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'No' to buy local: Coquitlam council

Coquitlam city councillors Terry O
Coquitlam city councillors Terry O'Neill and Bonita Zarrillo square off on Monday night over her motion to 'buy local.' Her idea was defeated by one vote.
— image credit: photos submitted

A push to add a "buy local" clause to the city of Coquitlam's procurement policy was defeated Monday by one vote.

Coun. Bonita Zarrillo's motion to include a preference toward Tri-City suppliers — when the municipality receives two proposals that are the same — was voted down by councillors Brent Asmundson, Craig Hodge, Terry O'Neill and Mae Reid; Zarrillo and councillors Chris Wilson and Lou Sekora voted in favour, and Mayor Richard Stewart and Coun. Neal Nicholson were absent.

O'Neill, who during question period later got an earful from Coquitlam Concrete president Jim Allard for voting against the motion, said there's no evidence a "buy local" campaign would lead to more local jobs, as Zarrillo suggested.

And he said he feared the clause could have legal ramifications for the city as it would be contrary to free trade agreements. A bias against firms outside of the Tri-Cities during the bidding process could "lead to a mini-trade war," O'Neill cautioned.

Reid said Coquitlam already has sound procurement policy in which staff look at the best value for taxpayers.

Financial services manager Sheena MacLeod told council the issue around local supplier preference comes up with council every five years or so. While there is no specific wording about "buying local," she said, when awarding contracts, staff consider issues such as quicker response times and reducing greenhouse gases, which work in local companies' favour.

"We are supporting local business... but in terms of value, not in terms of location," MacLeod said.

Still, Wilson, who seconded Zarrillo's motion and has a business administration degree, said the clause could lead to lower prices for the city — a view not shared by Coun. Brent Asmundson, who argued a restricted competition could create higher costs.

Zarrillo suggested Coquitlam take a page from Victoria and Kitimat, both of which promote local business in their civic dealings.

"The intent is that we care about local business," Zarrillo said, adding, "A No vote tonight shows that this council doesn't believe in a leadership role for local business."

Aaron Robinson, the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce public policy advisor, said his organization only learned of Zarrillo's "buy local" motion recently and didn't have time to raise it during last week's BC Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting in Richmond.

"It's on our radar now," Robinson said.

jwarren@tricitynews.com

 

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