Infrastructure Minister Wally Schumann says Tuktoyaktuk has no chance of becoming a new staging post for the territory's barges in the near future.
Herb Nakimayak, the MLA for Nunakput, pushed for Tuk to be transformed into a logistics hub for barges after the cancellation of this year's resupply service to Paulatuk, Cambridge Bay, and Kugluktuk.
Impassable ice had reached the Amundsen Gulf by the time the barge tried to get through to those remaining communities, earlier this month.
Nakimayak argued moving supplies to Tuktoyaktuk, then loading barges from there, would provide "better service" compared to Hay River, the existing point from which all government-run barge traffic departs.
"It’s important to separate the southern part of the territory and the northern part of the territory," claimed Nakimayak, who added the recently opened Inuvik-Tuk Highway – and the community's status as an Arctic port – made it a compelling choice.
However, Schumann immediately ruled out any prospect of Tuk being turned into a departure point for barge traffic, at least for the foreseeable future.
"The short answer is no," he responded. "We’re not going to be looking at Tuk in the short term. Hay River is the most intermodal, northern connection to the whole continental supply chain. That's where the majority of fuel and freight comes. We are still going to use Hay River."
Schumann subsequently conceded: "Tuk could be an advantage at some point. I have said we are committing to review our ongoing operations."
'They won't have a home'
Cancellation of barge resupply to the three northern communities has significant consequences, both for residents and the territorial government.
Schumann's department must find millions of dollars to commence a series of resupplies by air, starting with an airlift of vital petroleum for Paulatuk to use throughout the winter.
Schumann has, several times, reiterated the territory will not pass on the cost of the unexpected cargo flights to residents – though, clearly, the NWT must reallocate the money from somewhere. It's not clear where, exactly, the cash will come from, nor what the total bill will be.
While the territory has promised to prioritize vital goods, Nakimayak says communities are already suffering.
"We wonder whose houses won’t get built this year," he said, in a moving opening statement to the legislature as MLAs reconvened on Thursday.
"The phones are ringing day and night about the lost business and frustration of customers. I think they deserve an honest answer.
"For example, what will the minister say to people who will be out of work because of building materials that didn’t make it in? One contractor had eight guys on the job and has had to scale back already, because they are running out of material. This means four families likely won't have a home this year.
"Action must be taken … so barge deliveries are reliable in the future. They should never have to wait two years for their goods."
Also on Thursday in the legislature, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart accused cabinet of misleading residents about the economic health of the territory – earning a rebuke from Premier Bob McLeod, who claimed Testart was changing his position for political gain.
RJ Simpson, the MLA for Hay River North, in similar vein queried what he perceived as a lack of progress among members of the legislature.
"I’m disappointed with where we are now. There are issues I bring up with ministers, departments, and in committee meetings, and unfortunately I have to bring them up again because they haven’t been adequately addressed, if at all," Simpson said – promising he'd try to "light a fire under cabinet" in its final year before the fall 2019 territorial election.
During questions about one of those issues – the new fish plant for Hay River – Schumann told Simpson construction work was expected to begin in the spring of 2019, but was subject to federal funding being released.
"I suspect we're going to hear something shortly," said Schumann.