Nunavut government’s contracting practices to see more scrutiny

“I believe the use of contractors to fill indeterminate positions has been abused over the years…. It’s essentially taking jobs away from Nunavummiut”

When Nunavut’s legislature reconvenes this week, Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, plans to raise more questions about the Department of Community and Government Services’ contracting practices. (File photo)

By Thomas Rohner
Special to Nunatsiaq News

Nunavut’s minister of community and government services will likely face mounting pressure over his department’s contracting practices when the territory’s legislature starts sitting this week.

That’s because Adam Arreak Lightstone, MLA for Iqaluit-Manirajak, says the written answers he recently received so far from Lorne Kusugak have been “disappointing.”

“I wasn’t too pleased about the quality of answers. I feel that my questions were unanswered and I’ll be forced to submit them again,” said Lightstone.

Lightstone, who provided Nunatsiaq News with the department’s written answers, tabled written questions in the legislature on March 4 based on concerns first raised during the department’s budget discussions in committee of the whole.

An “alarmingly large number” of contract descriptions in the Department of Community and Government Services’ 2016-17 annual procurement report resembled job descriptions, Lightstone said.

“I believe the use of contractors to fill indeterminate positions has been abused over the years… It’s essentially taking jobs away from Nunavummiut.”

The department didn’t provide enough information in its written responses to either confirm or refute that concern, Lightstone said.

For example, Lightstone asked for information about casual employees in “unfunded positions”—positions that are not included in a department’s organizational chart.

Lightstone told Nunatsiaq News that he was approached by a number of constituents who had been longtime casual employees of CGS but who were let go, not because of performance issues but because their positions were unfunded.

“CGS is not in a position to highlight only those casual positions that were unfunded as this would require extensive manual validation,” the department said.

Lightstone, who is familiar with the accounting and human resource software used by the Government of Nunavut, disagrees.

“Finding this information would be quite simple,” he said.

Lightstone also asked the department to specify which communities some contracts were carried out in, and over what time period.

“The contract services were done in all communities in Nunavut,” the department said, but did not provide the length of the contracts.

Lightstone responded, “If an individual is getting $150,000 for a contract, I’d like to know, is that for a four-month contract or a six-month contract? I’m curious to find out how many of these contractors are working outside the territory.”

Lightstone also asked why the positions were contracted out instead of filled by a government employee.

“These contracts were for skill-sets that did not exist within the fulltime positions… The requirement to meet operational needs was beyond the current available skill-set, timelines and staffing complement,” the department said.

Lightstone replied, “It’s the kind of stuff that every government has employees to do so I don’t understand why we’re so different.”

And because the contractors are on the department’s standing offer agreement list, no public requests for proposals were issued for those positions, the department said.

“That’s a red flag right there,” Lightstone said. “That’s a complete undermining of the competitive process.”

Services valued at over $250,000 must be put out for a public request for proposal, or RFP, the department said.

But even that doesn’t ensure fair competition, said Lightstone: “It’s quite easy to manipulate specifications and requirements of RFPs to basically write it so that one pre-selected vendor could qualify for it.”

Lightstone also asked if CGS helps other departments with contracts to fill roles intended for employees.

“CGS Procurement is usually not aware if a Client Department is using a resource to replace a regular employee,” the department said.

So who does provide that oversight?

“That’s definitely something that needs to be brought up with CGS and the [new] Department of Human Resources,” said Lightstone.

He added that a number of MLAs expressed concern during the winter sitting over CGS having not yet tabled its 2017-18 annual procurement report.

That report is usually tabled at the same time as the government’s financial statements, in the fall, Lightstone said.

“I’m worried that by not publishing the crucial procurement and contracting information, it’s reducing the accountability and transparency the government is operating on,” he said.

 Speaking on March 1 in the legislature, Kusugak said the 2017-18 report would be tabled during the spring sitting.

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by Nepotism on

    One need only look at the people in upper management and all of their friends and relatives being hired, from the south, to see the abuse.
    Plenty of qualified Inuit are left in the cold because of GN’s upper management and their questionable hiring practices and contract tendering.

    • Posted by True Story on

      I’d be willing to bet that if you did a side by side comparison of resumes there would be no comparison in terms of education or experience. You need to blame dark forces for this.

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Generally, that was my experience. You looked through the beneficiary (not ‘Inuit’) pile first and ended up not giving them a second look as none had the necessary minimum requirements. This sometimes led to resentment of the “Why is this person wasting our time? The job ad very clearly says a Civil Engineering degree with X years of experience and knowledge of XXX. This guy didn’t finish high school, and his work experience is limited to handyman for Hamlet of X.”

