MLAs reject call for audit of Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway project

If Auditor General Michael Ferguson decides to audit the process to build the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, it won’t be because the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly asked him to.

N.W.T. government says audit not needed now, says project ‘highly monitored and transparent’

Auditor General Michael Ferguson on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, February 18, 2016. MLAs voted down a motion from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart that would have required the N.W.T. government to formally request auditors with Ferguson's office to examine the process of building the $300-million highway. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

If Auditor General Michael Ferguson decides to audit the process to build the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway, it won't be because the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly asked him to.

MLAs voted down a motion last week from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart that would have required the territorial government to formally request auditors with Ferguson's office to examine the process of building the $300-million highway.

Ferguson is Canada's auditor general and also serves as auditor for Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The auditor general's office sets its own topics for what it decides to audit.

Doing something right now on a project that is unfinished is a waste of people's time and resources- Herb Nakimayak, MLA for Nunakput

Testart sold the motion as a way to increase the transparency of the project and to provide insight that could be used as the territorial government attempts to build another highway, this time through the Tlicho region.

"The value of a third-party audit speaks for itself," Testart said. "This is an opportunity to have an independent, fair and transparent process that looks at all aspects of the project."

Several regular MLAs supported Tesart's motion, including Tom Beaulieu, Julie Green and Shane Thompson. All three expressed hope an audit could shed more light onto why the road was closed for most of the spring due to slippery and muddy conditions.

Kieron Testart, Kam Lake MLA, said he brought forth the motion to audit the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway project to increase transparency. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

"How did this road go from being completed, to being substantially complete, to being closed?" Green asked

But Herb Nakimayak, who represents northern communities including Tuktoyaktuk, said it was too early for an audit to find anything of value and would question the integrity of the contractors and people involved in the project.

"Doing something right now on a project that is unfinished is a waste of people's time and resources for people still working on the project," said Nakimayak.

"We all know an audit is going to come down the road, but at this time it questions the integrity of the contractors and the people in my region," he said.

Government stands firm

Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann and the rest of cabinet opposed the motion along with MLAs Frederick Blake Jr., Danny McNeely and Nakimayak.

The process for building the highway had been overseen with "significant oversight and transparency" and included monthly meetings with contractors, the federal government and independent engineers that happened over the life of the project, according to Schumann.

"The project involved every regulatory oversight," said Schumann.

"Federal officials indicated this was one of the most highly monitored and transparent projects they have ever seen, which speaks to the high level of oversight to the project."  

A spokeswoman with the auditor general's office said no full audit of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway has yet been done, though in 2011 it did a compliance audit of the Deh Cho Bridge Project.

The auditor general's last report on the N.W.T. government looked at its climate change strategy. The next audits are expected to be a follow-up report on Child and Family Services, and a report on education.