Town and territory butt heads

Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen, left, and Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard, defend themselves at a constituency meeting June 25 at the community hall. Photo by Sarah Ladik NNSL

Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen, left, and Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard, defend themselves at a constituency meeting June 25 at the community hall.
Photo by Sarah Ladik
NNSL

Despite a fair amount of hammering questions, few answers were available at last week’s constituency meeting hosted by Hay River MLAs Jane Groenewegen and Robert Bouchard.

“We know when you know,” Groenewegen told about 25 people who turned out for the discussion including most of town council. “We sit on these committees, but the level of discussion that we have doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground; so we need you to tell us.”

While the topic of conversation ranged from rumours of downsizing staff at the new health centre to junior kindergarten and term extensions, conversation continued to circle back to the number of GNWT jobs in the community – past, present and future.

“We’ve seen GNWT job losses, and we can’t afford those losses,” said Coun. Brad Mapes. “But what’s puzzling is that we have to hear it through gossip, on the street.”

Both MLAs were quick to dismiss rumours of job cuts in administrative staff when the current hospital moves into the new health centre. This was after a lengthy discussion of how they had not been informed before funding for the Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre had been cut last fall.

“That’s the issue,” said Coun. Donna Lee Jungkind. “How do we change what we’re doing to stop that from happening? You need to have the opportunity for discussion before a decision is made for our town. What do we have to do to hear about it before it happens?”

Bouchard maintained that while the MLAs do get some prior knowledge of upcoming changes, they sometimes have to play their cards close to the chest.

“There are times when we receive information and we have to hold onto it, or they won’t give us that information again,” he said. “It’s not covert. We typically share what we know, when we know.”

These answers were not enough to placate representatives from town council, however.

“Hay River is getting screwed,” said Mayor Andrew Cassidy, calling for more GNWT jobs in the community. His voice joined the chorus of councillors asking what the municipality could do better to lobby for the community and hear about changes coming down the pipes in time to at least be part of the discussion.

Frustration in the room grew on both sides as constituents demanded answers and Bouchard and Groenewegen attempted to give them, but more often blamed the cabinet and the consensus system of government for their struggles to get more for Hay River.

“Administrations lead their ministers around by the nose,” said Beatrice Lepine, long-time former government employee and active community member. “I never was in favour of party politics, but I’m starting to think it’s a good idea. All you’re talking about, knocking on doors and lobbying, that’s the furthest thing from consensus.”

-Sarah Ladik