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Manufacturers cross fingers for new gov’t purchasing law

WATCH ABOVE: Mike McKinnon explores what a bill before the Saskatchewan government could mean to manufacturers

REGINA – Steel companies and other manufacturers are keeping an eye on legislation proposed by the NDP that would make it a better deal for the government to buy local.

Many large construction projects are contracted to businesses from outside the province, and manufacturers in Saskatchewan say it’s because they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to making a competitive bid.

The workforce at Supreme Steel in Saskatoon has been cut in half over the last three years, with more layoffs this week.

“This coming Friday, I’m sending another 21 men home,” said Ross Fraser, Supreme Steel vice president. “21 families are going to be affected.”

Fraser said manufacturers outside the province, such as Ontario or Quebec, benefit from subsidies offered there, and can be more competitive when bidding for projects in our province.

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The opposition tabled a private members bill Monday with nine categories for considering a bid, asking the government to look beyond the price tag.

“Looking at a manufacturer’s history, looking at their contracts in the past,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “This would be a better, more refined process to level the playing field.”

The province went a different route in the summer, proposing the Canada Free Trade Act along with Alberta and British Columbia.

Premier Brad Wall said at the time he doesn’t want to “pick winners and losers.”

“We know it’s not very good economic policy,” Wall said.

The government is also trying to create a more equitable bid process through the Priority Saskatchewan initiative.

Fraser calls it a good start, but, “If it takes too long, there are going to be a lot more people in this province out of work.”

Jason Childs, a University of Regina economist, says any decision that would restrict trade is a lose-lose.

He believes paying a higher price to local companies could result in fewer construction projects overall – in which case, Childs says the best solution for Saskatchewan may be for subsidies to end in other provinces.

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