Contract under fire
Questions arise over awarding of economic strategies contract

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 21/98) - Questions over a contract awarded to a key player in Premier Don Morin's conflict of interest complaint riled Finance Minister John Todd in the legislative assembly last week.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes, for one, wanted to know why the public had only 10 days to put together proposals for the contract and why the request for proposals wasn't advertised again when only one bid was received by the April 30 deadline.

"Why was such a short time frame given for submitting proposals for such a major project?" Ootes asked.

Roland Bailey, a former deputy minister and cabinet secretary, was the only person to submit a proposal even though a dozen people picked up the package.

Bailey is a consultant for the GNWT and investment adviser for its two immigrant investment funds, the Aurora Fund and Aurora Fund II, which are collectively worth more than $60,000,000.

Bailey and his investment partner, Mike Mrdjenovich, were also successful in purchasing Lahm Ridge Tower last fall and convinced the GNWT to sign a 10-year lease extension to provide office space to the GNWT at a time when there was a surplus of space in the city.

The controversial lease extension is among the potential conflicts named in the complaint laid by Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen earlier this year.

"This government proceeded without input from ordinary MLAs. And I don't see where public consultation is taking place nor a visible involvement by community or business groups in this strategy," said Ootes.

"Are we regurgitating government reports and working only with the bureaucrats? I think it should be noted that not everyone is a happy camper here on the western front nor possibly on the eastern front in Nunavut with this development."

The finance minister's rebuttal to Ootes was short. Todd said he would look into the matter and get back to him.

Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen continued Ootes's line of questioning by asking if the GNWT had budgeted for the contract.

Todd did not answer Groenewegen's question but rather redirected attention to the benefits he thought the economic strategies would create once completed.

"This strategy when we lay it out, and it's not quite ready yet, but when we lay it out we will clearly demonstrate ...what we're building is a case for the future. A case for more money to enable us to do the kinds of things that our constituents expect us to do," said Todd.

"Sometimes you have to spend money on the front end to ensure that at the end of the day you get more money on the back end."

Groenewegen, acknowledging the potential merits of an economic strategy, repeated her budget question. Todd said he would get back to her too and table the contract proposal in the House if she wanted.

Under the contract Bailey will lead a team of consultants and senior government staff in developing economic strategies. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the office of the interim commissioner of Nunavut have also been asked to participate.

Last month, GNWT cabinet secretary Andrew Gamble said their schedule has slipped from what the RFP said, adding that they we're looking to have draft strategies done by early fall.