While the decentralization of potential jobs coming to the NWT from Ottawa as a result of devolution has been on the table since negotiations began, the signing of the final agreement has kicked talks about bringing those jobs to Hay River into high gear.
“We will build whatever is required,” said Hay River Chamber of Commerce president Janet-Marie Fizer. “We will do whatever we have to do. We are open for business, period.”
One of the major concerns for local businesses and politicians alike is the availability of office space in which to house any newly-created positions. Fizer explained the plans for both the short term and long term involve a mix of possible solutions, including remodelling existing spaces and creating new ones.
“We are going to need to be creative,” she told The Hub. “Some businesses here have said they are willing to shift things around and reconfigure their space to house the new jobs on a temporary basis until a more long-term solution can be provided.”
Fizer said a number of local companies have stepped forward and expressed interest in building office space to house devolution jobs, as well as enable local businesses to expand, but that a community the size of Hay River cannot invest that kind of money on speculation and the hope of imminent positions.
“If we don’t have it, we will build it,” she said. “But first we have to know what ‘it’ is. Basically, we’re telling them that we can move people around and to not let the question of office space constrict them.”
The Department of Public Works and Services conducted an inventory of potential locations in Hay River and suggested that, although it does not meet GNWT requirements, the vacant NTCL building in Old Town is an option for local businesses on a temporary basis.
“It’s a beautiful building,” said Fizer. “It just doesn’t fit their formula for what they need in an office. An option would be for local businesses to move their offices to the NTCL property for a short time while other office space is built in town, allowing the devolution jobs to come into the downtown core.”
The push to bring potential positions to Hay River is not limited to business, with local politicians weighing in, as well. Mayor Andrew Cassidy claims the community can handle an influx of jobs within short order once final decisions are made.
“As long as we have enough lead time, we have the capacity and industry to make it work,” he said. “Within 18 to 20 months, we could get something built pretty quick.”
However, Cassidy said the GNWT has yet to make any commitments about jobs to anyone and what devolution will look like on the ground is still being developed.
“Once they roll the plans out, they will be closer to identifying where those jobs can be located,” he said, adding that six of the 20 decentralized positions from previous years came to Hay River. “This is just another phase, though it’s looking like it’ll be the big one.”
In terms of a timeline for when more information will be available, Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard said an organizational chart should be produced within the next few months.
“We’re going to hold the GNWT to their promises about jobs going out to the regions,” he said. “I think we have more capacity here in Hay River than in a lot of the communities.”
Bouchard admitted that temporary office placement in disparate buildings may be less convenient than housing all the jobs in the capital, but argued that increased economic development and prosperity in the communities can only benefit the GNWT in the long run as residents become less dependent on government assistance.
“The legislative assembly has committed to helping the regions, not just Yellowknife, and we need to keep showing them the overall benefit of the big picture,” he said.
But for now, apart from Hay River’s political and business communities banding together to lobby, there is relatively little that can be done.
“It’s a tough situation we’re in where we can’t move forward yet, but we have to show that we are willing and able to do so,” said Fizer. “Right now, it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.”
— Sarak Ladik