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Money could be lost in power generator 'boondoggle'

Justice Minister Louis Sebert

Money spent on four new power generators that have failed to appear in the NWT may have to be written off.

That's according to Justice Minister Louis Sebert, who faced questions from Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne on Wednesday in the legislative assembly.

“Clearly, Virdi Power would be responsible for these costs if they have breached the contract,” said Sebert. “Realistically speaking, it may be that that is not a likely option to recover our money.”

In 2015, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation contracted California company Virdi Power to deliver four generators at the cost of $2.5 million, Yellowknifer previously reported.

A $1-million deposit was paid to the company, but the generators never materialized.

“When are we going to actually cut this loose?” Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne asked the minister. “When are we going to stop costing ratepayers and taxpayers more and more money every day on this particular boondoggle that has obviously gone off the rails?”

Backup equipment is currently being used and is costing residents, he said.

The justice minister said he does not want to cut the deal loose “unless there appears to be no hope at all of getting these generators.”

At that point, there would have to be a request for proposals for new generators, he said.

NSCC security improvements delayed due to cost

A perimeter fence around the North Slave Correctional Complex is finally under construction more than a year after accused murderer Denecho King escaped from the facility and led police on a four-day manhunt through Yellowknife.

The work is expected to be done by mid-October, said Justice Minister Louis Sebert on Wednesday in the legislative assembly.

MLAs approved capital funds for the project last fall following King's incident.

In March, the minister said tenders for security improvements at the jail were expected to go out this spring and work could break ground this summer.

However, not all of the changes are underway.

Bids for other security enhancements besides the perimeter fencing came in too high, said the minister.

“We therefore are looking at a revised approach to secure the yard from which the inmate escaped, and I will certainly keep this house informed as to progress,” said Sebert on Wednesday.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart wanted a firm deadline for the completion of that work, as he said his constituents are bothered by late night noise from the facility and receive catcalls from inmates.

But Sebert didn't have specifics yet.

“I do not have an exact date to provide to this house when this work will be done, but it is an important project,” he said. “We are working on it, and I will keep the house informed.”

Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Alfred Moses

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson still has concerns about Aurora College's future, but he had trouble getting direct answers when he questioned the education minister Monday in the legislative assembly.

“I'm gravely concerned that the (teacher-education) and the social-work programs are in peril no matter what the review process or the outcome is,” said Thompson, referring to the two programs that were suspended earlier this year pending a review of the college.

“The minister has repeatedly stated that the programs have limited success but great expense and that they're not having the intended results.”

Thompson wanted to know when issues with the college's social-work and teacher-education programs were identified, but the education minister skirted the question.

“We've gone through this discussion over time, at our last session as well, that decisions were made and we're moving forward in the best interests of students,” said Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses. “I think we've had this discussion long enough that decisions were made.”

Thompson prodded the minister further about what was done to address concerns about the two programs, but the MLA stated he still didn't get an answer.

“Aurora College and the Department of Education, Culture and Employment continue to work together on a regular basis to review programs,” said Moses. “I'm going to continue to do that work.”

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, tensions were high between Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu and the minister during discussions over small-community employment programming.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly then expressed dissatisfaction with the minister's replies to questions on universal childcare when he raised the issue Wednesday.

The minister did state he is committed to “improving the accessibility, affordability and inclusivity of childcare in the Northwest Territories.”

He detailed some of the work that's been done around junior kindergarten, early-childhood development and creating daycare facilities in some of the small communities.