Tensions appeared to boil over at the NWT Legislative Assembly Thursday regarding the future of the polytechnic university as an MLA accused the City of Yellowknife of being too presumptuous that the capital will be headquarters for the institution.
“It’s true there are divides in this House on many issues, but by far the issue that causes the most division is deciding what Yellowknife gets in exchange for something else in the budget,” said Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos. “In this particular case, though, I am referring to the mayor (and) council of Yellowknife, who, in their arrogance, is already operating under the assumption that the headquarters of the future polytechnic university will reside in the capital.”
Martselos said Fort Smith has a long history of being the “education capital” of the NWT as it has long served as headquarters for Aurora College and has been the location that has trained generations of NWT leaders. She concluded that it’s “essential” for the future polytechnic university to be headquartered in Fort Smith.
Martselos asked Education Minister R.J. Simpson when his department will choose a location for the headquarters.
Simpson replied that “an implementation plan” is to be released in the coming weeks, which will explain how Aurora College will transform into a polytechnic university, as well as provide key dates and explain the territorial government’s plans around facilities and programming.
“I can say, and I’ve said before, I’ve never heard any discussion from within the department about moving the headquarters,” Simpson said. “If there is already a headquarters in Fort Smith, I don’t know why we would build a headquarters somewhere else.
“I think it would be an odd choice, given everything, if I made the recommendation to uproot 40-some people and move them to Yellowknife and move the administrative offices of Aurora College to a different community.”
Simpson said there will be an arms-length board of governors who will have more direct control over “human resources matters,” such as location.
“I can’t tell that board what to do, but I have no plans to move any headquarters,” he said.
Pressed on whether he thought that the City of Yellowknife is “operating under the assumption that a future polytechnic university will be headquartered here, ” Simpson said he isn’t sure the city is acting any differently than other communities in seeking infrastructure.
He added that a new bricks and mortar building might not even be what the polytechnic university will entail.
“A lot of people, in their minds, still see a big single building made of brick with ivy growing up the walls and a big quad where students are sitting out in the sun reading, but that’s not the way things are these days,” he said. “With technology, you can have campuses that are spread out.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said there has been a miscommunication on the planned polytechnic university because the city hasn’t been advocating for it to be headquartered in Yellowknife.
“The city has been advocating for a stronger campus presence in Yellowknife,” Alty clarified. “Right now, Aurora College is in two floors of an apartment building so what we’re lobbying for is infrastructure on the campus here. (That way) the nursing students have the appropriate facilities to get an education and any other students at the college here in Yellowknife, which is separate and different than a headquarters.
“I went over a recent submission to the government to just make sure that there was no confusion, and we never referenced headquarters. I have reached out to MLA Martselos and have offered to meet and discuss and clarify any confusion and I haven’t heard back.”
Alty explained that city council is waiting the implementation plan from the GNWT that will outline how Aurora will be transitioned to a polytechnic university.
“Part of that is supposed to be an infrastructure plan as well as programming and perhaps it’ll determine where there’s a headquarters,” she suggested.
NNSL Media has reached out to Martselos’ office and Fort Smith’s mayor and council for additional comment.
-with files from Blair McBride