It’s not over when it’s over: Quebec engineering firms face report cards from public clients
Last October, Quebec became the first province in Canada to decree by regulation that all its ministries must hire ...
Last October, Quebec became the first province in Canada to decree by regulation that all its ministries must hire engineering and architectural firms based on their competence and experience rather than hiring the firm offering the lowest fees. The procurement policy is known as quality-based selection, or QBS. It is now regulated policy for any building and infrastructure projects undertaken by Quebec government ministries and the health and education departments.
Quebec’s decision to make quality based selection mandatory was much celebrated among engineering companies. Their associations have been lobbying for such a policy for several years.
However, the engineers and architects who work in the public sector are now about to face another aspect of the government’s new procurement rules, one that puts the onus on these consultants to perform.
As part of the new regulations, engineers and architects hired to work on government projects will be subject to post-project evaluations. At the end of every contract, the government client will review the consultant’s work, and if they find the company did not perform satisfactorily, the client will detail the problems in a report. The report would be taken into consideration any time the consulting firm responded to any future government requests for proposals, so the stakes are high.
Johanne Desrochers, president of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ), explains that the public client will have 60 days after the end of the contract to issue a report. The consulting will have 30 days after that to respond and oppose the charges, then the client will have another 30 days to reconsider.
The policy is all part of the province’s response to the Laval Overpass collapse and the Johnson Commission Inquiry recommendations that followed the tragedy. One of the commission’s concerns was about ensuring the quality and safety of engineering work and tightening up project management practices.
Desrochers says the AICQ supports the idea of post-project evaluations and has been providing input on behalf of engineering companies to Transports Quebec, which is taking the lead in implementing the policy. She says the transportation ministry is drafting a reporting document, and they will likely see it by March. “From what we’ve seen, it’s quite comprehensive,” she says.
Interestingly, while Quebec’s rules stipulate that the client must issue a report only if it is dissatisfied with the quality of the consultant’s work, Transports Quebec has decided that it will systematically issue a post-evaluation report on all its projects, whether they are satisfied with the consultants’ work or not.
Desrochers says AICQ is in favour of post-project evaluations being issued in all cases: “We support that, because we think that it should be done in any quality control program,” she says. She explains, for example, that a few years ago AICQ advised public clients to meet every year with the heads of consulting engineering firms to discuss how well the firms were performing. “Everyone appreciated that,” she says.
There’s another reason for Transports Quebec doing reports in all cases, Desrochers explains: “If they don’t make the evaluations systematic, it will mean that they will almost never have that type of evaluation done, because it will be more of a problem than anything.”
She believes that once Transport Quebec has finalized its evaluation form, it could become a model for other ministries and government departments to use. “So we [AICQ] try to influence the process.”
Regarding quality-based selection, AICQ is hoping that the next step will see municipalities making QBS mandatory and harmonizing their procurement policies with those of the province. At present, Quebec municipalities and publicly owned agencies such as Hydro-Quebec and Loto-Quebec are only required to “consider” using quality-based selection when hiring consulting engineers, she explains.