North

N.W.T. government to tackle policy that favours Indigenous contracting

The N.W.T.'s finance minister has affirmed that its new procurement policy will include incentives to give more government contracts to Indigenous-owned businesses. 

Nunavut has had a similar policy in place for 20 years

In the legislature Friday, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said Indigenous procurement would be included in a review of the processes already underway. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The N.W.T.'s finance minister has affirmed that its new procurement policy will include incentives to give more government contracts to Indigenous-owned businesses. 

The announcement in the legislature Friday follows an urgent call made by three N.W.T. business leaders last week. 

Darrell Beaulieu, the CEO of Denendeh Investments, is one of three heads of Indigenous companies who penned a guest column in the current issue of Aboriginal Business Quarterly magazine. 

"The intent is to start setting the tone of the northern economic landscape," Beaulieu told the CBC. "We are the landowners and rights holders and have the ability to influence the future of the economy to benefit everybody here." 

The column points out that the territorial government has a policy that rewards northern businesses, but not Indigenous ones. It was published one day before the legislature resumed and was promoted heavily online.

Paul Gruner, Mark Brajer and Darrell Beaulieu published a guest column arguing for an Indigenous procurement policy for the N.W.T. (Bill Braden/Aboriginal Business Quarterly)

'Going to be part of the procurement review'

In the legislature Friday, Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson echoed several points from the column in a member's statement, noting that many Indigenous land claims in the territory include preferential contracting and procurement clauses. 

"We, as a government, have often failed to capture and uphold those land-claim clauses," Johnson told the house. 

In response, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek, whose department now handles procurement, said Indigenous procurement would be included in a review of the processes already underway. 

"Mr. Speaker, I fully expected a question was going to come about this in the course of this session," said Wawzonek. "Yes, this is going to be part of the procurement review."

Timeline unclear

The column argues that investing in Indigenous companies is the best way to keep dollars in the territory. 

"Indigenous communities across the North need money for investment in business expansion, housing, roads, education, and wellness programs," the column reads. "The profits generated by Indigenous businesses are put back into the economy in support of these needs."

The column was co-authored by Mark Brajer, CEO of the Tlicho Investment Corporation, and Paul Gruner, president and CEO of Det'on Cho Management LP. Together, they note, the three companies employ more N.W.T. residents than all three diamond mines (before the latest layoffs). 

Those mines, the column notes, have been crucial to the development of all three companies, which also report how much money is spent on Indigenous businesses, something else they would like to see the government start doing. 

"When you ask the question to the [territorial government], they don't measure it," Beaulieu said. "They only measure southern and northern."

Aboriginal Business Quarterly magazine is published four times a year by Inukshuk Publishing in Yellowknife. (Submitted by Inukshuk Publishing)

An Indigenous procurement policy has been in place in Nunavut since 2000. A similar policy is under development in Yukon. The federal government also has one, as do several provinces. 

In the legislature Friday, Wawzonek said initial recommendations from the procurement review could be revealed as early as March, though she said the Indigenous elements could take longer. 

"Yes, it's coming ... and it's going to be done the right way, which is in consultation with the Indigenous governments."

About the Author

Sara Minogue has been reporting in the North since 2004. She is based in Yellowknife.

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