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Opportunities Fund still off-limits

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 9, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - The territorial government fund that supplied a $34 million loan to Discovery Air essentially remains defunct despite indications early last year the government would open it up to other businesses.

NNSL photo/graphic

Peter Vician, deputy minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, left, speaks with Discovery Air president David Jennings, at the Air Tindi Dash 7 hangar on Bristol Avenue in March. The GNWT came under scrutiny in early 2009 for administering a $34 million loan to Discovery Air from its previously-inactive Opportunities Fund. Since that loan was finalized, no other companies have received money from the fund, according to Vician. - NNSL file photo

The Opportunities Fund, established in 2003 and funded through the federal government's Immigrant Investor Program, collects $400,000 from each immigrant investor seeking to enter Canada.

The funds are then redistributed to participating provinces and territories, including the GNWT.

The fund, meant to stimulate regional economic development opportunities, came under scrutiny after the GNWT's loan to Discovery Air was announced in early 2009. Prior to the loan, the fund was used only for passive investment.

In the wake of the loan, Bob McLeod, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI), agreed to a review of the fund's procedures, including a pledge to work toward establishing guidelines for future applications to the fund.

Last week, Peter Vician, deputy minister of ITI and chair of the Opportunities Fund board of directors, confirmed to Yellowknifer no other companies have received money from the fund, which remains closed until the review process is completed.

"No further disbursements were made from the fund," said Vician. "That was the first commitment the minister made."

Meanwhile, work on formalizing the application process has stalled due to ongoing talks between the GNWT's finance department and Finance Canada.

Late last year, Finance Canada advised the GNWT that the method by which the fund is recorded in the territorial government's consolidated accounts needs to be clarified before the fund can begin operating again. Accounting mechanisms for the fund have varied over the years, said Vician.

Talks remain ongoing, and though Vician would not comment on how much longer the process will take, he added that businesses are being directed to other funding bodies and mechanisms, such as the loan portfolio managed by the Business Development and Investment Corporation (BDIC).

In the 2008-2009 fiscal year, BDIC approved 18 applications for credit facilities totalling $7,837,384.

Not that the Opportunities Fund hasn't continued to garner interest.

"We've had enquiries, of course. I wouldn't say (a) significant (number)," said Vician.

"I would attribute it to people hearing about it in the past but not understanding it. In the majority of cases, we've directed folks to alternate means."

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