Business confused by new Article 24 policy

Members of the Baffin region’s business community say they don’t have enough information to judge the Nunavut government’s new contracting policy.



IQALUIT — When the territorial government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. released a report recently on a new contracting that conforms to Article 24 of the Nunavut land claims agreement, they expected to get feed-back from Nunavut business owners and managers.

But more than one month after the release of a discussion paper on a new Nunavut government contracting policy, business people are still scratching their heads and saying that the paper is incomplete.

“There’s just not enough information to make a fair comment,” said Geoff Ryan, the manager of Pangnirtung’s Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts.

“There’s no definitions… unless you have definitions, you can’t make valid comments,” Ryan said.

The world-famous arts and crafts centre in Pangnirtung makes prints and tapestries. But it also creates signs, which it can sell to the government.

Last fall, the territorial government and NTI formed a joint working group to overhaul its business incentive policy.

The working group released a discussion paper just before Christmas. It outlines a point system that would give businesses with Inuit, Nunavut, or local content bonus points when bidding on government contracts.

Under the proposed system, a company could have its bid price reduced by up to 20 per cent. The working group originally asked for businesses to respond to the proposal by Jan. 14. It later extended the deadline to Jan. 21.

When he received the package, Ryan automatically began calculating how many points Uqqurmiut and its competitors would receive under the system.

But without clear definitions of terms such as “Nunavut business,” “Inuit business” and “local business,” Ryan said it is impossible to determine how the company would fare.

“There’s more to the issue than what has been presented, and you can’t really make a fair comment,” he said.

Ryan is not alone in his uncertainty.

Iqaluit resident Natsiq Kango owns and manages Enokseot Holdings Ltd. After receiving a copy of the discussion paper through the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce, Kango said she needs more explanation.

And she thinks businesses in communities outside of the regional centres probably need more information too. They should also be asked for more input.

“The communities have to be approached by the working group to get their feedback,” Kango said.

She says the working group should make sure everybody understands what the new policy is supposed to do and how it works.

If the government doesn’t make sure businesses and the people who administer the policy understand it, there could be big headaches for both sides down the road, a business lobby group says.

“It will be more difficult for government to administer and there could be missed opportunities for business,” said Colleen Dupuis, the executive director of the Baffin chamber.

Both the Baffin chamber and the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce have written twice to Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik.

They want a copy of the complete draft policy and any related policies before it is approved by the Nunavut cabinet and NTI’s executive, said Monica Ell, a member of the Baffin chamber’s executive.

Instead of sending the working group comments on the proposals within the discussion paper, the chamber reiterated its request for a complete draft and more time.

Once a complete policy is drafted, they say four to six weeks should be allotted for consultation and feedback.

The Baffin chamber wants to survey its members’ views on the complete policy.

So far the chamber has not received a reply from the premier.

But the working group plans to present a draft policy to the cabinet in the next two weeks, said John Purdy, a government representative on the working group.

He said feedback will be solicited throughout the year, and the working group will meet again next January.

But the Baffin chamber argues that it’s important that business people and government officials have a clear understanding of the entire policy and how it works before it takes effect.

And one business person suggests the working group should start over again with more help from the people who will be affected the most — business people.

“Why not work together?” asks John Jacobsen, president of Tower Arctic Ltd.

Right now there are two business representatives on the working group, but Jacobsen said the chambers should have a greater say.

“Who understands how to put business together better than the businessman? He understands what to do,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen stressed it’s not a lost cause but he said until it comes up with a better policy, the government should stick with the one everyone already understands.

“Until you have a smoother, faster, more efficient wheel, use the one you have.”

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