A surprise announcement by Toronto Mayor John Tory on diversifying who will have access to city contract bids is a step in the right direction for equity in this city.
By 2018, a third of procurement contracts over $5 million will go to companies that are certified as multi-ethnic or multi-racial or for which 25 per cent of all their direct suppliers participate in uplift within disadvantaged communities through their business practices.
That means companies to be considered should be owned by a member of a minority group and have programs aimed at hiring people from diverse ethnic and racial groups. They should also have youth internship or apprenticeship programs, or sub-contract to a business that is certified diverse.
The aim of effecting change in communities hard hit by poverty should begin to have direct impact if the city follows through on this commitment.
Ensuring a target for all top bids for the City of Toronto’s $1.8 billion annual contracts go to companies that demonstrate a commitment to diversity is a good start. It does show city politicians are responding concretely to the reality of Toronto’s population with more than half falling within ethnic groupings that are African, East Asian or South Asian.
For too long the culture for bidding on contracts has been inside baseball. Only those long familiar with the system and the complex paperwork involved in the bidding process have had the advantage.
Any new companies trying to make their way into the system were at a disadvantage in terms of understanding the culture of city politics and lack of the resources often needed to lobby for city approval.
Tory has said that the new policy should be in full effect by 2018, which would allow enough time for those aiming to get on the list of go-to contractors to learn the ropes of the complex application process.
It is more than time to begin to level the field for becoming active members of literally building this city.
There is no doubt that there will be negative reaction to this policy going forward. There will be those who interpret this new policy to mean ‘White men need not apply’. That would mean ignoring the fact that 75 per cent of bids for city contracts will still not require companies vying for contracts to observe any such targets.
That is why putting a qualification of 25 per cent connection with multi-ethnic companies has to be considered a beginning to the longer term integration of all possible sources for city development and procurement.
One important matter that has to be included in this new policy is the amount of red tape that bidders face to meet city standards. Developers have to hit a moving goal post when applying to meet city approval. The cost for consultations and the inevitable delays and further requests from city departments to meet their requirements are forbidding for small and even medium-size firms.
Therefore to ensure this initiative is truly accessible to the companies and the people it is meant to include, Toronto city council needs to have a serious and open-minded review of the approval system to meet its requirements of standards and practices.
We all want to see this initiative work. Therefore, any weaknesses in the design of this laudable policy must be recognized and responded to as quickly as possible. The people living in Toronto need to be assured that this is not just an empty gesture.
Hence at regular intervals, a public statement on the results of this policy and of targets would be advisable.