“One thing we got from the demonstration [at the Annual General Assembly] was that there was a lot of disinformation that came from somewhere,” he told the Nation in an interview. “There was information missing in some places. So there you go.”
Caouette is assistant general manager and attorney for Quebec City-based La Groupe Swiftrans, parent company to the recently formed Gingras-Shecapio firm. Last spring Gingras-Shecapio won a contract to provide school transportation services for all of the Cree School Board outside Whapmagoostui. Previously, local companies serviced each community.
Responding to accusations that his company’s contract will force Cree businesses to close, Caouette said, “We’ve hired the same personnel, the same garages, the same repair-people, the same drivers, the same bus monitors. So I can’t see who’s losing out very much as a result of this decision.”
Right now, Caouette said, Gingras-Shecapio is in the process of “resolving the problem” of the controversy around the bus deal, which he says affects only “two communities.”
“There were no problems with other communities,” he said. “There were two communities that were more problematic than others. For the others, everything was welcomed. We’re discussing with the communities concerned. We will be providing the necessary information to show that this company really exists. It’s not a front. Mr. Shecapio really is director of operations.”
William Phillip Shecapio, meanwhile, is not pleased with his portrayal as an opportunist in the situation. The company Gingras-Shecapio was entered officially into the provincial registry of heavy-vehicle owners and operators in July 2014, but Shecapio says the Gingras-Shecapio partnership actually began in March 2013. He also pointed out that he has worked with the Gingras family business in charter-buses and oversize vehicles for some eight years.
Though the parent company La Groupe Swiftrans operates companies in Ontario and Fort Lauderdale, Shecapio stressed this has nothing to do with him or the company of which he is 51% shareholder in Eeyou Istchee.
“I don’t have jurisdiction there,” he said, pointing out that his concern remains entirely in the Cree Nation. “For us, we said we’re only going to hire local people from each community, and the economy should stay in the community. Maintenance and oil and stuff that can all be done in the communities, will be done there. As of today I have two certified Cree mechanics who can mobilize and do the inspections. Employment was one of the main keys for us – to hire in the local communities.”
Beyond that, Shecapio is hesitant to comment on various criticisms, but says concerns will be put to rest. “Right now we’re on the table to resolve the issues with the two communities,” he promised.
He refused to specify which two communities are involved in this effort. Nor would he comment when asked about how many Cree businesses might have to close as a result of the contract, or what the percentage of profits that would remain in Eeyou Istchee versus the proportion that would leave the Cree economy.
“The profit margin is not very large,” Caouette retorted. “I’m not really in the right position to answer that [precisely], but the revenues, principally, will remain in the Cree communities.”
To Caouette, the dispute about bussing is an exaggeration and a misunderstanding, and he is convinced that the decision will be in the best interests of all concerned.
“Mr. Shecapio’s desire is to [provide] school transportation, to bring in expertise and the necessary capital capable of making the investments and giving a first-rate service at the best possible price. That’s what motivated the association of the [Mr. Shecapio and Mr. Gingras],” he said. “This is a company where the majority is controlled by a Cree. The head office is in the Cree territory. All the personnel and employees are Crees. It’s an issue of perception. This is a Cree company.”