The Atlantic Roundtable: Capitalizing on local opportunities to propel Aboriginal business to new heights

There are numerous opportunities for Aboriginal business and workforce engagement in major projects in Atlantic Canada.

CCNB luncheon

This was the overall message arising from the recent Atlantic Roundtable held on December 15, 2015 at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) in Halifax, NS. The Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) partnered with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to bring this exciting discussion about Aboriginal economic development and the opportunities and obstacles that businesses experience in Atlantic Canada.

CCAB panel

The morning panel focused on Aboriginal business procurement and explored strategies and best practices for Aboriginal businesses to enhance their success in the procurement process in major projects.  The following themes emerged from the discussion:

  • Corporations need to know about Aboriginal businesses in order to increase their involvement in procurement.
  • Investment in Aboriginal businesses and communities will increase profits for major project development.
  • Industry wants to incorporate Aboriginal businesses into supply chains, but capacity and readiness of those businesses are a challenge.
    • Support organizations like JEDI, the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO), and other business development organizations are vital to assist Aboriginal businesses.
    • Aboriginal businesses should seek out partnerships with other suppliers, it’s not always possible to conduct business directly with the main contractor on a project.
  • Opportunities for Aboriginal businesses are in raw material production and connecting with Tier 2, 3, and 4 suppliers, for example, Lockheed Martin and General Electric are the main Tier 2 suppliers for Irving Shipbuilding.
  • Education is needed for Aboriginal businesses on the process for responding to calls for proposals from major projects. Economic Development Corporations are important in connecting Aboriginal businesses to those calls, building capacity and readiness for the supply chain.
CCAB panel

The afternoon panel focused on Aboriginal workforce engagement strategies and best practices to meet the labour requirements of major projects.  The following themes emerged from the discussion:

  • Increased awareness of the capacity of the Aboriginal workforce assists in achieving positive employment outcomes in major projects. Memski’s partnership with Emera is an example.
  • Industry has a responsibility to engage the local community in major projects, for example, TransCanada has achieved Aboriginal workforce participation, in some cases close to 20%.
  • Training in communities must be done to prepare for opportunities, not just to train for the sake of training.
  • Communication is key. Aboriginal communities must know the workforce capacity, and communicate effectively to industry in order to set reasonable employment targets. Working Warriors is the tool that JEDI is using in NB in partnership with the communities to identify workforce capacity (

These are just a few of the items covered in the panels. The entire roundtable discussion was captured by the CCAB staff and will be included as part of a national report in 2016. 

Overall, the event was a successful collaboration between the CCAB, JEDI, SSHRC, and MSVU. We would also like to thank Ulnooweg Development Group for sponsoring the lunch ( and the following panellists for providing their insight:

Business Panel

  • Chris Blanchard, Supply Chain Manager, Irving Shipbuilding Inc.
  • Barry Stevens, Stevens Solutions & Design Inc.
  • Catherine Martin, Nancy’s Chair in Women’s Studies, MSVU
  • Kanwal Dewan, Coordinator, Engineers Without Borders
  • Cassandra Dorrington, President, Canadian Aboriginal and Minorities Supplier Council

Workforce Panel

  • Owen Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office
  • Jamie Saulnier, President, Running Deer Resources
  • Perry Kocis, Manager, Aboriginal Contracting, TransCanada Corp
  • Sheila Isaac, HR & Client Care, Memski
Mike Hennessey

Mike Hennessey

Mike Hennessey, Aboriginal Labour Market Information Analyst, will be a monthly contributor to the JEDI blog. From Pabineau First Nation, Mike holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of New Brunswick and is currently finishing a Masters of Education at UNB. Mike is motivated to share relevant labour market information to help First Nations, industry, and government recognize the potential that lies in the Aboriginal workforce.