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Now is a very good time to start a northern construction company

Hay River's Courtorielle Street is currently under construction as sewer and water infrastructure is upgraded. Town Council is discussing whether to turn the two-way street into a one-way street, widening the storefront's sidewalk in the process. Brad Mapes/Facebook
Construction work in Hay River in 2018. Brad Mapes/Facebook

As the GNWT made a big change to infrastructure planning this week, one message was loud and clear: more northern construction companies would be great.

The NWT government is cutting back on the number of big projects it commits to building each year, largely because it cannot find the workers to get everything done.

In recent years, up to 45 percent of the annual construction spend planned by the GNWT has had to be pushed to future years.

The territory’s solution is to stop promising as much.



But if you’re feeling ambitious, the obvious other message is: we could really use more people in northern construction, and contracts worth tens of millions of dollars are going to be pushed into the future because nobody is available to take the money now.

The boom taking place in many provincial economies isn’t helping the territory to get things built.

“In high construction periods, we draw on southern contractors more often,” said Terence Courtoreille, deputy secretary to the GNWT’s financial management board, which controls the way the territory’s finances are handled.

“When economies in the south are booming, the appetite for contractors to come north and work just isn’t there,” Courtoreille continued.



“We’re not seeing a whole lot of southern contractors wanting to work in the North.”

More: List of projects being delayed under the new approach

Courtoreille said the territory’s new approach – shrinking its annual infrastructure spend to be more realistic about what will get done – “reflects what we can do locally.”

More northern construction capacity wouldn’t solve every problem.

One issue affecting the ease with which NWT projects go ahead is the cost of lumber, Courtoreille said, which has increased significantly in recent years, as has the price of steel.

Fuel costs, too, are affecting the prices of delivery and transportation associated with materials.

Meanwhile, Courtoreille said, the NWT and its contractors struggle to acquire some components manufactured in countries like China, where safely and legally sourcing parts can be difficult.

And the GNWT has, in some instances, had trouble buying vehicles because the auto industry remains stretched in some areas, like computer chips, that are still the subject of a worldwide shortage.