N.W.T. MLAs call for new NTPC board of directors, question its independence

N.W.T. MLAs asked the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation when its board would be overhauled. The minister said a governance review is underway.   (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)
N.W.T. MLAs asked the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation when its board would be overhauled. The minister said a governance review is underway. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC - image credit)

Members of the Northwest Territories' Legislative Assembly say they are concerned about the Northwest Territories Power Corporation's (NTPC) independence from government.

NTPC is wholly owned by the government of the Northwest Territories, but as a Crown corporation, it's mandated to operate at an arm's length.

The corporation's six-member board of directors, however, is made up entirely of N.W.T. government deputy ministers.

In the legislature Wednesday, MLAs asked how the board's makeup might impact NTPC's independence.

Lesa Semmler, MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes, said that the intent of an arm's length decision-making body is to remove political influence.

"However, that is not how we currently operate," she said.

As the N.W.T.'s energy infrastructure ages and power costs rise, she said the territory needs to be able to tell residents that NTPC's decisions are in their best interest.

"The current governance model does not allow for innovation or independence from government," she said.

In May 2016, then-minister Louis Sebert dissolved NTPC's board of directors and replaced them with deputy ministers. Sebert said the decision would save $1 million a year.

Frieda Martselos, MLA for Thebacha, called on cabinet to restore the board to members of diverse professional backgrounds who represent different regions of the territory.

"I hope to see our government move forward very soon with removing the current NTPC board of directors and replacing them with a group of people that are more representative of the diverse people of the N.W.T.," she said during Wednesday's session.

"It's also important for the board to be impartial and independent-minded, which is not the case with the current board of deputy ministers at NTPC."

Actual savings about $5K a year

Martselos asked Diane Archie, the minister responsible for NTPC, when she would appoint a new board of directors.

Archie said a governance review for the power corporation is underway, and that its recommendations will inform next steps related to NTPC's board.

She said she expects that review to be completed by the end of the year.

Martselos also asked whether the 2016 decision was effective, and how much NTPC actually saved.

Archie said that the actual savings were between $415,000 and $500,000 a year.


CBC News asked NTPC who is involved in conducting the review and when it began.

Spokesperson Doug Prendergast declined to answer, saying it would be inappropriate for NTPC to comment on an ongoing governance review.

Potential conflict over green energy projects

A federal document on best practices for Canadian Crown corporations speaks directly to the issue of bureaucrats serving as board members.

It states that while public servants bring expertise on policy and how government operates, there is also risk of divided loyalty.

Caitlin Cleveland, MLA for Kam Lake, said green energy projects are examples of a potential conflict.

She said the department of Infrastructure works on energy alternatives, while NTPC limits energy production from cleaner technologies in the interest of fiscal sustainability.

Cleveland said the corporation's business plan relies on having the biggest client base possible to keep costs low.

"So how do you kind of divide yourself into two completely separate people in order to make those decisions and provide that direction?" Cleveland said.

The federal report states that public servants might not be, or might not be perceived to be, in the same position as an independent director to challenge a minister.

It says that the government will only have public servants on boards of Crown corporations when it's essential to the best interests of government and to the Crown corporation

Prendergast, NTPC's spokesperson, said that concerns over board independence appear to be misplaced

He said that board members are accountable to their shareholders, and that the territorial government is NTPC's only shareholder.

"I would say that you're really responsible to your clients," Cleveland said.

"Your clients are the people of the Northwest Territories."