        This didn’t happen every time of course, but it was common. Invariably, it would be the completely unqualified applicant who would appeal the hiring process, leading to a second round of interviews, and in the meantime 4 months had gone by and we would have lost a number of possible candidates who took work elsewhere in Canada (or the world) while we waited for the hiring process to do its thing – all very inefficient and frustrating.

  2. Posted by pissed off on

    It has been going on for years.

    People with degrees come up North for a few years .
    They plant their roots and network of contacts.
    They move back South and become “ consultants“.
    They land juicy contracts. They know what the GN wants to hear and are happy to abide. They either come back up North for short stints or prepare their “ reports“ entirely from their living room in the South .

    By the way the Inuit organisations employ the exact same tactics.

    • Posted by So True on

      Bullseye! Right on the spot truth! Another thing too is that when they management say’s there are no qualified employee’s to do the job so they hire a casual employee, usually means the qualified Inuk employee is being intentionally overlooked or declared not qualified just so they can hire their friends from down south and or their family members.

  3. Posted by Reality Bites on

    Instead of approaching the issue under the assumption that something sinister is going on, consider that departments are adapting to a convoluted and dysfunctional rule set. For example, the assumption that org charts accurately represent an organizations needs is not realistic. I’ve worked in a department that has relied on relief / casual labour for years. If we only staffed according to what is on the org chart our operation would cease to function. If we only hired beneficiaries, the same fate would await us. Sorry gang, you can’t just wave a magic wand and make some one a committed professional.

    • Posted by emuse on

      Sounds like your department needs to go through the process of updating your org chart to reflect the actual needs of your department, put it in a business case and have it go through the legislative assembly for approval. That is the proper procedure, and should be followed, instead of justifying what is not only irresponsible use of funding, but also keeping staff in casual positions for years is not in the best interest of the employees.

      • Posted by Reality Bites on

        I agree, this should be done. Unfortunately, there is little vision or appetite for innovation in our department. We chug along pretending either the old ways, or the ways the upper management sees thing are somehow sacrosanct. Neither is true of course, it’s all a cover for inertia. That said, I disagree to framing this as an irresponsible use of funding, it’s necessary for us to function.

  4. Posted by Consultant on

    Consultants have been adding value and provide services that local people are not yet qualified for.
    But the middle management and lower technical staff consider consultants threat to there job security.

    • Posted by Alice on

      I was in a dept that hired lots of contractors. They think pretty highly of themselves that is for sure. Their academic credentials are highly suspect. Their command of written & spoken english was average at best. Some of the gents I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. Were they any good at their jobs you ask? A couple were outstanding but 60% were imposters. As for the people that hired them, that is where the real problem exists. You would not want to hire many of them because they don’t know much. Hence why they hire contractors😕

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Absolutely agreed. Consultants everywhere, not just Nunavut, can be little more than snake oil salesmen. OTH, some are very very good at what they do and very knowledgeable. The secret for the government is being able to tell the difference and choose the right consultant.

        I do give the GN points for knowing what they don’t know, and being willing to hire subject matter experts, as long as they know to hire good ones and not the charlatans. It can be hard though, some of them are very smooth, and put on very good sales pitches.

  5. Posted by Consultant-B on

    [‎2019-‎05-‎28 4:54 PM] Zamir, Farooq:
    what do you think about this as a start
    I am not here to offend anyone so before I would say anything I would like to apologize in advance if it Hurst anyone’s feelings. 
    There are good and not so good people in each department, team, culture and so on and so forth. If a person is not so good in verbal or written English maybe it is because his first language is not English it could be French or Inuktitut or some other language but that does not mean he is not good at his work or the duties he/she performs. Maybe and in most case it is the fact that those people work even harder than the rest and are very responsible and a lot more knowledgeable then the fellow working who’s first language is English. 

    [‎2019-‎05-‎28 5:00 PM] Zamir, Farooq:
    Majority of the contractors working for GN and in CGS have a massive assortment of experience that they carried with. The main goal is to server the people on Nunavut to the best we could by giving all and going above and in most cases beyond that the regular FT does ( and I repeat in most cases) We not only work harder and smarter but we share the knowledge with our team and transfer the skillset. 

    • Posted by Alice on

      Consultants are paid $175k a year min, receive generous daily per diems, receive free housing, free fly-outs, etc – to provide a service that could easily be provided by a trained, mentored or OJT f/t Nunavut resident. Consultants generally do not share info or intelectual property willingly or freely. To do so would render themselves obsolete. You should be able to write, speak and be understood in english. At least until Inuktitut is the official operating language of the GN. Finally, not all consultant jobs are network or systems engineers but rather jobs that highschool, NS or NAC graduates from Nunavut could easily do.

