New Becoming the Norm: Aboriginal Engagement In Government Procurement

St. Peters, NS. Aug.19, 2016…. “Soon, I hope this will not be new or the exception, but the norm for all levels of government and all government departments to have policies and procedures to ensure Aboriginals are part of their contracts,” said Alex Paul, Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office.

“Slowly, we are making progress and you need to look no further than the work on the new St. Peter’s Canal Bridge where you can find local Aboriginals are part of the work force,” said Paul.

The federal government, through Parks Canada, awarded a $15 million contract to Dexter Construction to build a new double-lane span that will replace the 80-year-old, single-lane bridge over the historic canal that connects the Bras d’Or Lake with the Atlantic Ocean. The new crossing should be in use by May 2017.

“Parks Canada is pleased to collaborate with First Nation communities on Cape Breton Island for projects such as this,” says Blair Pardy, Field Unit Superintendent for Parks Canada on Cape Breton Island. “Working with Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office, has allowed us to find the right workers at the right time to help keep this project moving forward.”

The province of Nova Scotia spends more that $250 million a year on highway construction and the federal governments spends billion of dollars each year on ships and planes, on supplies, on construction of buildings, and even bridges, such as the St. Peter’s Canal Bridge. “This is a major opportunity and we believe and have demonstrated that having a diverse workforce and engaging Aboriginals can be a win-win for everyone,” said Paul. “Our Economic Benefits Office has developed successful policies and procedures, as well as supports, to help ensure these partnerships succeed.”

“Given a chance and with the proper training, our people can help governments and help these construction companies succeed,” said Wilbert Marshall, Chief of Potlotek. “Our people want to work and we invite industry and government to partner with us.” “When we work together, when industry works with First Nations, we all benefit.”

The St. Peter’s Canal bridge project builds upon the success of a similar initiative in 2015 where the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal worked with the First Nation community of Potlotek and the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) to develop and adopt a new approach to helping ensure diversity and Aboriginal engagement in large government contracts, in this case, highway construction. Together they undertook a pilot project that included a multi-million dollar highway construction project on Route 4 through the First Nation community of Potlotek. The results were better than any of the partners expected. As a result of this success, the province of Nova Scotia agreed to take a similar approach in 2016 on five highway construction projects across the province.

Officials with the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) worked with government officials to develop contract wording that encouraged Aboriginal engagement and once the contract was awarded, MEBO staff engaged the construction company, assisting then in working with the first Nation communities, helping with community information sessions, with recruitment of workers, with some training and even once the construction began, the MEBO staff continued to monitor the progress of the project and provided any support needed to ensure the partnership succeeded.

The St. Peter’s Canal is a Parks Canada site and Alex Paul said, “We then met with senior officials with Public Works Canada and with Parks Canada to explain how the Economic Benefits Office could help them find good workers and help their project succeed and at the same time engage local Aboriginals. Parks Canada and Public Works didn’t hesitate and the result is five local Aboriginals now working on this project.

The Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) is focused on building partnerships with large industry in Nova Scotia. In doing so, it seeks to identify both employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginals. The Benefits Office helps industry find the workers they need through promotion and recruitment efforts. MEBO works to train and support both individuals and Aboriginal businesses to be part of these opportunities. To date, MEBO has trained more than 1,000 individuals and helped create more than 500 jobs for local Aboriginals.

MEBO serves all five First Nation communities in Cape Breton (Unama’ki) and takes a collaborative and business approach to employment and business opportunities with large industry in the region. MEBO is a not-for profit Aboriginal organization working out of Membertou, Nova Scotia.