Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic December 09, 2016 - 1:10 pm

I’m looking into NPC conflict allegations, INAC minister says

“In terms of the Nunavut Planning Commission, there is much work being done, including new members of the commission"

JIM BELL
The cover of KPMG's financial review on the Nunavut Planning Commission. On Dec. 8, Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said in the House of Commons that she is looking into its findings
The cover of KPMG's financial review on the Nunavut Planning Commission. On Dec. 8, Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said in the House of Commons that she is looking into its findings

Carolyn Bennett, the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said Dec. 8 in the House of Commons that she’s “looking into” allegations that Victor Tootoo, who worked as former part-time senior finance officer at the Nunavut Planning Commission through a consultancy, may have found himself in a conflict of interest.

Bennett made the remark in response to a question from Fort McMurray-Cold Lake MP David Yurdiga, the Conservative northern affairs critic.

In his question, Yurdiga referred to the findings of a financial review of the NPC that the KPMG consulting firm submitted to INAC this past August.

KPMG’s review report, which INAC later posted on its website, found that when Tootoo was serving as NPC’s senior finance officer, the NPC did business with two companies that Tootoo held an interest in: Aarluk Consulting and Northern Allied Inc.

“KPMG did not have any concerns with the fees charged but noted a lack of supporting documentation around the decision to select Northern Allied,” an INAC official, Jean-Marc Lafrenière, said in a letter to Sharon Ehaloak, the NPC’s executive director.

“This could create in the eye of some a lack of transparency and NPC should consider how to deal with this issue,” Lafrenière said in a July 13, 2016 letter to Ehaloak.

Yurdiga eventually used those findings to allege in the House yesterday that the Liberal government is ignoring a conflict of interest.

“I know the Liberals do not understand conflict of interest, but on this side of the House we do. How is the Liberal government going to respond to this blatant conflict of interest?” Yurdiga said in his question.

Bennett replied by saying, “Mr. Speaker, I too am looking into this matter.”

She also said the federal government is looking at appointing new commissioners for the NPC.

“In terms of the Nunavut Planning Commission, there is much work being done, including new members of the commission, and as well, we are working hard on Nunavut devolution,” Bennett said.

In one of the two alleged conflicts, Tootoo was actually performing the senior finance officer job under a contract with Aarluk Consulting, which has since been merged into a firm called Nvision Insight Group.

That accounts for the fees the NPC paid to Aarluk during the period covered by the review, said Shelley Burke, managing director of operations for Nvision, the company that Aarluk recently merged into.

“Everything that Mr. Tootoo did for the Nunavut Planning Commission was part of the consulting services,” Burke said in an emailed communication.

“The suggestion of a separation between Mr. Tootoo filling a role and the company supplying services is incorrect; one was part of the other. The independent, arms-length, KPMG review looked at this very issue. Its independent conclusion:  ‘Based on the salary benchmarking report, the individual’s fees are reasonable,’ Burke said, quoting from the KPMG report.

NPC job advertisements posted in 2014 and 2015 suggest that the commission’s senior finance officer position sat vacant for a lengthy period.

Burke told Nunatsiaq News that Tootoo was performing that role at the NPC on behalf of Aarluk.

Burke also said that NVision and it’s predecessor companies—Consilium, Consilium Nunavut Inc. and Aarluk—have supplied services to the NPC since 1994.

“We continue to provide those services right up to the present day. This is a long-standing relationship involving numerous individuals,” Burke said.

The senior finance officer job at the NPC, as of late 2016, is now filled.

Bernard Valcourt, the former INAC minister, ordered the financial review in July 2015, just weeks after Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna had asked him to do so.

At the time, the NPC had said that inadequate funding was preventing them from moving quickly on the Baffinland Iron Mines Corp.’s request for reconsideration of a land use designation for Milne Inlet, after the NPC ruled that the company’s Phase 2 proposal did not conform to the existing North Baffin Regional Land Use Plan.

Valcourt took the matter out of the NPC’s hands and turned it over to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which is still in the early stages of looking at Baffinland’s proposal.

But before that happened, Taptuna complained in May 2015 that the NPC was putting Nunavut jobs at risk.

“The Government of Nunavut believes that NPC’s continued hesitancy to provide clear direction because of funding issues with your department is putting at risk 260 jobs, millions of dollars in wages and benefits, and many other future benefits this project will bring to Nunavut,” Taptuna’s 2015 letter said.

For that reason, Taptuna said Valcourt should order a complete audit of the NPC’s books.

Now that the review has been completed and released, Taptuna said it’s up to INAC to decide what to do next.

“As receivers of the report, they will decide next steps, if any. The Government of Nunavut welcomed the completion and the release of the audit review,” Taptuna said in an emailed communication to Nunatsiaq News late last month.

He also said that it’s up to the federal government to decide how to respond to the findings of the KPMG review.

“Funding for NPC is provided by the Government of Canada, and as such the NPC has to follow the financial requisites and guidelines of the federal government.  It will be the federal government and INAC’s review of the audit within their guidelines and regulations that will determine if there are issues with the audit,” Taptuna said.

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