Hay River has yet to see much of a difference now that devolution has taken effect but it may not stay that way forever.
“It’s the beginning, I guess,” said Hay River Metis Government Council president Wally Schumann, comparing the next five years to a baby’s first steps when learning to walk. “You know your parents sort of hold you up and are there to catch you? Essentially, that’s what the feds are doing with us.”
In his opinion, for most people, the only difference will be that when applying for a land permit, they would be speaking to a GNWT employee as opposed to a federal employee. However, he did admit that for bigger permits that can now go directly to a territorial minister, the change is “kind of cool.”
Janet-Marie Fizer, president of the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, however, said she hopes the changes will be felt in the business community sooner than that. Just returned from a two-day NWT Chamber of Commerce AGM in Yellowknife, she said she was impressed with the work that had been done and is looking forward to the future of a post-devolution territory.
She said the focus of the conference had a lot to do with attracting people to the North, and that the Hay River group would be starting work on a plan to try to attract businesses and people to the community.
“Business has been quiet since Christmas,” she said. “I’m not suggesting that I want 5,000 people to move here next week, but with a bigger population base, businesses can do better themselves and in turn offer more and create more jobs.”
While she said it is difficult to define exactly how devolution would impact Hay River businesses, she also said that something of a domino effect is already in progress.
Reform of the regulatory process will potentially create more development in the Sahtu, and Fizer said she knows of two local companies already working in the region.
“There’s an area that’s truly going to benefit from devolution,” she said. “It’s not like oil companies are beating down our door here, but there will be spin-offs from Sahtu development in Hay River.”
Fizer also mentioned the biomass industry in the South Slave as well as the as-yet unconfirmed Avalon Nechalacho mine near Yellowknife. A proposed pellet mill and forest-harvesting industry would directly benefit the region. Even without a processing plant at Pine Point, moving material for Avalon across Great Slave Lake and through Hay River could prove lucrative.