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‘It really starts with building new relationships,’ says Farm Credit Canada

Federal lending agency is the latest to introduce an Indigenous Procurement Program

Farm Credit Canada (FCC) has rolled out its new Indigenous Procurement Policy to ensure that Indigenous vendors across Canada have a fair opportunity to bid on supply contracts for the Crown corporation.

Headquartered in Regina, Sask., FCC is the country’s leading financial lender serving the agriculture sector. Reporting to the minister of agriculture and agri-food, FCC provides flexible financing and other business development resources to primary producers, agriculture businesses, and agri-food operators across Canada.

With 103 offices across the country, primarily in rural areas, there are plenty of opportunities for vendors to provide everything from IT hardware and software to construction services to office furniture and equipment, noted Mike Dundas, the FCC’s manager of sustainable procurement.

As an agency of the federal government, the FCC is beholden to a number of trade agreements when it comes to sourcing products, he said.

But “we do have flexibility within our policies to be able to create set-asides and work exclusively with Indigenous businesses, and that's part of what we're trying to do as we continue to grow and mature our program here," said Dundas, speaking during an April 10 webinar hosted by the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO).

In June 2020, the federal government announced it’s implementing a mandate of sourcing at least five per cent of its procurement contracts from Indigenous vendors.

That’s in response to recommendation #92 stemming from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which calls for greater equality for Indigenous peoples in accessing opportunities in business, training and education.

The federal government is now rolling that policy out in all its agencies, and the FCC is the latest to jump on board.

In developing its strategy, the FCC turned to the B.C.-based Indigenous consulting firm Rise Consulting for guidance, in addition to gathering input from Indigenous leaders, polling current Indigenous suppliers with the FCC, and conducting industry research.

“We put a lot of time and effort in ensuring that we were going down a path that others before us have gone,” said Dundas, pointing to organizations like Canada Post and SaskPower, which have developed strong Indigenous procurement programs in the past.

“We wanted to learn from them and also get feedback from other Indigenous leaders.”

Under the new policy, any contract worth an estimated $200,000 or more requires a competitive bidding process, Dundas said, for which the FCC would issue a request for proposals. But with anything below that threshold, the agency can award a contract directly, or hold a small competition, which involves a less stringent process.

“Where we have enough qualified vendors, we will look to issue closed competitions to Indigenous vendors only,” Dundas said.

“So, again, we want to be able to provide that opportunity to Indigenous vendors where we can.”

A key to making it work will be developing relationships with potential vendors far in advance of an RFP being issued, he added.

Part of that will involve educating Indigenous companies and communities on what the FCC is, what it does, and what its needs are, and outreach activities are planned this summer to start that process, Dundas said.

He noted that the FCC debated whether vendors would be required to prove their Indigenous identities. In the end, the agency decided in favour of it, following consultation with Indigenous businesses and people.

The FCC said it will cross-reference a vendor’s credentials against other databases — he cited business directories of the federal government, CANDO, and the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business as potential examples — to verify and certify businesses.

This will be done not only to help protect the integrity of the program, “but also, and I think more importantly, to protect Indigenous businesses and ensure the companies that we’re given benefit to are who they say they are,” Dundas said.

Though the current Indigenous procurement target set out by the federal government is five per cent of all spending, Dundas doesn’t expect that number to remain stagnant. Once they reach that milestone, they’ll reevaluate the program and push it to eight per cent, before reevaluating it again.

The goal, he said, is to constantly “push the envelope” to see how much more of their spending can go to Indigenous vendors.

“So, we’re not creating a cap,” Dundas said. “We are just setting a minimum standard that we want to hit that we’ll continue to assess and look to grow over time.”

For their best chance at success at securing a federal procurement contract, Dundas advised Indigenous vendors to “put your best foot forward,” which includes keeping track of key dates, targetting their applications to the evaluation criteria with full details on their relevant experience, and submitting their application on time.

And if something doesn’t make sense, don’t be afraid to ask questions, he said.

“We still realize there’s a ton of work for us to do on this program, and it really starts with building new relationships,” Dundas said.

“That’s really going to be key to seeing progress in our program.”

Details about the FCC’s Indigenous Procurement Program are available here.


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Lindsay Kelly

About the Author: Lindsay Kelly

Lindsay Kelly is a Sudbury-based reporter who's worked in print and digital media for more than two decades. She joined the Northern Ontario Business newsroom in 2011.
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