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13 août 2019
Open Letter

The Legault government recently announced two massive construction and renovation projects: a $1 billion call for tenders for an expedited 30-dwelling construction project for the elderly and a $1.7 billion budget for projects to modernize Quebec schools.

Shall we suppose that these projects, which are intended to ensure the safety and well-being of our senior citizens and children, will be designed following a lowest-cost approach similar to the one that guided construction of the Champlain Bridge in 1957? This will not be the case today, but it appears that the government has maintained this mindset in 2019.

One year ago, on June 27, 2018, the former government proposed a review of the method for granting public architecture and engineering services contracts for Quebec’s two largest public-sector buyers: the Ministère des Transports and the Société québécoise des infrastructures.

The proposal has raised serious concerns, as all the new methods it offers invariably lead to favouring the lowest bidder.

The former minister in charge, Robert Poëti, was aware of the problem and withdrew the regulatory initiative in August 2018. He set up a task force comprised of senior officials from the Conseil du trésor, public sector buyers, and industry representatives in order to review contract award methods.

The task force continued its work after the October 2018 general elections, but no meetings have been held since December 6, 2018.

Worrisome delays
Since then, a study by independent experts has confirmed that the quality-price method proposed by the government more or less systematically favours the lowest bidder. Unfortunately, the study did not succeed in resuscitating the task force, nor did it elicit any reaction from government bigwigs, although it should be a matter of concern for the current minister in charge, Christian Dubé.

The Conseil du trésor has limited recent action on this matter to selecting an accounting firm to evaluate the “perception” of some industry stakeholders on the proposed award methods. It by no means involves the safety, quality or lasting nature of infrastructures, which are closely tied to their design.

The most eloquent example is that of the old Champlain Bridge, which must soon be dismantled after a short life and countless repair works, with the knowledge that the poor decisions that led to its construction were directly guided by a search for the lowest price. We know now that out of the 29 variations studied at the time, the successful bid was quite simply the cheapest, the one that led to the dreadful result we know today.

We wish to emphasize the importance of basing the selection of professionals on quality rather than the lowest price. The benefits are manifold: better planning with accounting for sustainable development, incentives to innovate, compliance with the most rigorous timetables and budgets, and fewer disputes. Architecture and engineering projects entrusted to the lowest bidder are incompatible with the optimization of design and lifespan.

Now that significant projects are underway, it is important that we learn the lessons of the past and demonstrate vision. Can we once and for all set aside methods that favour the lowest bidder so that we may ensure quality infrastructures for current and future generations?

David Prud’homme
President and CEO

Clément Demers
Architect, Urban Planner and Project Manager

Denis Riopel

Francis Lacharité
ASHRAE Montréal

Jean Simard
President and Chief Executive Officer
Aluminium Association of Canada

Anne Carrier
Association des Architectes en pratique privée du Québec

Bernard Bigras
Chief Executive Officer
Association des architectes paysagistes du Québec

Stephan Doré
Association des estimateurs et des économistes de la construction du Québec

John Gamble
President and CEO
Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada

André Rainville
President and CEO
Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Quebec

Patrick Gariépy
Association des travaux publics d'Amérique - Chapitre du Québec

Phyllis Lambert, CC, GOQ, CAL, FIRAC
Founding Director Emeritus
Canadian Centre for Architecture

Gérald Beaulieu
Centre d'expertise sur la construction commerciale en bois

Jack Benzaquen
Centre d’expertise et de recherche en infrastructures urbaines

Julie Bédard
Présidente et chef de la direction
Chambre de commerce et d'industrie de Québec

Roger Légaré
President and CEO
Conseil des infrastructures

Yves-Thomas Dorval
President and CEO
Conseil du patronat du Québec

Éric Côté
President and CEO
Corporation des entrepreneurs généraux du Québec

Denis Leclerc
President and CEO
Écotech Québec

Stéphane Forget
President and CEO
Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec

Mike Brennan
Chief Executive Officer
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Hellen Christodoulou
Quebec Region Manager
Canadian Institute of Steel Construction

Martin Houle

Gérard Mounier
Strategic Advisor and Co-Head of the Infrastructure Group
Lavery Avocats

Henri-Jean Bonnis
Chair of the Board of Directors

Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire
Head and Chair of the Board of Directors
Polytechnique Montréal

Christiane Pelchat
President and CEO
Réseau Environnement

Jean-Pierre Chupin, Ph.D.
Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediation of Excellence
École d'architecture, Université de Montréal

Raphaël Fischler
Dean of Urban Planning
Université de Montréal

Jacques White
Director and Full Professor
École d’architecture, Université Laval