First Nation businesses given more time to work on strategy for tar ponds projects

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Mon., Apr. 16, 2007

SYDNEY - More time is needed to finalize a favourable procurement strategy for First Nation businesses vying for lucrative tar ponds contracts. Since 2004, Cape Breton’s aboriginal communities have met monthly with federal and provincial partners to develop an aboriginal set aside procurement strategy for a suitable chunk of work expected from the $400-million project. That strategy was supposed to be ready by March 31, 2007.

In a bid "to do it right," that deadline was recently extended to the end of the year, said Ken Swain, project director at Public Works and Government Services Canada. "We’ve been learning a lot about the best way to ensure that there is meaningful economic participation of First Nations in the project and we just want to make sure the strategy positions ourselves to accomplish that," he said. "We want to make sure that when we identify elements of the project, that can potentially be set aside, that First Nation businesses particularly in Cape Breton, have the capacity to supply the goods and services related to the activity."

A protocol agreement signed in October 2005 allowed one preventative work project to be allocated solely to aboriginal businesses — a first for the Nova Scotia government. However, recommendations made by a joint review panel in 2006 stopped the tendering process before the contract was awarded. The tender was revised and work is expected to begin this construction season.

Along with a solid procurement strategy, Swain said government would also like to develop a way to measure the initiative’s success. "That’s requiring some input from First Nation communities. Some other areas that could be assessed is whether or not businesses in First Nations communities improved because of their participation in the work.