Publisher’s Column: NWT Premier is Angry. Why Aren’t We?

By John Francis

Excerpt from a news story on the CBC website, running under the headline:

‘Now I’m angry’: N.W.T. premier calls on Ottawa to provide services in the North

Premier Caroline Cochrane said she’s spent years calling for the federal government to help the territory develop roads and communication technologies needed to keep people safe as the territory sees more fires and other climate change impacts.

“I’m tired. I’ve been tired for a long time for asking for infrastructure,” Cochrane said.

“And now I’m angry.”

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One of the themes of this year’s fire season is that it’s scary to live in a one-road-in, one-road-out community. 

Also: that it’s dangerous to live in a community with no cell service; in fact it’s dangerous to live in a community with a single cell service or internet provider, because if that single provider has a problem… (Remember the day the whole Rogers system went down?)

Tobermory has a lot in common with Hay River and Yellowknife — one road in, one road out. The main difference right now is that they have a forest fire and we don’t.

Lion’s Head has a lot in common with remote communities in Canada’s north — cell phone service that varies between dreadful and none at all. Again, the main difference is whether or not there’s an emergency.

Relief and evacuation efforts at Hay River and Yellowknife have been hampered because forest fire smoke hampers traffic in and out of the airports.

Flashback to a recent Council Meeting at which our municipality was told that with no navigation beacons or instrument approach and no winter maintenance, our airport is only useful when we don’t really need it…

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One road in, one road out — that only applies to the area north of Dyers Bay Road. Unless you look a little closer.

There are two alternative roads south of Dyers Bay Road: the east road — on which there is no winter maintenance for a large chunk — and Ira Lake Road, on which there is a 99-year-old, one-lane bridge that is no longer safe for heavy emergency vehicles.

So: only useful when we don’t really need them.

Now it wouldn’t be quite so disturbing if it was only us we had to worry about. But on any given day in the summer, there are maybe ten thousand visitors in our municipality. If there is a disaster here — forest fire, hurricane, tornado, highway closure — our emergency services have to somehow keep all those visitors alive too.

With one road in, one road out, an airport you can’t land at if it’s smoky or foggy, and a volunteer fire department appropriate to a tiny little village at the end of the road…

Somehow, our municipality has to provide better services to the ten thousand tourists, using the taxes paid by our four thousand residents…

And the 8% Provincial Sales Tax on every dollar those visitors spend goes to Queen’s Park; the 5% Federal Sales Tax on every dollar they spend goes to Ottawa…

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful that we might be finally getting a stoplight at the life-threatening intersection in Tobermory.

Clearly, our situation pales by comparison to what’s happening in BC and the Northwest Territories. 

It’s just that there’s so much more we should be getting for the millions in sales taxes, business taxes and income taxes that our communities generate.

I think we need to congratulate and thank our CAO and our Mayor for their work in getting the Tobermory stoplight and the extension of the paved shoulder down to Ferndale.

But let’s not rest on our laurels; we need to keep pushing.

We need — at the very least — cell service in Lion’s Head (and various other places), an alternative road that will work when Highway 6 is closed or blocked, an instrument approach for our airport, a stoplight at Ferndale, left and right turn lanes at every intersection that gets significant traffic, a sewage system in Lion’s Head to handle the extra volume tourism brings, sewage and water systems in Tobermory to handle the extra volume that tourism brings — and so much more.

We need to keep banging the same drum — 8% of every dollar spent here goes to Queen’s Park, 5% of every dollar spent here goes to Ottawa. And that money needs to come back in ways that make that tourism sustainable.

Because the property taxes from 4,000 residents don’t begin to cover what is needed.