnic background is.

We’ve done so much in such a short period of time, and moved from the traditional low bid to best value. So people are concerned about the tighter margins and losing work, and not being able to compete. And we’re working on ensuring people understand and feel comfortable with the process.

However Indigenous people, groups, and businesses have been disadvantaged in the past. So, this is an important way to balance and support their growth as an individual or business.

I think we need to recognize that this about giving Indigenous people or businesses a “hand up” rather than a “hand out”. This is the right thing to do for the City of Saskatoon and itsresidents.