MLA calls for policy review to lessen government payments to Northview
As the 19th assembly of the N.W.T. legislature nears its end, one MLA is determined to diversify commercial leasing in the territory and reinvest government money in local property owners.
Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, has been clear throughout his term — he would like to see less government leasing of Northview Canadian High Yield Residential Fund.
"The GNWT has funded this monopoly for years at a cost to Northerners."
That's a line from a statement Johnson made in the legislature on March 1, 2021, but it sounds not unlike the statement he made during Tuesday's session.
"This company is the pinnacle of everything that is wrong with GNWT procurement," he said, in his most recent attempt at influencing policy to lessen Northview's hold on the territory's rental market.
"I'd really like to leave this assembly believing that I have made some progress on the amount of money we pay Northview," he said.
Northview owns approximately 50 per cent of Yellowknife's rental market and earns more than $20 million a year from the territorial government, according to Johnson's statement.
Johnson pointed to a 2021 CBC series reporting the $20.1-million annual sum as being the only public figure of how much the territory pays Northview and asked Diane Archie, the territory's infrastructure minister, for an updated number to learn "in which direction this amount of money is currently headed."
Archie said the number of commercial office leases that the territory has with Northview "has not substantially changed in the last year."
She pointed out one request for proposal (RFP) for a healthcare space where Northview's bid was unsuccessful and the department contracted a local supplier instead.
Johnson suggested the territory's first step should be to review the leasing of improved real property policy — a piece of legislation, he said, that hasn't been reviewed since 1998.
Archie said she couldn't commit to reviewing that policy since the department is awaiting the government's procurement review.
Johnson next asked if the minister would be willing to create "some sort of plan" to bring diversity to the territory's commercial leasing portfolio over the coming years.
Archie said leases are obtained through public tender and her department can't control which businesses bid. She said there are cases where Cabinet negotiates the contracts but those instances are looked at case by case.
Johnson suggested another fix could be in how renewals are handled.
He said leases continue to be renewed term after term without going back out for public tender, and asked Archie to put lease renewals out for public tender.
Archie said the decision to renew leasing contracts depends on continuity of programs and services, getting value for territorial investments made to a space and whether the government is prepared to expense moving and fitting a new space.
"These decisions must be made for each lease and not as an overall approach to restricting business to one vendor," she said.
She said as contracts expire, the government will move forward "as per our procurement policies, guidelines and trade agreement requirements."
"We can't exclude specific businesses from these processes."