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A long-awaited social procurement policy is coming to Halifax regional council for debate next week, but use of the proposed policy — including requiring contractors to pay a living wage or hire African Nova Scotians — would be mostly optional for municipal departments.

The new policy is the result of a motion from Coun. Lindell Smith more than three years ago, asking for a staff report and recommendation on “a policy framework for the consideration of social economic benefit, employee compensation/living wage and environmental impacts in the procurement process.”

Along the way, Smith’s request was repeatedly delayed and eventually split up. In May, council approved a social policy framework — a way to formalize the municipality’s approach to social issues.

The other half of Smith’s original request is the social procurement policy, and that’s coming to council’s Tuesday meeting as part of a revision of the city’s procurement policy as a whole.

The staff report to council, written by senior procurement officer Stephen Terry, lays out the purpose of the social procurement section of the new administrative order:

In support of the values within the Social Policy recently adopted by Council, the proposed changes to the Procurement Policy include the addition of specific provisions related to Social Procurement. The goals of Social Procurement are to enhance community health and well-being by advancing reconciliation, inclusion, equity and diversity; increase economic opportunities by expanding participation of diverse and social value businesses in the Municipality’s supply chain; improve economic independence and capacity by increasing employment and training opportunities for underemployed, unemployed, under-represented equity seeking populations; support community considerations in the supply chain and encourage environmental sustainability.

In short, it’s about looking at more than just the lowest bid for any given contract. Here’s what the policy does, via Terry’s report:

For purchases under $10,000 and for all invitational solicitations staff will endeavor to invite at least one diverse or social enterprise supplier to competitively bid. Procurement and applicable Departments will also work together to include, where appropriate, social considerations in the evaluation criteria and/or contract requirements such as fair wages, diversity of ownership, workforce and values, workforce development and training, social enterprise, community development and environmental responsibility.

Though the report doesn’t use the term living wage in that explanation, it is included in the policy itself. A living wage in Halifax was equal to $20.10 an hour back in 2015, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report. The provincial minimum wage is $12.55.

As the Halifax Examiner has pointed out many times, the city contracts out services like the cleaning of its buildings, and those workers are not well paid.

The only reason the city contracts out these services is so City Hall can (supposedly) “save” money because the contractors don’t have to pay the union wages city workers get paid, about $20/hour — in fact, the contractors pay shit wages, at or near minimum wage.

Will those workers now be paid a living wage? That depends on whether the department contracting them wants to require it.

Rather than requiring a living wage or supplier diversity in all contracts, the wording of the new policy leaves its use up to each department’s discretion when crafting a tender or request for proposals.

The first section of the policy requires departments to “invite at least one diverse or social enterprise supplier to submit a bid” — but only “where feasible” and only on contracts valued under $10,000 or where all bidders are invited.

The second section directs the department and the procurement section to “consider” including requirements “that aim to achieve social value or social impacts.”

Those include requirements for “opportunities for diverse suppliers including suppliers owned, operated by, or employing African Nova Scotians, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and/or other traditionally underrepresented groups;” “fair wage/living wage;” and “environmental benefits.”

The new procurement policy before council on Tuesday would replace the existing policy. Aside from the inclusion of the social procurement section, the other changes are relatively minor.

Council’s meeting is scheduled for 10am. The full agenda is here.


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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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3 Comments

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  1. Why does the word “social” get shoved in front of everything that should be normal? Current policies should be called “anti-social” or “purely money” policies. What should be normal, without the need for a label, is that workers get paid fair value for their labour and intellect. No work is worth less than it takes to make a decent living. A “living wage” should not need discussion or policies, it should be a given! Council should ignore the report (no doubt master-minded by CAO Dube) and direct the living wage be implemented forthwith.

  2. I do not agree with the headline of this article. Council has never asked for a report on implementing a living wage policy. The original motion was weak from the start. Council receive exactly what the original motion would give them, staff stating departments can ask for a living wage if so inclined.

    3 years ago when some of us were pushing council to implement a living wage policy, it was clear that the majority of dead wood councillors would not support a real living wage policy, not even a staff report on one. So that original motion, and it’s different manifestations, is the result. And they got the report they asked for.

    Sadly a predictable waste of time.

    100’s of workers could be lifted out of poverty in a split second by council directing staff to bring in an actual living wage policy. That’s still what should happen. Hopefully they will.