The Government of the Northwest Territories is moving forward with “urgency” to improve how it awards contracts and purchases goods and services.
Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Caroline Wawzonek held an online news conference on Jan. 27 announcing a formal launch of a four-month review which will include efforts to reach out to Indigenous governments, businesses, elected leaders and residents.
The news conference also featured Melissa Cyr, ITI director of business support and trade and Leslie Anderson, an expert in public procurement.
An independent review panel will be made up of Anderson, Peter Vician, a former public service leader who will serve as an NWT-based facilitator, and Darrell Beaulieu is aiming to have a series of discussions over the next four months before findings are to be delivered to the government.
Wawzonek noted that the GNWT’s procurement policies have not been substantially changed or updated since 2010 and that the review has been in the works for several months.
The need to help support businesses in the recovery of the economy, especially after post-Covid-19 makes it all the more relevant, she added.
“I think it is safe to say that the circumstances surrounding the current global pandemic have heightened the importance of this review,” she said.
The GNWT has four public sessions scheduled on Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., Feb. 28 at 2 p.m., March 30 at 7 p.m., and April 26 at 7 p.m.
“From panel interviews to written submissions, targeted engagement opportunities, and an online discussion platform, we are working to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to share this when the panel has completed their engagements,” she said.
Some examples that she noted that GNWT hopes to explore include how the government can level the playing field between Northwest Territories businesses and those in other jurisdictions and whether there should be more focus on adding jobs and investment to the territories. Findings are expected to be presented to the government in the summer.
One of the priorities for the territorial government laid out in its mandate at the beginning of the 19th session was to “Ensure government procurement and contracting maximizes benefits to residents and businesses.”
Renee Comeau, executive director of the Northwest Chamber of Commerce said her organization has been advocating for the independent review and is encouraging her members to take part. She hopes to see a more streamlined, clear single procurement policy document – similar to what the Yukon government released late last year– before the end of the end of 2021.
“The reason why we have been advocating this is there have been multiple examples where southern companies have been chosen over northern and Indigenous companies and we need a more clear and streamlined process for Business Incentive Policy (BIP) that is in the best interest of both Indigenous and northern owned and operated businesses that are going to help support, and grow them,” she said.
She said the issue is important for all Northerners and not just the businesses themselves because it will lead to more growth.
“The reason this is so important is that it will create jobs and not just in Yellowknife, but throughout Northwest Territories – both skilled and unskilled,” she said.
She said with more predictable, streamlined and updated procurement policies, businesses can have more clarity on how they will be able to work with the GNWT.
“Businesses are going to have the ability plan and to grow their businesses. And when they grow their businesses, we have seen time and time again that NWT businesses are beyond generous, and always invest back into their communities,” she said.