Only three made since provinces agreed to buy in bulk

Nova Scotia has made only three major capital purchases with its neighbouring provinces since signing the Atlantic Procurement Strategy in 1996, a plan struck to save money through buying in bulk and eliminating trade barriers in the Maritimes.

Earlier this week, Premier Darrell Dexter pointed to a recent deal with New Brunswick to buy and lease fleet vehicles as proof that Atlantic Canada was working together.

But the province gave The Chronicle Herald only two examples of other joint capital purchases — a 15-year partnership with Newfoundland to buy firehoses and teaming with other Atlantic provinces to buy school buses in 1995. The last deal saved the government $28 million in the last four years, a provincial spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The release came amid a week of speculation about Maritime union after the latest call for a political and economic union between Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, this time from Sen. Stephen Greene on Sunday.

But the president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies remains unconvinced that marrying the three provinces will solve their economic woes.

Instead, Charles Cirtwill said he’s pleased at the pressure it’s put on government to talk about ongoing trade co-op-eration.

He pointed to the Atlantic procurement strategy as an example of a good policy that may not have been used correctly.

Capital purchases can be difficult to co-ordinate, but the joint buying of goods — prescription drugs, in particular — could be a profitable road if the Atlantic provinces travel it together, Cirtwill said.

“Drugs get used very quickly and get bought on a monthly basis,” he said. “(With capital purchases) I’m not entirely sure that joint procurement is going to deliver them the kind of savings they’d want. Just because Nova Scotia needs fire trucks today, (well) New Brunswick might need fire trucks tomorrow.”

The agreement governs jointly buying goods, services, and construction. If the total contract for goods is over $25,000, the provinces can buy them together.

Cirtwill said the private sector profits from the strategy, which was also meant to reduce interprovincial competition.

“It’s easier to secure those benefits from competition,” he said of the private sector. “It’s much harder (for governments) to co-ordinate capital (buying) needs when your schedules have been off for a hundred-odd years.”

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he was surprised Nova Scotia hasn’t teamed up with other provinces on more purchases.

He echoed Cirtwill in saying that buying prescription drugs in bulk could be a future avenue.

“I would hope that that’s been looked at and investigated,” he said. “It would make sense, I mean it’s one of our largest costs.”

McNeil said the only concern he had with the joint-buying strategy would be that the governments would look to companies outside the province.

Read the article in The Chronicle Herald here