The writ is dropped and the race is on. We’re officially in election season.
I, for one, am thoroughly excited to cover an election that is completely free of Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens or any other political party. It’s going to be fascinating talking to individual politicians using their actual brains instead of adhering to a political brand which dictates everything the candidate says and thinks like we see everywhere else in Canada.
We’ve submitted a list of questions to each candidate in the Beaufort Delta and will publish their responses in an upcoming edition before the election. In the interim, I intend to use this space to push issues I feel may not be getting the attention deserved, particularly as the southern part of the territory is laser-focused on wildfire recovery.
Let’s start with the obvious:
On the eve of the election, a resident made an off-hand comment to me that the Beaufort Delta should separate from the NWT and join Yukon. Her reasoning was the Delta has far closer connections to Dawson City and Whitehorse than Yellowknife. She’s not wrong.
Considering we don’t pay income taxes to the Yukon government, they do an awful lot for us. Among the connections we have with our neighbours’ capital we lack with our own — a road. It’s certainly not the best road, but considering how little return on investment our neighbour gets from the Dempster Highway it’s remarkable they maintain it at all. While it’s a lifeline for us here here in Inuvik to access the trappings of civilization, I’m pretty sure we amount to an economic blip compared to the tourism money coming into Whitehorse from the south.
Regardless, it’s cheaper to drive to Whitehorse and back than it is to fly and you can bring more stuff back with you. The fact you can’t get from Inuvik to Yellowknife for less than $1,200 is not just ridiculous, it’s downright negligence.
Folks tell me there used to be an ice-road maintained in wintertime through the Mackenzie Valley. At least one person I’ve spoken to in Yellowknife thinks it’s still there. However, somewhere along the line it was decided it was not worth maintaining. Now, unless you have a steady source of disposable income, you’re basically stuck here.
Imagine the opportunities that would present themselves if we could drive to Norman Wells or beyond to Yellowknife, even if only for part of the year. Fort Good Hope and the Mackenzie Delta have strong cultural connections — road access would allow for more collaboration on traditional activities like hand games, drumming circles and dancing competitions. People driving from Inuvik to Yellowknife for business or pleasure would spread the four digits saved from a plane ticket into communities all along the way. Providing an alternate route for trucking goods in may allow for an ease of cost of living or give options to Marine Transport Services in a low water-flow year like the one we just had.
Air transportation costs are simply too high for fly-in, fly-out communities to hope for any economic growth. A lack of roads is a far bigger barrier to investment and capital than any regulation or tax will ever be. We need a winter ice road connecting Ulukhaktok to the mainland, and a Dempster-esque road connecting Paulatuk and Sachs Harbour to Inuvik. We need the same to Fort Good Hope, and the same from Fort Good Hope to Norman Wells. If we have to start with ice roads to create the traffic lanes for further construction, so be it.
Outgoing Premier Caroline Cochrane slammed the rest of Canada for the decades of low investment in the territory which made wildfire evacuations so much more difficult, but coming from a province where blaming Ottawa for your own bad decisions is a common practice, I must point out it’s not the federal government’s fault no one in Yellowknife ever bothered to invest in a territorial road network — or even a railway. Nor is it Ottawa’s fault there’s little incentive to live elsewhere than Yellowknife thanks to the lack of investment in smaller communities.
We have to be realistic. No matter how scary the Russians look and no matter how much we compare living conditions in the North to impoverished countries we sent financial aid to, no federal government is going to commit the billions currently needed to modernize our single riding with less than 50,000 people. It can cost between 10 to 1000 times more to construct something up here than down south — infrastructure and economic development are simply not feasible without road access.
Committing to building a reliable — and caribou friendly — road network would show Canada we’re ready for development and give investors incentive to park their money here.