The Government of the Northwest Territories still has a ways to go when it comes to supporting Indigenous business – that was the message from Darrell Beaulieu, CEO of Denendeh Investment Inc., to members of the Legislative Assembly Wednesday.
At a standing committee meeting on economic development and environment, Beaulieu said he’d like to see more support from the territorial government, something he said would benefit all people in the territory.
No Indigenous procurement policy in N.W.T.
Beaulieu said that an Indigenous procurement strategy and access to capital through government programs, are elements that several other provinces and territories have, but are missing from the N.W.T.
“Southern businesses and consultants continue to receive millions of dollars in contracts,” he said.
While southern firms may bid lower than northern firms, Beaulieu said that when the project is completed, the southern firms are often over budget and that choosing southern firms fails to build capacity in the North.
“We’ve seen a lot of firms come up from the south and then leave with no lasting benefit,” Beaulieu said. “Choosing firms owned by local Indigenous groups keeps the money here and an opportunity for economic development that benefits everyone in N.W.T.”
Both the Yukon and Nunavut have Indigenous procurement policies, unlike the N.W.T.
The Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC), a Crown corporation that provides loan guarantees to Indigenous businesses, could provide a model for the N.W.T., Beaulieu said.
He added that the level of funding the government of the Northwest Territories has provided to Indigenous bodies, such as the Indigenous leaders economic coalition, a group composed of Dene, Inuvialuit and Métis leaders, is not adequate.
“We cannot build an economy on $50,000 a year,” he said. “This level of funding does not recognize our value in rebuilding the N.W.T. economy.”
“Now is the time to work together,” said Beaulieu, though he expressed concern over when presentations like these will turn into real action.
MLAs Kevin O’Reilly, Katrina Nokleby, Ron Bonnetrouge, Jackie Jacobson and Rylund Johnson are members of the standing committee on economic development.
The committee set itself a priority earlier in this assembly to explore ways to increase the responsiveness of government policies and services to stimulate and diversify northern, and in particular Indigenous, businesses. The committee is under no obligation to present its findings in a particular way, but it will likely result in a report presented to the Assembly.
The Legislative Assembly is also currently engaged in a procurement review, of which presentations like these may be included in a report that will go to the minister, Nokleby said.
Following the presentation, Nokleby told CBC News that she is personally supportive of the N.W.T. creating an Indigenous procurement policy as well as opportunities for loan guarantees through something similar to the AIOC.
Nokleby said it seems like there is interest in making things happen, but that, “I would echo the frustration of these stakeholders in the slowness. The [territorial government] is notorious in studying things to death and not moving forward.”
“I’d like to see an Indigenous procurement policy that’s good and meaningful by the end of the 19th assembly, but I’m not holding my breath,” she said.
Other MLAs on the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.