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Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand listens to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak during a news conference in Ottawa, on Sept. 25, 2020.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal government says it remains committed to directing 5 per cent of its procurement money to Indigenous-owned companies, though new numbers suggest Ottawa is short of the target.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that the status of the government’s promise to diversify procurement was unclear after references to the target were left out of Procurement Minister Anita Anand’s most recent mandate letter.

But Public Service and Procurement Canada said the department is still committed to the 5 per cent target and that ensuring greater opportunities for Indigenous business was a priority.

“I continue to be focused on ensuring that our supply chains are diverse, particularly with respect to Indigenous businesses,” Ms. Anand said in a statement. “This includes ongoing work to see at least 5 per cent of federal contracts awarded to Indigenous businesses.”

Her department said the government spends about $22-billion a year in total on contracts. The department also said during the fiscal years 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, it awarded an annual average of $440-million worth of contracts to Indigenous businesses.

If that average held into this year, it would suggest that 2 per cent of contracts went to Indigenous-owned companies, falling short of the 5-per-cent target.

Ms. Anand’s 2019 ministerial mandate letter said she was to implement the 5-per-cent target – based on Indigenous peoples’ proportion of the total population – but her 2021 mandate letter removed the number.

As well, her department’s 2019-20 report to Parliament contained the figure, but subsequent reports did not and said the target for increasing Indigenous participation in procurement was “to be determined.”

Tabatha Bull, president of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, said her organization would continue to work with government and Indigenous partners to increase federal procurement opportunities for Indigenous businesses.

“To increase the number and speed of federal contracts awarded to Indigenous businesses, we encourage the establishment of a government-wide strategy with mandated targets in every department,” Ms. Bull said in a statement.

PSPC said so far during the pandemic it awarded 32 contracts worth $120-million to 24 Indigenous companies to provide goods and services ranging from masks to air charter services.

Ottawa has also promised to diversify suppliers among other underrepresented groups, including women and Black-owned businesses. PSPC said in its statement that its current system does not allow for keeping track of diversity of suppliers, but that a newly developed system will have that functionality.

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