Todd unveils business-government partnership policy

The GNWT says the only way to build most capital projects in the future will be through creative partnerships between government and business.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT ­ The NWT’s finance minister says the territorial government must seek partnerships with private businesses to avoid falling even further behind in infrastructure construction in the Northwest Territories.

“It’s not a panacea for all our economic ills,” John Todd said, anxious to quell any suggestion that public-private partnership, or P-3 as it’s being touted, is the solution to all capital building needs in the territories.

Todd proposes to introduce partnership agreements with the private sector in areas that have traditionally been carried out by government alone.

Some of those areas might include the construction of a community learning centre in Cape Dorset or a young offenders facility in Hay River.

Policy used in new hospital construction

The policy will also be essential in the construction of new hospitals in Iqaluit and Inuvik, and new “health centres” in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet.

But Todd pointed out that need alone is driving the initiative.

“It is not a policy that is being brought into place for any other reason than to try to keep up with the infrastructure needs that we have,” he said as he released details about the policy last Friday in Yellowknife.

During the past two years, as part of its deficit-reduction strategy, the GNWT cut its capital spending budget from about $180-200 million to $120-130 million a year.

Todd said partnering with the private sector, something the GNWT is already doing on a limited basis, is the best way government can begin to close the gap in the demand for infrastructure.

Richard Coles, of the Maritime-based consulting firm Coles Associates Ltd, prepared the discussion paper Todd presented for cabinet approval.

Policy needed now?

“If you want to put it off another three or four years, then you fall fifty, sixty, seventy million behind every year in capital infrastructure needs,” Coles said. “And the social need doesn’t go away. The population continues to go up.”

Coles said public-private partnerships aren’t new. One well-known example of such an undertaking was the construction of the $1 billion Confederation Bridge between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Coles said the partnerships work best when they’re transparent.

“It has to be open,” he said. “The public has to understand what’s going on just as they do with other aspects of government activity. Coles added fair competition and public and staff information sessions are also vital for success.

“You’d want to partner with people who are committed to the North,” he added, “People who live and work here and have a real commitment to the future development, future success.”

It must also be affordable, Todd said.

“You don’t spend the last two years balancing the budget, with everybody being on your back, to bring a policy in that’s going to put us back in that position,” he said.

“We just can’t be out there building projects for projects’ sake.”

UNW condemns privatization

The Union of Northern Workers, however, in its Eye on the Ledge publication, condemns the policy as a further move by government into privatisation.

“It’s another pork-barrel,” said UNW president Jackie Simpson. “But this trough is deeper and wider than any that has be conceived before. P3 is nothing more than the wholesale transfer of our public assets ­ our public legacy ­ into private hands.”

Todd admitted he wasn’t surprised by the reaction.

“I find it intriguing that the union would make a comment about the policy when they haven’t really taken the time to ask for the briefing to fully understand it.

“That’s what they’ve been saying for years ­ they don’t like anything John Todd does.”

No legislative changes will have to take place to incorporate the policy, however it will go to the Government Operations committee for discussion.

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