Spending nearly $30 billion annually, Ontario’s public sector is the largest buyer in our provincial economy.
When you spend that kind of money, how it’s spent has big implications. Getting the most value out of each dollar spent is not just about who can provide each product and service for the least amount of money.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce recently published a policy brief titled Power of the Purchase Order: Modernizing Public Sector Procurement in Ontario. This brief puts forward the case for smarter spending that will have larger benefits for the people and businesses paying the provincial government’s bills.
Ontario’s public sector is made up of its ministries and agencies and includes institutions like hospitals and school boards. They spend money on everything from pencils to medical technology. This kind of buying power comes with a unique ability to invest in innovation, growing new markets, improving living standards, and economic development. However, it often fails to deliver on these goals.
As stated in the policy brief:
The process tends to lack collaboration, discourage investment, misallocate risk, and prioritize short-term costs over long-term value. Procurement modernization presents a major opportunity to transform health care and other public services, build more resilient supply chains, and create greater social and economic value for Ontarians.
The policy brief makes the case for changes like value-based procurement (VBP), shifting the focus from price to outcomes. Outcomes can include quality, lifecycle costs, sustainability, living standards, and economic development. It emphasizes long-term value over short-term costs.
Power of the Purchase Order lays out the case for both simple and complex purchases. A more expensive laptop can be more cost-effective if it requires less servicing from technicians and lasts longer. The implications are much bigger in complex purchases like pharmaceuticals. Bulk sourcing from a single provider lowers costs. To get these lucrative contracts, manufacturers compete to offer the lowest possible pricing, forcing them to reduce supply to just enough to win the bids. Unfortunately, this has led to shortages of critical medication.
The Province announced the creation of Supply Ontario back in 2020. This Crown agency has a mandate to modernize public procurement for the Province.
The policy brief contains 23 recommendations to create better outcomes for public sector spending and does so with a focus on innovation, attracting investment, and health care procurement:
Procurement in the public sector covers a wide range of goods and services – from office supplies to infrastructure, engineering services, and health care technologies.
For basic commodities, the process is simple. The buyer can easily describe what it is looking for through a request for proposal (RFP) and select a vendor that will best meet its needs. In these cases, it makes sense to prioritize cost-efficiencies and look for economies of scale.
In contrast, procurement of complex goods and services requires a more sophisticated process, one that is more oriented towards long-term value and collaborative problem-solving.
Ontario’s current approach to procurement can inadvertently discourage businesses from even attempting to bid, which leads to less competition and less favourable outcomes. There are several practical steps that can be taken to attract investment in Ontario’s supply chains, and encourage more participation from small, local, diverse, and green businesses. Increased competition for bids leads to a more diversified supply chain and better value.
Innovating Health Care
Health care procurement is not only significant from a budgetary perspective, but also for its impacts on patient and population outcomes. Medical devices, drugs, support services, and innovative solutions are complex purchases that provide long-term value to the health care system, its practitioners, and its users. Driving greater value within Ontario’s health care system requires spending wisely, which may not necessarily require spending more.
It is encouraging to see all levels of government take a renewed look at their procurement process. The City of Peterborough is undergoing a hard look at social procurement with the goal of leveraging existing procurement activities to achieve positive social value objectives that align with the City's strategic goals and plan. Governments are big spenders and it’s critical that we take a good look at how the money is spent to get the best value long term.