      • Posted by iRoll on

        Hey Alice, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to hear more about the $175k consultant jobs that a high school grad could do. That’s pretty amazing to think about. Will you tell us more?

        • Posted by Alice on

          On a drunken (him not me) wing nite at the Frob a contractor confessed this to me. Said he bs’d on his resume to recruiting co. ’cause once past these clowns GN doesn’t question qualifications of contractors. The gent said he had basic grade 12 & was really good at video games🤣

  6. Posted by Jillian on

    Friends hiring friends from the south is way to common. It is not just happening at CGS but at the Corporations big time. How else do you suppose CSAs are hired from the south if they dont live here? You see folks leaving and going south and being brought up again on a contract with better bennefits then their former colleagues who look on with envy. Free housing, trips back and fourth from the south, it seems like a dream come true. Maybe others should look around their offices and demand to put an end to this. Talk to your MLA, your Union, to anyone who will listen. Keep digging Adam. You will always get my vote.

  7. Posted by Simonie on

    When you see your bosses boss give special treatment to the folks he hired from the south and drinks with in the bar every weekend you have to wonder what the exchange is? Not professional. Not why Nunavut was created.

  8. Posted by Little man big heart on

    What about folks creating jobs for their friends. How many CSAs or contractors are hired for jobs that dont event exist. Create a job for a friend, built an empire so I can hire my friends and feel big about myself. I say contractors but there is no way contractors should be given an office space next to a regular employee. Go set up your own office. I think DMs need to be looked at. They are the ones signing off on all the hiring. It is ugly out there. GN HR should take over all hiring for all departments and agencies.

  9. Posted by Sled dog on

    Operationalized contractors. Happens everywhere Mr. Lightstone

  10. Posted by Red Seal on

    Years ago I was hired to work contracts for NAC. I taught a trade and became very good friends with my boss. We enjoyed drinks together on occasion. From the outside perhaps this looked bad. But in reality I was hired as a stranger, and because I had the skills to teach my trade. I remember hearing people complain I wasn’t an Inuk the day I started. It made me wonder how many Inuit there were who had Journeyman qualifications and university training and the 20 or so years experience in my field. This was in a very small community, I doubt anyone did. But that point didn’t matter, all they could see was a person who was non-Inuk, and that, to some observers, was a source of anger. I understood on one level, but also thought the better attitude would be to accept all the knowledge this “outsider” came to pass on.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Exactly! Bullseye! That sort of attitude is common. There is just so much looking at the person’s ethnicity and skin colour, and making racist assumptions, rather than looking at the competition pile, and the labour pool available.

  11. Posted by Inquiring Minds on

    There was a news article within the past few days about the GN giving a contract to a consulting firm to produce a 10 year vision for the department of education.
    The article says the company was awarded the contract as a result of an Request For Proposal.
    It also says that only one company submitted a bid.
    I wonder how many competitive RFPs are awarded to the only bidder.
    And why is there only one bidder?
    Inquiring minds want to know.

  12. Posted by The Young One on

    On a side note, it would also be nice if the GN had Directors that weren’t so concerned with elevating their job title from Director to CEO. I know of at least one instance in which valuable resources and time has been wasted on such a self centered request.

  13. Posted by Putuguk on

    The Department may have several tradespeople on casual that they need to let go due to government rules related to short term government employment. I fail to see how this is connected to a choice on whether or not the Department needs to bring in certified trades people, and project or civil engineers in on a contract basis.

    The Department should be establishing permanent positions for local tradespeople.

    From what I can see, Nunavut has very little local capacity for crew bosses, engineering, design, and project management services. So just like industry, government needs to bring these people in from the south. This will remain true until Inuit get serious about our education and work ethic and tackle these professions as the Inupiat have done in Alaska.

    More Inuit capacity will not be created by CGS ceasing to contract out professional services. Any person of any colour, race or creed that has been trained and educated to act in a professional capacity such as being a member of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists is quite capable of securing work in Nunavut whether or not it is on a short term or permanent basis.

    Again, the elephant in the room is being ignored – our parents, communities and schools are thus far ineffective in establishing a generation of young Inuit that are prepared for the full range of opportunities that flow from living in 21st century Nunavut. We even flub the cultural and historic side as we end up sending our graduates to Ottawa to learn about being Inuit for gosh sakes. This all has to get turned around.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      I want to give you ten thumbs up. You hit the nail right on the head, and I’ve never seen anyone say it so clearly.

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