The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency has a new president.
Patrick Borbey took over the embattled agency this week.
CanNor has been embroiled in controversy for the last two months after an internal audit revealed the agency was a financial mess.
The audit found that CanNor had violated almost every rule of sound financial management and had broken all but one of 13 different financial policy directives it examined.
Borbey freely admits that the agency has had its fair share of problems, but remains confident that these can be fixed.
“There was no fraud, there was no misappropriations,” he told the News. “A lot of mistakes were made, but many of them were associated with the fact that this is a startup organization with a fairly lean capacity and some high turnover.”
CanNor has been through five different financial officers since it was formed a little more than two years ago.
The audit said that high turnover rate may have contributed to the lack of financial controls.
It made a total of 19 recommendations, many of which, Borbey said, have already been realized.
“By the end of 2012, we will have fully implemented all of the recommendations and will have in place the systems, the structures and the frameworks to ensure that those problems don’t reoccur,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t have mistakes from time to time, people are human.
“But when it does happen we will have the controls in place to correct those mistakes and not allow it to turn into the kind of systemic problems that were found in the audit.”
Borbey comes prepared with a host of personal and professional experience.
Most recently he worked as an assistant deputy minister with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
After almost 30 years as a civil servant, he’s has seen his fair share of difficult situations, but taking over an agency that’s been under such intense scrutiny made him a bit apprehensive.
However, any fear he had was overpowered by the excitement of getting a chance to work on northern issues again.
“There are tremendous opportunities to be associated with this agency,” said Borbey. “The last time I checked, we’ve got about 30 major projects, most of them mining.
“Now, all of them aren’t going to come to fruition, but even if half of those do, it has the potential of really transforming the north and bringing tremendous prosperity.”
Having grown up in a small mining town in northern Ontario, Borbey knows how precarious a resource-based economy can be.
“When you live in a boom-and-bust kind of local economy, you really realize the importance of sustainable development,” he said. “The mining sector can bring real wealth, but also you’re vulnerable to whatever the economic situation may be anywhere in the world.”
He’s been through both the good times and the bad.
“I was in Elliot Lake when the mines all shut down,” he said. “Overnight, the town went down by two-thirds. My parents stuck it out and I stayed, grew up and got my education there.”
He worked in both mines and sawmills as a young man, an experience he credits with motivating him to focus on his education.
Building back up both the credibility of CanNor and the morale of its staff is going to be a challenge, said Borbey. But it’s a challenge he feels ready to tackle.
“I’m going to have to do a lot of relationship building,” he said. “But that’s another area where I bring some good background.
“I know a lot of players in the North, I’ve worked with them before in previous capacities and I can pick up the phone and talk to them. In fact I’ve already done a lot of that.”
Despite its recent problems, Borbey feels confident about CanNor’s future, especially with federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq overseeing the agency.
“We have a minister that has a pretty strong vision,” he said. “She knows the North; she’s from the North and that’s also a huge opportunity for us to be able to have that voice in cabinet that can really help continue to make the North a priority in this government.”
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