GNWT aims to operate barge business

In this photo from July 2015, a Northern Transportation Company Limited tug on Great Slave Lake pushes a barge toward Hay River.

In this photo from July 2015, a Northern Transportation Company Limited tug on Great Slave Lake pushes a barge toward Hay River.

The GNWT owns the assets of the defunct Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL), and it now plans to operate those assets at least for this coming shipping season.

The Department of Public Works and Services (PWS) made that announcement on Feb. 2 at a public meeting of the legislative assembly’s Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning.

Paul Guy, the deputy minister of the department, told MLAs that, after purchasing the assets on Dec. 21, the department had to determine what it actually had in the way of assets before going out for a request for proposals (RFP) to find a private sector operator.

“We quickly realized it would be impossible to draft an RFP without having that basic information,” said Guy, explaining there was not sufficient time to do so.

The deputy minister also noted there was no guarantee an acceptable RFP would be received.

PWS will be seeking supplementary appropriations of $884,000 in 2016/2017 and $14,081,000 in 2017-2018 to fund the operations this summer, which is basically the vital marine resupply to isolated communities.

The department says the appropriations will be offset by revenues earned during the 2017 shipping season.

The GNWT purchased tugboats, barges, land and equipment from NTCL for $7.5 million.

Hay River North MLA Rocky (R.J.) Simpson is pleased the assets of NTCL will be running.

“It means a lot of jobs for Hay River, as well a boost for Hay River businesses to ship things up to the communities on the barges,” he said.

The MLA, who attended the meeting of the standing committee, said he wanted to know how many jobs this would mean.

“So I was asking how many people they’re going to hire, how many they have hired,” he said. “By the sounds of it, it’s going to be between five and eight new GNWT positions created. They didn’t have numbers on the number of seasonal hires, but I’ll be following up to see that, as well.”

The MLA noted that some new hires and some people moved from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Services will deal with the NTCL assets as part of a core management team.
Simpson noted the GNWT has also engaged a marine crewing service, which has done work internationally, and it’s going to be setting up an office in Hay River soon.

“There are no assurances that there’s going to be local hires, but I mentioned even the diamond mines have these aspirational hiring policies where they want to hire so many Northerners, but they weren’t going to budge on that, apparently,” he said. “But just by the fact that Hay River has the experience, a lot of the hires will come from Hay River.”

Simpson agrees with the department’s explanation that it didn’t have time to find a public sector operator of the assets for this summer.

“You know how long it takes the government to get an RFP out, and I don’t think they really had much of a choice this time,” he said.

Mayor Brad Mapes described the GNWT’s decision to operate the NTCL assets this summer as a “huge windfall” for Hay River.

“God forbid if we never had the GNWT to take that on and it was given out to the other proponent,” he said, referring to an Alberta company bidding for the NTCL assets during court-supervised bankruptcy proceedings. “Chances are the tie to Hay River wouldn’t be as big as what it’s going to be with the GNWT.”

Mapes is confident many of the jobs will be going to Hay River residents.
“I’m not too worried about it,” he said. “I think the people that they’re looking at bringing on have got some experience with it.”

Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Tom Beaulieu, the chair of the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning, said he believes the barging operation is important and that it would be hard for MLAs to oppose the request for funding.

“I think that’s an essential service,” Beaulieu said. “I think it would be prudent for us to approve that money.”

–Paul Bickford