Chamber backs negotiated contracts
MLA Roland's opposition said to be "out of touch"

by Glenn Taylor
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Mar 07/97) - The Inuvik Chamber of Commerce has passed a motion in support of negotiated contracts for public projects.

Political figures in the Gwich'in claim requested the special meeting to point out the benefits of negotiated contracts, while getting the business community on side and "to make government aware there is room for negotiated contracts," according to Gwich'in Tribal Council president Richard Nerysoo.

Gwich'in Development Corporation chair Willard Hagen said he believes Inuvik MLA Floyd Roland was "out of touch with reality" in opposing negotiated contracts.

Roland ran for election on that platform.

"I believe negotiated contracts have a time and place," Roland said in the legislative assembly Feb. 14. But "in the community of Inuvik, negotiated contracts have negatively impacted on long-time Northern companies, as well as aboriginal-owned companies."

Roland's opposition to negotiated contracts is a "detriment to the community," said Hagen, who expressed hope the chamber meeting would send a message to the MLA.

The subject stirred a passionate debate when last discussed by the chamber less than two years ago. At this meeting, however, the dozen or so businessmen who attended spoke unanimously in favour of negotiated contracts.

Negotiated contracts were perhaps best defined by Transportation Minister Jim Antoine, during a recent debate in the legislature with Roland.

"The negotiated contract is there to try to help mainly aboriginal corporations that are developing, get a foothold into the business world," Antoine said.

Negotiated contracts "are awarded to one contractor directly without competition, although there may be other contractors available and willing to do the work," according to a Public Works and Services document.

The contractor that wins a bid under a negotiated contract is required to hire strictly Northern subcontractors wherever possible, however.

It was that last point that Nerysoo drove home to the chamber during his presentation. Thanks in part to negotiated contracts,

Tetlit Zheh Construction Ltd. has completed more than 35 significant projects and generated $35.4 million in revenues since 1993, according to Nerysoo. Other figures:

  • In 1995 and 1996, Tetlit Zheh Construction generated more than $20 million in revenues, of which more than $14 million went to materials, supplies and subcontractors, and $3 million to labor, said Nerysoo.

  • Over the last few years, the company has purchased $12.5 million of supplies from 41 Inuvik suppliers and subcontractors, he said.

  • Tetlit Zheh Construction had more than 100 employees in each of the years 1995 and 1996. Tetlit Zheh Trucking Ltd. employed 149 and 133 people in those years, said Nerysoo.

Business people at the meeting applauded the Northern-content component of negotiated contracts, and said the spinoffs to other businesses were great.

But in past meetings on the subject, some business owners opposed the contracts because it locked them out of the bidding process for construction tenders and other jobs.

When the debate flared two years ago, some businessmen, such as Sam Kassem, manager of Ferguson Simek Clark, opposed a process that would lock their companies out of the bidding process. The contracts were "new, and scary -- that's how I saw them."

But now Kassem says he supports the contracts. A few years ago, large projects were often awarded to southern contractors.

Negotiated contracts help channel that work to companies like Tetlit Zheh Construction who then subcontract parts of the work to other local or regional companies. The contracts help Inuvik retain maximum opportunities and economic spinoffs on projects, said Kassem.

With major projects coming down the pipe -- including a new hospital and Aurora College campus for Inuvik, and a new school for Aklavik, "these projects give best benefit through negotiated arrangement," said Nerysoo. "We've always taken the position it is in our interest to work with the business community in the region. We should continue in that direction."

"When Gwich'in work, the region works," said Nerysoo.

While the chamber meeting came out unanimous in its support of negotiated contracts, town councillors were divided when the issue came up in meeting last week.

Councillors Richard Barnes and Donna Allen said they support giving local and regional contractors a leg up over southern contractors, but did not support private "invitational tenders," as negotiated contracts are defined now.

"The fact is," said councillor Vince Sharpe, "council can't support one aboriginal group. We have to support the community as a whole." Sharpe said tenders for road work are negotiated, and "Inuvik businessmen are very upset" about it.

Councillors Eddie Kolausok and Joey Amos gave more favorable reviews. "When Inuvik was booming, the majority of people who got the jobs were from the south," said Amos. "They brought in their own camps, their own groceries." With negotiated contracts, "I see the benefits and I seen the downfalls," he said.

Meanwhile, MLA Roland clarified his position on negotiated contracts, during Monday's session. "I do not believe I came out and said that I disapprove of negotiated contracts," said Roland.

"My concern ... is in the area of distribution of these contracts and whether, as a government, we have a policy of dealing with negotiated contracts that all departments would fall under."