Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a campaign stop in Hay River last week.
But it was Fort Smith that was the target of promised federal largesse.
Harper, who was making his second visit to Hay River as prime minister on Aug. 14, announced a plan to finish chipsealing Highway 5 to Fort Smith.
However, Mayor Andrew Cassidy was not disappointed there was no promise of federal money for Hay River, while pointing to an announcement last year.
“We saw last summer the prime minister was over in Fort Smith and made an announcement of funding for the Northern Farm Training Institute in Hay River,” he said. “So this year he was in Hay River and he was making an announcement that was having more of an impact in Fort Smith.”
Cassidy also said both projects are regionally-based.
“So the road to Fort Smith is going to have a bigger benefit to the residents of Fort Smith, however it is still a regional investment,” he said. “Hay River will see some of that benefit, if there are increased tourism opportunities.”
Cassidy said some tourists are deterred by a gravel stretch of highway, but if there’s hardtop the whole way, there may be more people going through Hay River to visit Fort Smith.
“So at the end of the day, I think at a regional level this is a project that’s going to benefit obviously more Fort Smith, but it will also benefit Hay River,” he said.
Cassidy also spoke at the announcement event itself.
“This is the third time Mr. Harper has visited the South Slave region of the Northwest Territories in as many years, and the ongoing investment in Northern Canada under his leadership clearly demonstrates an understanding of our unique challenges, but also an acknowledgement of our abundant opportunities,” he said.
The announcement of the Highway 5 improvements will provide much-needed investment in critical infrastructure, the mayor added. “And the timing couldn’t be better. In 2018, the communities of Fort Smith and Hay River will be co-hosting the Arctic Winter Games, a celebration of Northern athleticism and culture.”
Harper announced that a re-elected Conservative government would hard surface the remaining gravel part of Highway 5 that runs through Wood Buffalo National Park.
The announcement was met with applause from about 200 invited guests at the campaign rally with Floyd Roland, the Conservative candidate in the NWT.
Harper said the work on Highway 5 will also involve the replacement of some culverts — those are structures that allow for drainage to occur underneath the road — and widening of the route in certain places.
In all, there will be 68 kilometre of new chipseal at an estimated cost of $14 million.
“I know this will obviously please Fort Smith’s mayor,” said the prime minister, referring to Mayor Brad Brake, who was at the announcement. “I can certainly tell you that I’ve heard from Brad about how important the upgrade of Highway 5 is for this region.”
Harper – speaking in front of a large Canadian flag and a group of construction workers – said the improved road will make life easier and safer for people living in the region and for tourists.
“It will be a better road, and – this is important – our government will pay 100 per cent of the cost,” he said.
Following the announcement, Brake said he was very pleased the highway work has been promised.
“It’s something I’ve been working on since I got elected in 2012,” he said.
In fact, Brake said he had previously discussed the needed improvements on the highway with the prime minister.
“Two years ago when he visited Hay River I spoke to him specifically about that section of highway,” the mayor recalled.
While the promise involving Highway 5 was the major announcement from Harper’s stop in Hay River, it was still very much a campaign rally.
Harper praised former premier Roland at the event, which was held in a large indoor garage at Rowe’s Construction.
“Floyd Roland has been serving the people of the Northwest Territories in many capacities for more than two decades, and I cannot think of anyone who would be a better representative for the NWT in the Parliament of Canada than Floyd Roland,” said the prime minister
For his part, Roland, who is from Inuvik, said Harper has visited the North more than a dozen times as prime minister.
“Not only does he recognize the importance of the North, but he has shown a keen interest and has a knowledge of the North, and has been investing in the North,” said the candidate, who claimed Harper has done more for the North than any prime minister in Canadian history.
Harper himself touted his government’s investments in the North and pointed to the devolution of power over lands and resources from the federal government to the GNWT.
The prime minister was accompanied on the visit to Hay River by his wife and their two children.
They arrived on the evening of Aug. 13 and flew to Iqaluit on Aug. 14.