The Town of Inuvik faced a fair bit of criticism for its initial handling of contracts for the 2018 Inuvik Sunrise Festival.
It had appeared to some people, and from comments by town staff, that the town might not have prioritized hiring local professionals for contracting its documentary of the festival and running the DJ party, which was a new feature this year.
But following the backlash, the town seemed to take that feedback to heart and immediately reached out to local talent to help with the documentary and establish a better relationship.
From all accounts, it appeared the town mended concerns about the festival and will be cognizant of the importance of hiring locally when possible in the future.
In fairness, that’s not an immediately obvious priority for people who come from the south and work in the North.
Prioritizing local hires can actually be a poor idea and lead to worse work done for more money.
The Fast Ferries scandal in British Columbia is now a case study in local hiring gone wrong. The NDP government at the time wanted to support the local shipbuilding industry with a mega-project, only to see it mishandled into oblivion and the resulting ferries auctioned off at about a $336-million loss.
Half of the story of economics is often ignored: not only does it matter what you’re spending, but also what you’re spending money on.
Spending money inefficiently reduces the wealth in the world, wastes precious resources and makes us poorer.
If that were not true, we could pay everyone to dig holes in the ground and somehow all be rich. Communist countries, without a proper price mechanism, have repeatedly attempted this and have a perfect record of failure because of it.
So no one, the Town of Inuvik included, is unjustified in seeking the best service for the best price, whether that’s local or not.
However, the North is a unique case.
Subsidized by the Government of Canada, the North is something of a mini-welfare state, where some of the general rules of economics don’t apply.
If we as Northerners are arguing in our own interests, then we’re not concerned with anything but. In that case, we want every dime spent on ourselves to sustain what we have going. It’s even more justified in this current economic climate, where the private industry is not able to support the territory.
If the Town of Inuvik has any goal, it should certainly be to support people in Inuvik. We don’t have much money to begin with, and we’re very thankful for everything the higher levels of government provide, so it’s in our interest to keep that money local and provide opportunities for our people above others.
The fairest meeting in the middle is for the town to prioritize hiring locally but also do its due diligence and make sure money is being well spent, because not only does the local contract matter, but the quality of the final product does, as well.
A DJ party is not going to bring down the government like Fast Ferries, but it’s a good reminder of some of the circumstances and interests we have here.