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Aboriginal government support essential for northern P3 projects

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In Canada's north, infrastructure development and economic growth go hand in hand.
Aboriginal government support essential for northern P3 projects

In Canada's north, infrastructure development and economic growth go hand in hand.

However, all northern jurisdictions share a need to work with Aboriginal governments and stakeholders, and the challenges of demanding climates, remote locations, and a scarcity of capital.

Public-private partnerships (P3s) are providing a path to northern development by leveraging scarce funds to bring infrastructure to the table sooner.

Drew Fagan, deputy minister of Infrastructure for Ontario, said the province has been focusing attention on the province’s north through its Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) model. <0x000A>Projects include hospitals in Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Sudbury, a courthouse in Thunder Bay and expectations of an AFP approach to the expansion of Highway 69 from Sudbury to Parry Sound.

“We have a substantial process of engagement with Aboriginal government, and a duty to consult with Aboriginal communities with regards to development,” he said.

“Infrastructure Ontario has an Aboriginal advisor, who works with them in projects where Aboriginal communities are impacted. In the Ring of Fire, we have a very robust engagement process with regard to Aboriginal communities to ensure they get the best benefits and the best involvement in terms of jobs as that mega project is developed.”

Peter Taptuna, Deputy Premier and Minister of Economic Development and Transportation, Government of Nunavut, highlights the upcoming $300-million Iqaluit International Airport Improvement Project, a P3 development going forward with the participation of PPP Canada and consultation with Partnerships BC.

However, a P3 project of that magnitude didn’t have an existing precedent in negotiating with Aboriginal governments regarding procurement policy.

“We consulted with land claims organizations and came up with an alternative way to deal with the situation,” he said.

Steve Rose, assistant deputy minister of operations for the Department of Economic Development, Yukon, noted that the territory has a P3 policy in place, but no P3 project has yet been initiated.

“We’re facing the same challenges as many northern jurisdictions,” he said.

“We’re looking for transportation, energy, municipal infrastructure, and telecommunications infrastructure and Yukon has an interest in looking at all of its tools, including P3s, to develop this infrastructure.

“We’re looking at all of these projects with First Nations in mind. First Nations are not only looking at leveraging outside financing, but also at a knowledge transfer outward, where they can provide others with their traditional expertise and knowledge in operating in a northern environment, and in involving multiple levels of government in a remote setting.”

J. Michael Miltenberger, minister of Finance, for the Government of the Northwest Territories, noted that the territory has amassed a $3 billion infrastructure deficit, but only has modest capital resources to reverse it.

“We’re very interested in any way we can engage and leverage our money over time,” he said.

“Aboriginal governments with settled claims are also in a position to put equity into a lot of the projects they support. If a project is going to succeed here, however, you need the support of the Aboriginal governments.”

The Northwest Territories is currently developing a plan for a Mackenzie Valley fibre optic line that may be brought to the table as a P3 project.

“The project is going forward because it has the support and buy-in of every Aboriginal government up and down the valley,” he said.

“It’s more than consultation for us — the Aboriginal governments are an integral part of the governing structure of the Northwest Territories.”

by Peter Kenter

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