Canadian Consulting Engineer

Alberta municipalities grapple with hiring consultants

Wendy Cooper, chief executive officer of Consulting Engineers of Alberta is travelling to remote rural areas o...

September 14, 2009   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Wendy Cooper, chief executive officer of Consulting Engineers of Alberta is travelling to remote rural areas of the province to help municipal officials understand how to procure consultant services under the new TILMA agreement. According to a CEA newsletter, “there was a lot of confusion and misinformation on this topic with our municipal clients.”

The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) came into force in April this year as a measure to remove trade barriers between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. It means that for the first time consulting engineering companies are free to bid for work in both provinces.

Cooper explains that most of the larger companies already have offices in both provinces, so TILMA hasn’t opened up huge doors of opportunity as the government might have planned.

TILMA has, however, led to difficulties, particularly for municipalities.  Cooper explains that before TILMA came into force, many — not all — municipalities would have a preferred consultant that they would contact as work came up. Now the municipalities have to solicit proposals from far and wide, and they don’t always have the experience or the resources to handle the complexities of the procurement process.

In August, Cooper travelled to northern Alberta, to Dixonville, 25 kilometres north of the Peace River to make her first presentation. In a community hall there she met with 50-60 people and explained about prequalifying consultants, short listing and organizing requests for proposals.

Cooper says she is trying to “educate, not preach” to the officials. She offers advice built over the last three years while working with the Alberta Ministries of Transportation and Infrastructure in developing  a TILMA-compliant procurement model. In this model, the government ministries publish their projects on the Alberta Purchasing Connection, which is the province’s official tendering site. They come up with a list of criteria for selecting firms, then invite three of them to submit proposals.

At the same time Cooper is explaining to the municipalities the benefits of selecting consultants based on their qualifications and experience (QBS), rather than on taking the one who offers to do the work for the lowest fee. Some municipalities are making the fee component account for 60 per cent of the weight when selecting consulting engineers.

Cooper says that now under TILMA, “all public sector departments have to make sure they give equal and fair treatment for anybody that wants to work for the government. But in professional services it’s not as simple as that.  [Engineering] is not a commodity. You don’t choose someone just because they’re offering the cheapest price.”

During September and October, Cooper will be travelling to meet municipal officials in Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Edmonton, Acadia Valley and Pembina River.

CEA has a synopsis explaining TILMA and the request for proposal process on its website.


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