Toronto takes tendering to Merx

This week Canada’s largest municipality quietly opened up its contract listings to the largest e-tendering site in Canada.

The City of Toronto is now listing its request for proposals on Merx, has learned. Previously, those RFPs were limited to the city’s own Web site. Opportunies listed include a WebSphere licence maintenance renewal contract and one for a telecommunication and expense management system.

Merx, owned and operated by Longueuil, Que.-based Mediagrif Interactive Technologies Inc., has listing contracts with multiple jurisdictions, including the federal government. The governments of Ontario and Newfoundland have exclusive agreements with Merx, which also includes unlimited access for the so-called MASH sector (municipalities, academic institutions, schools and hospitals) in those provinces.

By opening up its listings to Merx, the advantage to Toronto “is that they get the maximum exposure to their opportunities and they get the best responses,” said Arthur Skuja, vice-president and general manager, Mediagrif. “For example, if they’re looking for some specialized procurement, the best supplier may not be located in the Toronto region. These suppliers would not necessarily be checking the City of Toronto Web site on a regular basis.”

The city will continue to list contract opportunities on its own official site but is making an effort to be more inclusive, said Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone.

“The City of Toronto, especially under Mayor David Miller, is trying to become as efficient as possible by using technologies to basically improve the quality of the city’s service,” said Pantalone, adding that the city is also embracing new services like 311, the new phone number for non-emergency municipal inquiries.

Toronto’s contracting process came under scrutiny in 2002 when it was revealed that the city had wildly overspent for desktop PCs through a contract with Mississauga, Ont.-based MFP Financial Services. An investigation determined that the city’s original budget of $43 million had ballooned to twice that amount.

Following a lengthy inquiry that concluded in 2005, Mayor David Miller referred to the incident as “a sad chapter in the history of the city. This is a story marked by arrogance, corruption, complacency, and incompetence.” Miller was a city councilor when the MFP deal was first arranged.

The decision to open up Toronto tenders to the Merx site is a “by-product” of the MFP scandal, said Panatone, “in the sense that more people can easily find out what we’re doing. It therefore introduces a new element of transparency that doesn’t occur with paper transactions.”

Howard Grant, president of Ottawa-based Partnering and Procurement Inc., applauded the city’s decision to move to Merx, saying that it was a long time coming. More potential bidders will have access to contract information, he said, which could improve the quality of service the city receives from contractors.

“What they’re doing makes it more visible,” he said.

Panatone acknowledged that Merx may open up more opportunities for bidders, but said that the city isn’t looking at this as a shortcut to cost savings. Any contractor will have to meet certain requirements placed upon it by the City of Toronto. “The city has policies that people need to consult on.,” he said. “We’re a fair wage employer, for example.”

According to Mediagrif, about 370 Canadian MASH organizations list their RFPs on Merx. More than 230 of those are in Ontario.

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