If time flies when you’re having fun, it grinds, sparks flying, as you’re waiting for a group of politicians to flesh out a vague statement of intent.

Direct your attention to the ninth of 22 priorities laid out by the MLAs of the 19th Legislative Assembly last month: “Increase employment in small communities.”

Small communities like Tsiigehtchic are again a priority for NWT legislators. Economic development has to drive the conversation if MLAs want to make progress on this file during the tenure of the 19th Legislative Assembly.
Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The NWT is a community of communities, of relatively small groups of people with fiercely distinct regional characters, but connected by the challenges and opportunities common to many or all of them.

In seven of these places, decision-makers have found alcohol to be enough of a problem to ban it. This includes Tsiigehtchic, where the charter community’s council recently posted a bulletin encouraging residents to turn informant and “out” local bootleggers.

One resident quite rightly expressed concern about that strategy, worrying that it addresses a symptom of the problem it’s aimed at and not the root cause, or causes.

In a small community with extremely limited options before it in terms of the local economy and where the cunning entrepreneur is presented with a market with ceaseless demand, it’s hardly surprising there would be bootleggers. Factor in how easy the product is to acquire and deliver to the hamlet of 172 people, it being on the Dempster Highway, the big profit margin (probably) and infrequent disincentive from law enforcement, which is provided from a distance by officers stationed in Fort McPherson, and you have a perfect storm.

There is no simple answer to the question “why do some Northerners abuse alcohol?” But there is a simpler explanation for why some Northerners sell alcohol illegally. It’s a solid moneymaker.

A process of public shaming certainly doesn’t leave much room for rehabilitation, to say nothing of the far-reaching consequences of contact with police and, worse, the court system. A former prohibition-buster with a criminal record isn’t going to get far in the world of loan applications and business plans.

A better strategy, surely, would be for MLAs to employ that ninth priority and get involved in grassroots job creation.

A model for success exists just down the road at the Fort McPherson Canvas Shop. Founded in 1970, for 20 years it was run as a government project. Today, it’s a private business that employs 17 people in a community of 800 above the Arctic Circle.

It will take a little initiative, and a little risk, but encouraging small businesses in small communities is the best way to create opportunities in them. The more opportunities, the less likely people will fall into the despair of addiction.

The poster councillors circulated in Tsiigehtchic was printed on white paper, but it looks a lot like a red flag. It generated some conversations there, here in the newsroom, and probably elsewhere across the territory. Hopefully our MLAs, in particular the premier and cabinet, took notice, and this time around are ready to do more than pay lip service to the importance of small places to the big picture.

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