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Cabinet, MLAs do battle over cost overages for new correctional centre

MLAs put their foot down firmly Tuesday on a request for an additional $1.5 million in expenditures for the new correctional facility that’s being constructed in Iqaluit.

The new jail that will replace the Baffin Correctional Centre, seen here, won’t have $1.5-million more in its budget due to MLAs voting down an extra funding request from the Department of Justice on Tuesday.
NNSL file photo

John Main, chair of the regular members’ caucus, made a motion to have that extra spending deleted from the government’s broader funding request. The motion passed in a 9-7 vote.

“I am disappointed that we are being asked to approve more money for this project. It was a very expensive item to begin with, close to $90 million,” Main said.

The requested extra expenses pertain to a variety of items relating to scope, code and design needs. The biggest safety concern revolves around the footholds in the bunk beds, which inmates could use as a spot to tie objects and potential harm themselves.

“When the department went through the planning process along with CGS (Community and Government Services), why weren’t these identified at the very beginning and included in the budgets so that we wouldn’t have to be in this position today, being asked to add more money on top of a $90 million project?” Main asked.

Finance Minister George Hickes criticized Main for wanting to block the extra funding.

“Frankly, I think this an inappropriate time to bring forward a motion of this nature. I understand that there are some concerns with the planning and the strategy, and the design of infrastructure of this territory. I think a conversation with the minister of Community Government Services, or to cabinet
overall, some kind of a direction to maybe be a little bit more stringent in our analysis and our cost estimating factors would be a more appropriate path,” said Hickes, adding that the project’s depleted contingency fund was smaller than usual.  “Jeopardizing a project that the additions to are strictly for inmate safety in the vast majority of the change orders, to me, is quite irresponsible.”

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak revealed that some inmates at Baffin Correctional Centre were planning another riot during the period of Covid restrictions and it has cost the government $187,000 so far to have instigators transferred to southern facilities.

“We are still waiting for an invoice from the airline as to the damages that were done to the aircraft during transfer of these inmates,” Ehaloak said. “Members, this new jail is a game changer for Nunavut. We will be able to bring inmates home and provide a state-of-the-art facility with programming and amenities from both staff and our elders as some of our elders will be the councillors within the new facility.”

Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk echoed Main’s concerns about inadequate government planning and oversight.

“Just to be clear to other members that when we are proposing with these capital estimates, the government needs to step up when it comes to monitoring. So this has to stop when there is a poor planning design and poor evaluation on these big projects,” Kaernerk said before the successful vote to deny the extra funding.