Canada: La discrétion des municipalités dans l'analyse des soumissions

La Cour supérieure a récemment rappelé que même si les municipalités ont une discrétion dans l'analyse des soumissions leur permettant de passer outre une irrégularité « mineure », qu'elles devaient appliquer la même rigueur (ou la même clémence) envers tous les soumissionnaires, et ce, afin d'assurer que tous les soumissionnaires sont traités de façon égalitaire.

Il s'agit de l'affaire Exploitation Jaffa inc. c. Paspebiac (Ville de) , où la Cour a accueilli une Requête introductive d'instance en dommages (perte de profits) présentée par l'entrepreneur Exploitation Jaffa inc., car la Ville avait lequel prétendait avoir été injustement disqualifié d'un appel d'offres émis par la Ville.

Les faits

En mars 2009, la Ville lance un appel d'offres portant sur la collecte, le transport et la disposition des ordures ménagères et du recyclage dans les limites de son territoire. Jaffa se procure le devis et commence à préparer sa soumission en réponse à l'appel d'offres de la Ville. Il appert que les documents d'appels d'offres émis par la Ville comportent plusieurs informations contradictions et ambiguës.

Par exemple, l'Avis aux soumissionnaires prévoyait 39 collectes annuellement pour les ordures ménagères, alors que les formules de soumissions indiquaient 41 collectes. De plus, la Ville demandait des prix pour la disposition des déchets alors que les frais de disposition étaient à la charge de la Ville. Mais encore, la Ville demandait des prix unitaires à la tonne métrique pour le transport des déchets, une demande inusité dans le domaine, car les prix sont généralement plutôt basés sur la distance parcourue.

Jaffa avise la Ville de ces contradictions et soumet également quelques questions notamment concernant l'exigence de soumettre un prix unitaire pour le transport des déchets. En réponse à ces questions, la Ville émet un addenda confirmant qu'elle avait des contrats avec certains sites d'enfouissements, mais toutefois sans offrir plus d'informations concernant les prix unitaires exigés. La Ville exprime cependant qu'elle ne modifiera pas la formule de soumission. Jaffa décide donc d'inclure son coût de transport dans celui de la collecte, et d'indiquer la mention « n/a » (i.e. non applicable) à la formule de soumission pour les items exigeant un prix de transport.

À l'ouverture des soumissions, celle de Jaffa s'avère être la plus basse parmi les trois reçues, tel qu'il appert des formules de soumissions :

Entrepreneur Option 1 Option 2
Jaffa 113 771,19$ 59 178,95$
Duguay sanitaire inc. 152 296,59$ 110 773,76$
Distribution Henry 9156-4369 Québec Inc 455 078,18$ 283 316,25$

Or, suite à une période d'analyse des soumissions, le Conseil municipal de la Ville adopte une résolution #2009-07-126 par laquelle le contrat est octroyé à l'entreprise Distribution Henry, soit le soumissionnaire présentant le prix le plus élevé. Face à cette situation, Jaffa poursuit la Ville, invoque que cette dernière a violé les règles de l'appel d'offres et le principe de l'égalité entre les soumissionnaires, et réclame des dommages-intérêts pour compenser ses pertes de profits.

En défense, la Ville argumente notamment qu'elle avait disqualifié la soumission de Jaffa puisque les documents d'appel d'offres demandaient clairement un prix unitaire à la tonne métrique pour le transport, et que la mention « n/a » par Jaffa constitue une omission entrainant le rejet de sa soumission.

La décision

Dans ces motifs, la Cour rappelle les principes générales applicables en matière d'appel d'offres publics et particulièrement ceux prévus à la Loi sur les cités et villes, soit que le contrat ne peut être accordé à une personne autre que celle ayant présentée la soumission la plus basse. La Cour rappelle que l'adjudicataire du contrat doit s'agir du plus bas soumissionnaire conforme.

La Cour reconnaît de plus que les municipalités jouissent d'une grande discrétion pour déterminer si une soumission est conforme ou non, et elles peuvent même renoncer à une exigence, dans la mesure où elle n'est pas essentielle ou substantielle et que leur décision n'affecte pas l'égalité entre les soumissionnaires. À cet égard, la Cour cite les enseignements de la Cour d'appel prononcés dans l'arrêt Ville de Rimouski c. Structures GB ltée :

« [40] (...) L'élément essentiel dans l'appréciation de l'exercice de cette discrétion, cependant, et que l'on retrouve dans toute la jurisprudence, est le respect, dans l'exercice de cette discrétion, de l'autre principe fondamental en matière de soumission public, soit le respect de l'égalité entre les soumissionnaires. »

La preuve soumise au tribunal a notamment démontré que la soumission de Distribution Henry, tout comme celle de Jaffa, n'avait pas non plus indiqué un prix à la tonne métrique pour le transport des ordures ménagères. La Cour reproche donc à la Ville d'avoir passé outre cette exigence pour l'entreprise Distribution Henry, et de n'avoir pas offert cette même souplesse à Jaffa. La Cour maintient que la Ville avait certes le loisir de renoncer à une exigence des documents d'appel d'offres, mais qu'elle ne pouvait rejeter la soumission de Jaffa en raison de l'absence d'un prix unitaire et passer outre à cette même irrégularité dans le cas de Distribution Henry.

Le Tribunal rejette par ailleurs l'argument de la Ville à l'effet que le défaut de Jaffa d'inscrire un prix unitaire constituait une non-conformité majeure, en référant au fait qu'elle a elle-même, dans l'exercice de sa discrétion, considéré la soumission de Distribution Henry comme conforme.

La Cour conclut à la lumière de la preuve que l'exigence d'un prix unitaire lié au transport n'était pas, dans les circonstances, une exigence de fond de l'appel d'offres, et que la décision de la Ville de rejeter la soumission de Jaffa relevait davantage d'un exercice arbitraire de sa discrétion. Le tribunal a accueilli la requête introductive d'instance de Jaffa, et la Ville a été tenu responsable pour cette violation des règles de l'appel d'offres.

Conclusion

Nous retenons de cette décision que les municipalités, comme tout autre donneur d'ouvrage public, jouissent d'une grande discrétion dans l'analyse des soumissions. Cependant, c'est le principe de l'égalité entre les soumissionnaires qui trace les contours de l'exercice de cette discrétion.

Cet article est paru dans l'édition du mardi 13 septembre 2016 du journal Constructo

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