The N.W.T. is launching a four-month review into its procurement process, which it uses to hire contractors to complete projects.
The process has been criticized by northern businesses for not offering enough support, when businesses compete against southern rivals for contracts.
Caroline Wawzonek, the territory's finance minister, told a press conference Wednesday that the goal of the review — which is expected to provide recommendations by the end of the summer — is to understand how existing procurement policies are working and to identify "innovative ideas" to fix them.
"There is much at stake," Wawzonek said. "I believe we have an opportunity here to be leaders in Canada."
Panel membership and public sessions
The N.W.T. chose Leslie Anderson, a principal with DPRA Canada, Peter Vician, a former deputy minister of the Department of Industry, Trade and Investment, and Darrell Beaulieu, the president and CEO of Denendeh Investments Inc., as the three members of an independent third-party review panel into the procurement process.
This is the first time the N.W.T.'s procurement policy will be reviewed since 2010. Wawzonek said there have been some revisions to the policy over time, but nothing as substantive as this review.
The panel already has more than 20 engagement sessions planned between now and June and will be adding more if necessary.
Here are the dates for members of the public:
Thursday, Feb. 4, 2020 (7 p.m.)
Sunday, Feb. 28, 2020 (2 p.m.)
Tuesday, March 30, 2020 (7 p.m.)
Monday April 26, 2020 (7 p.m.)
Anderson, who is leading the review panel, said the government's goal of completing a list of recommendations in four months is "ambitious and optimistic" but she has no doubt they will be able to do it.
"We're hoping the appetite to undertake this review … will fuel the participation in the sessions they've set up," she said.
Review timeline moved up to avoid more conflicts
In recent months, the territory's procurement process has come under fire by a couple of Indigenous governments, including the Tłı̨chǫ government and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
Finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said the territory "cannot afford" disagreements like this with Indigenous leadership.
"It's just not right, so that's part of a reason that I see an urgency to do this," Wawzonek said.
The Tłı̨chǫ government signed a memorandum of understanding with the territory over its concerns earlier this year. Wawzonek said these "good news" solutions could be considered as part of their review.
Anderson said she's hoping people will be open to speaking freely about some of the challenges they've faced with the procurement system.
"Sometimes failures or challenges are more useful input in a way," she said. "We can take that information and hopefully, people will speak freely with us about how we can progress."
Indigenous procurement strategy 'strongly suggested'
The procurement review will be looking into, among other things, how the Business Incentive Policy (BIP) is working. That policy gives registered N.W.T. businesses up to a 15 per cent reduction on certain bids. If some employees are based in the N.W.T., that discount increases to up to 20 per cent of the total costs.
The territory's procurement discussion paper, released Wednesday, says the review will be looking into a way to better understand which businesses can actually qualify for these reductions.
Another policy the government will be looking into is public-private-partnerships (P3s) for contracts where the costs are more than $50 million.
The policy, according to the N.W.T.'s discussion paper, has been criticized for providing "relatively little benefit" to the N.W.T. for local business opportunities, education and training. The review, it continues, will be looking for a way to make this type of contract more relevant to the N.W.T.'s economy.
The review also "strongly suggests" the creation of an Indigenous procurement strategy. The way this will look, the territory's discussion paper reads, will be based on the feedback gathered from Indigenous governments and business leaders.
The discussion paper also includes 10 big questions the government is looking to answer, such as, what principles should underpin a government of the N.W.T. procurement policy?
Wawzonek said she does not want to provide too many details about what she's hoping the recommendations will include so that the government can stay open-minded.