Caroline Wawzonek, the minister newly tasked with fixing major flaws in the NWT’s procurement system, says she is looking to pick up the pace at which changes are made.
Procurement is the system by which the NWT government hands work to contractors. It has long been criticized for failing to adequately support northern businesses, particularly when competing against southern rivals.
In recent months, the Tłı̨chǫ Government and Yellowknives Dene First Nation have each publicly complained about perceived failings of GNWT procurement.
The Tłı̨chǫ Government said the system was “denying our people … the best opportunity to rebuild their economic lives.”
The Yellowknives Dene First Nation said in August it would withhold support for major infrastructure projects until procurement was reviewed.
Examining procurement and fixing the system had already been identified as a priority by Premier Caroline Cochrane’s government, but work to review procurement is currently not set for completion until at least 2022.
Now, the minister freshly instructed to lead that review says she’s working to get that date moved up.
In July, Cochrane moved responsibility for procurement from the Department of Infrastructure to the Department of Finance.
On Friday, finance minister Wawzonek told Cabin Radio fixing procurement was one of the biggest things the territory could do to improve its economic circumstances.
“This is a really big deal,” the minister said. “Clearly there is something we need to be doing better and differently.
“I’m going to do my best to accelerate things, but I also need to be realistic. There are interim small changes that can be made.”
Wawzonek said she needed to consult with regular MLAs before beginning to roll out some of those quicker, smaller fixes.
She acknowledged the initial timeline set out for overhauling procurement – an update of procurement policies is not scheduled to conclude until summer 2022 – was “slower than I would have liked.”
“I’ve made it pretty clear that this is a big priority for me,” said Wawzonek, who is also now the industry minister after inheriting the role from ousted former minister Katrina Nokleby.
“I’d like to go back and look at those timelines.”
Some initial movement on procurement is expected next month, when MLAs return to the legislature.
The territory has already made some on-the-fly changes to procurement policy to account for concerns raised by Indigenous governments.
In August, the NWT government said it would directly negotiate future infrastructure contracts on Tłı̨chǫ lands with local businesses after complaints from Tłı̨chǫ leaders.
Correction: September 28, 2020 – 10:24. This article initially stated the Department of Finance held responsibility for the NWT government’s formal review of procurement. In fact, that review is being led by the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment (ITI). Both ITI and finance have since early September been led by Caroline Wawzonek.