Baffin chamber: only new Inuit firms need special help

A joint committee made of representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik and the Nunavut government has begun public consultations on the creation of a new Nunavut government contracting policy that conforms to Article 24.



IQALUIT — The Nunavut government should only give special treatment to fledgling, Inuit businesses — not established ones, when it buys goods and services, a business group says.

The Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce (BRCC) says the government should try to boost young Inuit businesses, not established ones, when it changes its contracting policies to reflect Article 24 of the Nunavut land claim agreement.

“Article 24 is not meant to provide an indefinite advantage, but to help establish Inuit businesses,” the chamber’s executive director Colleen Dupuis recently told a working group charged with amending the current policies.

“It should only apply to Inuit firms considered not established.”

The chamber says the government should put in place a set of criteria that defines an “established business.” For example, the chamber cited government economic development programs that limit aid to businesses with revenues of less than $2 million a year.

An “established” Inuit business would not have access to preferential treatment other than those provided to other Nunavut or local businesses, the chamber suggests.

Providing unnecessary advantages to any Inuit business, regardless of size, could cost the government unnecessary money, and impede the growth of small Inuit businesses [which] the land claim was intended to help,” Dupuis said.

The Nunavut government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. have formed a joint working group to devise new contracting policies to meet the territorial government’s responsibilities under the land claim agreement.

Article 24 states the government of Nunavut should enable Inuit firms to compete for government contracts by providing “reasonable support and assistance.” It also states Inuit employement levels should reflect the current proportion of Inuit within Nunavut’s population.

The land claim agreement does not set mandatory targets or guarantees that Inuit firms will be hired, but ensures that Inuit firms will receive fair access to territorial government contracts, John Lamb, a member of the working group said.

Nunavut’s current contracting policy, the Business Incentive Policy, was inherited from Yellowknife, with some changes to reflect Article 24.

The government now wants to have a new “made in Nunavut” policy in place by April 1, 2000. How the new policy will reflect the land claim agreement is a matter for the working group to decide.

The first in a series of public meetings on territorial government contracting policy was held in Iqaluit last week. Inuit and non-Inuit business people turned out to present their wish-lists to the working group.

Business people who have worked in the North but do not have Nunavut-based ownership said they too should be considered Northern.

“We are a branch office from Yellowknife. We have northern status there and we now have northern status for now in Nunavut. We want to be able to retain the status,” said Clive Clark, of the engineering and architecture firm Ferguson Simek Clark (FSC).

FSC is now training Inuit and wants to hire Inuit professionals, but Clark said it will take at least three to five years.

“We cannot be owned by a non-professional,” Clark said.

Kenn Harper, speaking on behalf of Calgary-based Urbco Inc., said his company should also retain the northern status of the Nunavut properties that it has purchased.

Gary Gee, the owner of Iqaluit’s Titiraruk Printing Services wanted to know if a business’s hiring of Inuit and not just the level of Inuit ownership would be taken into account when government contracts are awarded.

Kirt Ejesiak, owner of Uqsiq Communications Inc., urged the working group members to take the spirit of the land claim agreement into account when developing the new policy.

“If we look at the spirit of Article 24, we want to make sure that we don’t dilute it.” He said an ombudsman should be set up to monitor the content of Inuit businesses in Nunavut.

The working group was scheduled to hold similar meetings in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet this week.

Afterwards they hope to draft a new policy and put it out for public response. The working group plans to release a second draft by January and hopes to have the Nunavut cabinet and NTI’s executive sign off on the new policies by April.

NTI’s acting president James Eetoolook said he wants any new contracting policies to uphold the Nunavut land claim and Inuit firms get a fair share of the contract and result in “a level of Inuit participation in the provision of goods and services that is representative of the Nunavut settlement.”

Eetoolook said under the land claim, the government has a responsibility to improve the capacity of Inuit businesses to compete.

“We have to catch up to the contracting world, that is what we’re trying to ensure,” Eetoolook said.

John Lamb represents NTI on the working group. He declined to outline specific policies NTI will lobby for until after the initial public consultation is complete.

But he said NTI and the Nunavut government will have to come up with a policy that benefits beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries.

“We recognize we’re in partnership with the Nunavut government, which is a public government, which has a different set of responsibilities. The policies that have to come out are going to have to take that into account,” Lamb said.

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