N.W.T. gov't accused of prioritizing private business over communities during MTS cargo update

During a Wednesday update on cargo being shipped to three communities affected by a government barge cancellation, N.W.T. government officials faced accusations that the shipping issues were partially caused by prioritizing private contracts.

Cargo lifts to 3 communities in N.W.T. and Nunavut almost complete

Cargo air lifts to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay are three-quarters complete. Each community should receive their full shipments within the next 10 days, said Minister Wally Schumann. (NTCL)

Minister of Industry Tourism and Investment Wally Schumann faced accusations Wednesday that the government's Marine Transportation Service (MTS) had prioritized private contracts over community cargo while giving an update on shipping cargo to communities affected by a barge cancellation earlier this month.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart pressed Schumann and his assistant deputy minister, John Vandenberg, about the private contracts and their impact on the cancellations Wednesday morning, shortly before Schumann faced a non-confidence vote in the Legislative Assembly.

Earlier this month, MTS was unable to deliver shipments into the N.W.T. community of Paulatuk and the Nunavut communities of Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, blaming high water levels on the Mackenzie River, ice-blockage in the Beaufort Sea, and lack of fuel for the cancellations.   

Testart asked questions about a delivery to Sabina Gold and Silver Corp. in Nunavut and a contract to pick up a power plant from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which took place shortly before the cancellations.

Testart says those contracts caused him "grave concern," and that the coast guard's tracking system indicates the two ships that were supposed to be re-supplying Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Ulukhaktok and Sachs Harbour were late returning from private contracts.

"The pursuit of these contracts and other private contracts above the pursuit of essential resupply goals which MTS was purchased for give me a lot of reason to be concerned," said Testart.  

"I'm going to suggest that the department is prioritizing private contracts over essential resupply … it's not being clearly presented from the department and I find that very frustrating."

Vandenberg told Testart there was no connection between being late for the resupply and the private contracts, and that at the beginning of the year when the sailing schedule was made, there was no reason to believe they couldn't do both. 

Members from the Department of Infrastructure were pressed by MLA Kieron Testart during a public briefing on Wednesday. Testart suggests prioritizing private business over essential resupply was to blame for the barge delays. (Michael Hugall/CBC)

Cargo deliveries to three communities nearly complete

Schumann and Vandenberg said shipping cargo to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk, and Cambridge Bay is three-quarters complete. 

The department started shipping fuel on Oct. 29 and Schumann expects all communities to have the supplies they need "within the next 10 days."

"I can't guarantee similar challenges won't happen again," said Schumann, who added this was a learning experience for the department. 

During the briefing, Vandenberg said the department has set aside $3.4 million to fly all goods to Paulatuk, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay. However, he is not sure what the total cost will be.

Schumann said MTS' revenues are "up by $13 million from 2017," and that they are projecting $42.5 million in revenue by the end of this fiscal year.


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