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B.C. NDP tech plan includes vow to contract more in-province IT firms

NDP MLA George Heyman asserted that more than 90 per cent of government IT contracts get sent out of the province.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's Opposition New Democrats say companies in the province will receive a larger share of government IT contracts if the NDP wins power in the May provincial election.

The commitment was announced Monday as part of the NDP's tech-sector strategy, a day before Premier Christy Clark was expected to outline the BC Liberal Party's approach at a tech conference in Vancouver on Tuesday.

As campaigning ramps up ahead of the May 9 provincial election, both parties, as well as the BC Greens, are looking for support in the booming B.C. tech sector, which has about 100,000 employees and is seeking more qualified talent.

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Issues for the sector, whose successes in B.C. include Slack and Hootsuite, have included funding the postsecondary sector to train a supply of prospective employees.

The NDP program includes $100-million to expand technology-related postsecondary programs, a chief "talent officer" to focus on policy for developing industry talent and an effort to make it easier for local companies to access government technologies.

In announcing the program at a small tech-sector office in Vancouver, NDP MLA George Heyman asserted that more than 90 per cent of government IT contracts get sent out of the province.

"These big contracts to big corporations aren't delivering for British Columbians," Mr. Heyman said.

"We're going to save money, boost the B.C. tech industry and create good-paying jobs throughout B.C. by redesigning information technology contracts," he said.

"Government IT projects should be building B.C. companies and creating B.C. jobs, not gifted to multinational corporations who fail to deliver what they promised."

NDP Leader John Horgan, speaking of the policy through the speaker function of a smartphone, backed up the policy approach.

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"We need to break these contracts down and make sure that local companies can bid and be successful and grow," Mr. Horgan said from Victoria.

He said the government has been giving away hundreds of millions of dollars in procurement spending. "What we have been doing with that procurement is giving off massive contracts over long periods of time to big multinationals rather than fostering our own companies here, and making sure we break up those contracts so that smaller companies can big and be successful.

"I think government has a role to play, a significant role to play, and I am going to try and realize that."

Ms. Clark was dismissive of the NDP plan.

"I saw the NDP proposal today," Ms. Clark said in Victoria. "Somebody gave it to me. I thought it was on a napkin, written on the back of it. They are proposing to do half of what we have already done and none of what we are proposing to do."

Ms. Clark said she would reveal more details about her plan for the sector within days.

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Amrik Virk, B.C.'s Technology Minister, was skeptical about directing government IT contracts to B.C. companies, noting that aspects of free trade allow for open competition for such contracts.

"Any contracts we do as a province must be open and transparent and must abide by not only NAFTA, but other open trade agreements."

He said much of the output of the tech sector is exported out of B.C., but outside companies can also compete for contracts in B.C.

He said Ms. Clark would be talking about how to grow home-based talent that the sector needs as well as access to markets and capital.

Last month's provincial budget included $87-million over three years to support the technology sector with details on this funding to be released in coming weeks.

With a report from Justine Hunter

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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