Nunavut small business owners complain about procurement policy

“What’s ‘Inuit Firm’ status? It’s a joke”


Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtnuik Ikajuuti Secretariat executive coordinator Ron Dewar speaks June 26 at the Inuit small business roundtable, organized by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. at Iqaluit's Arctic Hotel. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtnuik Ikajuuti Secretariat executive coordinator Ron Dewar speaks June 26 at the Inuit small business roundtable, organized by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. at Iqaluit’s Arctic Hotel. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

An Inuit small business roundtable got heated June 26 in Iqaluit as Inuit small business owners in Nunavut bashed Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which organized the event, and the Government of Nunavut.

The Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti policy — the GN’s procurement policy that gives priority to Inuit companies when awarding contracts — was at the centre of the debate.

The NNI policy is supposed to uphold Article 24 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement — an article that states Inuit firms should have priority over other companies competing for government contracts.

Inuit firms are defined by NTI as limited company with at least 51 per cent of the company’s voting shares owned by Inuit, a co-operative controlled by Inuit or an Inuk sole proprietorship or partnership

“What’s ‘Inuit Firm’ status? It’s a joke. It’s not defined properly,” said former Nunavut cabinet minister Manitok Thompson who said businesses only claim to be from Nunavut to garner benefits, while they operate from the South.

Her brother, Louie Bruce, lost a GN fuel delivery contract in 2011 to a co-operative, even though his company, Sudliq Developments Ltd., was 100 per cent-Inuit owned.

A review of the GN’s contracting process, announced in the Legislative Assembly March 1, has recently begun.

“The areas in the policy that the government departments are telling us [needs work] is the instructions on how to implement the policy are not clear enough,” said NNI secretariat executive coordinator Ron Dewar, adding later that the appeal process for a decision is also confusing.“I hear from contractors every week with the problems they’re having. I understand that it’s a policy that has problems, we know that.”

“A lot of times when contracts are being awarded, a lot of times, even in our own office, we’re not sure how the award took place,” said Dewar, who blames a lack of staff in his office.

Dewar said they cannot check “on which contracts are being awarded, how they are being awarded, and if they are complying with the NNI policy.”

“Often when we find out there is a problem, it’s after the problem has already happened,” he said.

Thompson said NTI is failing Inuit because “the NNI policy was developed by the GN in consultations with NTI.”

“They are the ones that should be protecting us. NTI should be the opposition of the government, that’s what we’re asking for,” said Thompson.

Mark McCulloch, manager of procurement, logistics and contract support for the GN, who was also at the meeting, said changing policy is not part of his job description.

“I’ve heard a lot of frustration around the table here, and I assure you that I share the frustration,” said McCulloch.

“As a person working with a group of professionals in procurement, that have to implement the policies and award the contracts, the issues that arise out of some of the NNI policies, we live them every day. You live with them also, you live with the results, and unfortunately everybody can’t win. There’s always going to be losers, multiple bids. But the policies that are implemented are painful for us also.”

McCulloch said he and the others in his procurement group “take Article 24 very seriously” but “there are issues with the NNI policy that need to be fixed, but fixing the NNI policy is not my job.”

NTI policy advisor Travis Cooper said “we’re not going to be able to solve anything at once” and that the small table was designed to voice concerns, and take a step forward towards a solution.

The small business roundtable continues June 27 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Hotel Arctic in Iqaluit.

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