Former MLA’s conflict of interest allegation fizzles out

Hunter Tootoo: vehemently denies allegation


Kelvin Ng, the former Nunavut MLA and finance minister, said this week that he’s unlikely to pursue a conflict-of-interest action that he started last month against Hunter Tootoo, the MLA for Iqaluit Centre, saying it’s not possible for him to submit his concerns in the form required by Nunavut’s Integrity Act.

In a June 20 letter to Robert Stanbury, Nunavut’s Integrity Commissioner, Ng alleged that Tootoo put himself into a “potential conflict of interest” in the fall of 2003. In the letter, a copy of which was recently leaked to Nunatsiaq News, Ng asked Stanbury to review and investigate the situation.

Ng bases his allegation on questions that Tootoo asked in the legislative assembly about a controversial Government of Nunavut contract award for construction of the new health centre in Rankin Inlet.

He alleges that, at the same time, Tootoo’s insurance company, Arctic Insurance Brokers Ltd., provided insurance to either Ninety North Construction Ltd., or to one of its affilated companies. Ninety North submitted the lowest bid for the Rankin health centre construction job in 2003, but did not win the job.

But this week Ng said he can’t meet one of the requirements of the Integrity Act – that he supply a sworn affidavit containing the facts on which the allegation is based.

He says that’s because the “information” about Tootoo’s alleged conflict of interest came from a “highly placed government official,” and Ng does not want to compromise his source’s anonymity.

“I’m caught between a rock and a hard place,” Ng said in an interview this week.

Meanwhile, Tootoo vehemently denies Ng’s allegation, saying that at no time has Arctic Insurance Brokers Ltd. ever provided insurance to Ninety North or any of its affiliated companies.

“No, never, no,” Tootoo said when asked the question in an interview.

Tootoo is an agent for Arctic Insurance Brokers Ltd., a company with offices in Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse. He said that he checked with the company’s branch offices across the North, and confirmed that they have never sold insurance to Ninety North.

Tootoo, who is vacationing with his family in Quebec this week, said he interprets Ng’s actions as “just a ploy to keep me quiet.”

“I’m just doing my job when I ask questions about how the government spends its money,” Tootoo said.

The controversy erupted in early June of 2003, when the Nunavut cabinet rejected the advice of senior public works officials, and decided not to award the Rankin health centre contract to Ninety North, the lowest bidder.

Instead, the cabinet decided to negotiate a contract with the second highest bidder: a partnership between a small local company, Sanajiit Construction Ltd. of Rankin Inlet, and a big southern company, Clarke Builders of Edmonton.

When the legislature resumed sitting in the fall of that year, Tootoo peppered Premier Paul Okalik with questions about the decision, saying that the GN did not have solid grounds for choosing to pay more money than it needed to for construction of the Rankin health centre.

In his letter to the Integrity Commissioner, Ng also complained about “numerous concerns” that Tootoo raised in the spring 2005 legislative assembly session about long-term commercial leases between the GN and various private companies.

Tootoo made those comments this past April and May, in committee of the whole, when he and other MLAs asked questions about a tabled document listing the GN’s commercial releases.

During those discussions, Tootoo and other MLAs asked questions about long-term GN leases in Rankin Inlet with a company related to Sanajiit Construction, and GN leases in Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay with Enokhok Corp., a company that Ng once had an interest in.

“Those leases [with Enokhok] expire in about six months and the GN hasn’t done anything about it,” Tootoo said.

Robert Stanbury, in an interview last week, confirmed that he recieved Ng’s June 20 letter.

But he said that he can’t act on the allegations until after Ng submits them in the manner set out in section 36 of Nunavut’s Integrity Act, which requires two things: a letter containing “a request for review,” and an affidavit.

“I’ve received a letter relating to a potential conflict of interest matter… But I haven’t received, as such, a formal ‘request for review’ which I would need to consider it,” Stanbury said.

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