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Sahtu mayors visit Ottawa to ‘sound alarm bells’

Two Sahtu mayors recently paid a visit to Ottawa to spread the word about the most urgent issues facing their communities.
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From left, Norman Wells Mayor Frank Pope, Northwest Territories Senator Margaret Dawn Anderson, and Tulita Mayor Douglas Yallee during a visit to Ottawa in October. The two mayors travelled to the nation’s capital to spread word of the urgent problems facing their communities, many of which relate to climate change. Photo courtesy of Frank Pope

Two Sahtu mayors recently paid a visit to Ottawa to spread the word about the most urgent issues facing their communities.

“We were in Ottawa to sound the alarm bells,” said Douglas Yallee, mayor of Tulita. “They’re not aware of what’s going on up here in the North. They haven’t seen it firsthand.”

Yallee was joined in Ottawa by Frank Pope, mayor of Norman Wells. The pair were in the Canadian capital from Oct. 23-28, during which time they met with multiple federal ministers, as well as Margaret Dawn Anderson and Dennis Patterson, the senators for the NWT and Nunavut, respectively.

During their meetings, Yallee and Pope distributed an 11-page document that outlined some of the most pressing issues facing their communities.

“It’s critical that people know our problems,” said Pope. “We thought the best way to do that was to go bang on doors. We’ve done enough with correspondence.”

Many of the issues the mayors addressed relate to climate change.

Climate change is affecting the North in many ways. In Tulita and Norman Wells, some of the most immediate impacts concern the Mackenzie River.

The Peace and Athabasca river systems, which flow through British Columbia and Alberta, feed the Mackenzie River, but drought conditions are creating low water levels. Over the summer, that impacted the way shipping barges travel the river and prevented the final barge from arriving in Norman Wells and Tulita.

The winter brings about another problem: rising temperatures have started to jeopardize the ice road that connects Norman Wells to Tulita.

“We filled [the ministers] in on resupply issues,” Pope said. “We filled them in on our fear that there would be no resupply on the Mackenzie River next year if we don’t get water from B.C.”

“I don’t know if we’ll get barging next year,” added Yallee. “We may not have a road. It’s going to be a lot harder for people. If you fly the products that we need into the community, the costs are going to be high. Everything will probably go up because of that.”

The high cost of living in the North was also a focus for Yallee and Pope. Pope pointed to common products like cans of Coke and bottles of water to illustrate the starkly differing costs between the North and south.

“We explained the difference of what we pay here,” he said. “You try to explain that to people in Ottawa, and they say, ‘It can’t be.’ Well, it is.”

The two mayors also shared their concerns relating to education and healthcare in the North, among other things.

By the time they departed, both felt that they had helped the people they met to better understand the realities of life in the North.

“I thought it was a very successful trip,” Pope said. “We met with many people and we spread the word on what we’re concerned about.”

However, both mayors are prepared to pick up the phone – and even board another flight to Ottawa – if they feel their communities are not receiving sufficient support.

“We gave our message to Ottawa, and we’ll see what they’re going to do with it,” Yallee said. “If not, we’re going to have to make some calls or knock on some doors again to remind them.”