TORONTO – The federal government has had a mandated commitment to have at least five per cent of its contracts awarded to Indigenous-led and managed businesses in recent years.

This procurement policy has seen varying challenges since its inception.

Nipissing First Nation member Tabatha Bull, the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), offered her insights into the policy during a Toronto conference on Nov. 23.

Bull spoke on the Indigenous Procurement Panel at the Indigenomics Bay Street conference, held at the Westin Harbour Castle.

The conference, which included panels, presentations, and keynote addresses on Indigenous economic issues, featured Indigenous leaders from the corporate and private sectors as well as various government officials.

“We all know as buyers, we all go to the same person we’ve used before,” Bull said. “I don’t switch up my hairdresser every two months. I find a hairdresser that I really like and I use that hairdresser all the time. And unfortunately, that happens in corporate Canada procurement as well. So how do we ensure that we are speaking with corporate Canada and helping corporate Canada say, ‘Okay, in this situation I’m going to move and find an Indigenous supplier’?” That’s where an organization like the CCAB can provide valuable assistance. Its mission is to advance the Indigenous economy by promoting business relationships, opportunities and awareness for its members.

“If there are large procurements coming, how do we ensure that Indigenous businesses are ready in advance to be able to respond to that?” Bull said.

CCAB officials launched a procurement marketplace in 2018. This platform now includes about 1,200 certified Indigenous businesses and about 140 corporate organizations that have committed to purchasing from Indigenous businesses.

Bull said in order to be included in this platform, corporate organizations must first identify an individual who is committed to working with Indigenous businesses.

“It has grown but it has taken some time and I will tell you a lot of effort,” Bull said. “And building the confidence of suppliers and building – the confidence of buyers that this tool works and that there are improvements that are needed. But having that platform to be able to enable those connections to be made has been very important.”

Bull believes the national Indigenous procurement policy could be advanced if executives’ compensations were somehow tied in with whether they were meeting procurement targets.

“I think there is still a bias that exists that Indigenous businesses are riskier to work with and might cost more,” Bull added. “Unfortunately, that does still exist in certain areas. So, it’s also about bringing in an Indigenous supplier to do a smaller job that can start to build that relationship and build that trust.”

Bull also said the CCAB has areas in which it can also improve to make things better.

“We have some work to do also in helping entrepreneurs how to navigate all of the different services and products that are out there and help support them because this has been a big push,” she said. “But we need to be streamlined as an organization with the support we are providing. So, we have some work to do there.”

Besides Bull, the Indigenous Procurement Panel also featured Paul Langdon, the strategics initiatives lead at Nova Scotia’s Ulnooweg Development Group, and Bo See Fok, a policy advisor for Public Services and Procurement Canada.