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Steen blasted over 'Buy North' comments

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 16/02) - Calling his comments "unconscionable," a group of MLAs wants the premier to take action against Public Works Minister Vince Steen.

Steen told Yellowknifer that he thinks the Business Incentive Policy (BIP) is unnecessary in the capital city.

His remarks followed news that Yellowknife businesses submitted lowest bids on $7.5 million of work for the North Slave Correctional Centre after the Department of Public Works suspended the BIP for the second phase of construction.

But Frame Lake MLA Charles Dent said such comments "anticipate the outcome of public discussion. It is unconscionable for a member of cabinet to criticize its own policy."

Dent, the chair of the committee on accountability and oversight, issued the comments in a press release after the matter was discussed by the committee.

The committee is angry that Steen suggested a government policy change without first consulting or notifying the regular MLAs.

Brendan Bell, MLA for Yellowknife South, called Steen's comments "premature and irresponsible."

The BIP is currently under review by the department of resources, wildlife and economic development. A revised draft of the legislation should come before MLAs this fall, and then be subject to public consultations.

Bell said to think that "Steen's comments won't colour that review ... is wistful thinking."

It's not the first time Steen has riled other MLAs to action.

In June, 2001, Mackenzie Delta representative David Krutko introduced a motion of censure against the executive council. The body of the motion was aimed at the transportation department, which indefinitely deferred two construction projects without first advising the appropriate MLA or standing committee.

It passed by a 2-0 vote. Seventeen members abstained in that vote.

Steen was minister of transportation at the time. Five months later, he was shuffled to public works and services and municipal and community affairs. The transportation portfolio was handed to Joe Handley.

MLAs on the accountability committee were particularly miffed since they received a letter from Steen's office the same day his remarks appeared in Yellowknifer. In that letter, dated June 28, Steen promised the committee "major policy decisions should not be taken without consulting with regular members."

That seemed ironic to committee members.

"Here he is today ... making a statement in contravention of existing government policy without having talked to other regular members about that possible change," said Dent, who added that Steen gave up his right to speak freely when he entered cabinet.

"(Cabinet solidarity) -- either it's there or it's not. Don't pick and choose when you can use it or when you've got it," he said.

Although none of the MLAs who spoke with Yellowknifer called for Steen's resignation from cabinet, Bell made it clear he thinks the premier should take action.

"I certainly expect the premier to call him (Steen) into his office and have words with him and suggest this is not the way we should be running this," said Bell.

Steen and Premier Stephen Kakfwi were travelling yesterday and could not be reached for comment.