The Government of Quebec has unveiled a new plan to help companies — especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — have fair access to government contracts.

The program, entitled “Passeport Enterprises: Faciliter l’accès aux contrats de l’État,” was announced on October 30. It is intended not only to improve access to contracts, but also to improve contract procedures.

According to the announcement, companies currently are experiencing difficulties in bidding on public tenders because they find the requirements are sometimes disproportionate to the project, and the process is too complex.

The government intends to set up a working group with representatives of SMEs and public bodies to review tender documents and ensure they are not excessive and don’t hinder competition.

Among the proposals, which would be implemented by the end of 2016, are that public bodies should be obliged to use standard bidding documents, and that there be a uniform template for tender submissions. At least one SME would need to be invited during a call for tender, and there would be opportunities to bid electronically.

The government may also consider using fixed price contracts as opposed to paying by hourly rates.

The plan also aims to ensure that SMEs and start-up companies have access to more information about bids. It acknowledges that in the past companies often have not been sufficiently informed about the strengths and weaknesses of their submissions, which prevents them from improving for the next time.

The government also said it wants to ensure that tenders don’t exclude companies due to “excessive demands” that can make it appear that a tender is targeted for certain firms.

A new post of Commissioner for Public Contracts (Commisssaire aux contrats publics) is to be created. He or she will be in charge of managing public contracts and be the “watch dog” to ensure integrity and sound practices. The intention is to transfer this function from the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), which currently carries out the overseeing role.

The new Commissioner will have the power to cancel or require changes to a tender. Also, recommendations of the Charbonneau Commission, which are due this fall, will be adopted into the new regime where appropriate.

The Quebec Construction Association (ACQ) issued a statement on November 3 in support of the new Passport Enterprises plan and said they were pleased also that the government indicated it is aware of the problems of late payment in the construction industry. To help in this regard the government plans to boost the activities of the Exchange Forum, a group which has not met since 2013.

Every year the Quebec government allocates more than $20 billion for contracts of various types. It says SMEs represent over 99% of Quebec companies and “are the lungs of our economy.”

The announcement of the Passport Enterprises was made on October 30 by Martin Coiteux, Minister Responsible for Government Administration and Chair of the Treasury Board, and Jean-Denis Girard, Minister for Small and Medium Enterprises.

To read the Quebec government announcement of October 3, click here.