North says NDIT independent
Although there’s a whirwind of rumours revolving around the procurement process in the Wood Innovation and Design Centre project, Janine North, CEO of Northern Development Initiative Trust, remains firm in stating the trust is independent from government in its decisions.
The trust is made up of a board of directors who are counselled by four regional advisory committees.
“They are made up of the mayors from an area, either the regional district chair or some electoral director and MLAs from all parties that are elected,” North said. “The turnout tends to be more mayors and electoral area directors.”
The opinions of the committees weigh heavily with the board.
“The board does put a lot of weight on their advice,” she said. “They advise the board and the board makes decisions, and it’s set up that way in the legislation. The board really does like to consider their regional knowledge in terms of making loans and grants, because we all know the people who live in a community are much more informed. The board covers a really large geographical area but when they want more advice they go to the advisory committees, which meet about four times a year.”
She added the MLAs don’t often show up at a meeting because they are busy with their other duties in the House.
“But there’s usually a good turnout of mayors and electoral area directors.”
She confirmed there is another layer of attachment between NDIT and the ministry of jobs office.
“We submit a three-year strategic plan to the ministry responsible. That has shifted over time,” she said.
When NDIT first conducted business, it sent its strategic plan to the Ministry of Transportation, then the Ministry of Community Development.
“The current ministry responsible for this piece of legislation is jobs and tourism. The three-year strategic plan is provided to them as well as the annual report. Our audited statement each year is provided to the auditor general as well,” she said. “We very seldom get feedback and never about changing any of that report. It’s more of an information piece to government and the public. I don’t think we’ve ever received anything except maybe once or twice an acknowledgement letter that we submitted that plan.”
She added although mayors often advocate for a project, they are obliged to follow a code of conduct set out in the municipal charter.
“It’s quite normal for mayors as they come forward to have an opinion on applications,” she said. “Mayors have a pretty clear code of conduct in the municipal charter. We also have guidelines. They self-declare if they are in conflict with any decision. There is that governance and code of conduct focus by the board and by the regional advisory committees.”
She said though she didn’t have immediate access to who attended regional advisory committee meetings where the WIDC was discussed, she doesn’t recall either MLA Pat Bell or MLA Shirley Bond being present. However, many meetings beyond those of the regional advisory committee were held.
“There have been meetings at the university involving Partnership B.C. and various ministry offices like Advanced Education,” she said.
North said in this case NDIT is strictly the lender.
“We have no interest in negotiating or advancing or getting involved in a procurement process,” she said. “In this case we provided a $2.9 million loan. Half of it was paid back and the remaining half wasn’t. We are going through a normal foreclosure process. At the heart of it all you and I have mortgages, I’m sure, and we all have an obligation to pay our loans.
“This is a politically charged time in the province, but I’m just going through a normal process on behalf of our board to recover money that is owed the community.
“I’m not involved in that politically charged process. I’m just an administrator.”
North said any rumours or reports stating NDIT acted anything but independently are wrong.
“There may be rumours but I can tell you categorically we are an independent organization from government. This is an independent board. I have watched them make independent decisions for almost eight years now,” she said. “At a local level mayors may advocate but when they get in the board they really do think about what is right for the region, and they do it very independently.
“I find a lot of the rumours unfortunate. At the end of the day we are a lender trying to recover money as any normal lender would do, and I have the added responsibility that this is a public trust, and it’s public money on behalf of the community we are trying to recover.”
She added she believes the loan will be recovered.
“We have a responsibility to absolutely go by the book,” she said. “I consulted with more than one legal counsellor because this is a new process for us, and we are now going through that process, but the trust has never lost money on the loan. We are confident in the securities put in place, and this was a very prudent loan on lending and securities. We will recover this, but it is going to take time.
“During that process it is subject to many things that aren’t necessarily fact, and I look forward to the courts dealing with the facts and getting through the process.”