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Premier adds university to NWT’s federal priority list

Last modified: December 5, 2022 at 12:13pm


The Premier of the Northwest Territories appeared to shake up her wish list for federal funding in a fresh plea to Ottawa published on a politics website on Monday.

Stating “it’s time Canada invests in the Northwest Territories,” Premier Caroline Cochrane included the NWT’s planned polytechnic university among reasons the federal government should spend more.

The Taltson hydro expansion and Mackenzie Valley Highway, billion-dollar-plus infrastructure items for which the NWT has long sought funding, also made Cochrane’s Christmas list.

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But the Slave Geological Corridor – a highway toward Nunavut designed to help spark more mining in the diamond-rich area – was conspicuously absent.

Building an all-season highway northeast of Yellowknife, past existing diamond mines and with a vision of one day connecting to Nunavut’s Arctic coast, has until now been given equivalent footing alongside the Taltson expansion and Mackenzie Valley Highway as federal funding asks.

As an example, speaking inside the NWT’s legislature two months ago, Cochrane declared: “By investing in large-scale projects like the Taltson hydro expansion, Mackenzie Valley Highway and Slave Geological Corridor, it will bridge the substantial infrastructure gap that exists here in the Northwest Territories, kickstart the territory’s economic recovery, and help improve access to the territory’s critical mineral potential.”

But in Monday’s self-authored opinion column, Cochrane dropped the Slave Geological Corridor and added the university to the list of priority projects that “will be transformative” for the territory.

The NWT government decided in 2018 to turn Aurora College into a polytechnic university and has spent four years preparing the ground for that change.

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A facilities plan released in September contemplates spending more than half a billion dollars on three main campuses in Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik, but the GNWT has very little of the money required to pay for that.

That means a big chunk of federal funding will be needed for the NWT to deliver on its polytechnic vision.

Developing a polytechnic university will close infrastructure and education gaps for Indigenous residents, Cochrane argued on Monday.

“By focusing on earth resources and environmental management training, the institution will ensure Canadians are ready to participate fully in the critical minerals energy value chain to support energy transition,” her column read.

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“The polytechnic university will embody northern values and aspirations while improving the quality of life for future generations.”

In a news release issued after this article was first published, the territorial government again promoted the university’s need for funding without mentioning the Slave Geological Corridor.

The territory said ministers are meeting with federal counterparts this week to present the case for their priorities. A list of “other priorities” to be discussed, including housing, increased funding for mental health and addictions, and harbour restoration in Hay River, also did not mention the corridor.

Taltson ‘promise’

Monday’s omission follows news in October that the NWT government had pushed back some timelines related to the Slave Geological Corridor.

Announcing her capital budget for the year ahead, finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said work toward an environmental assessment for the Slave Geological Corridor now carries an expected end date of 2027-28 instead of 2023-24.

The Taltson hydro expansion, meanwhile, becomes ever more critical from a GNWT perspective.

Any hope of hitting the territory’s 2030 emissions reduction target – to be discussed in a public briefing at the legislature this week – seems to rest on that project not only happening, but happening quickly, and living up to the GNWT’s billing.

The territorial government says up to 240 kilotonnes of emissions will be removed annually by connecting the Taltson hydro system to the North Slave. Last week, territorial documents showed emissions reduction efforts to date are falling short of expectations.

Quoting a May Cabin Radio interview in which the federal infrastructure minister said “a very clear path” existed to funding the Taltson expansion, Cochrane wrote: “We hope he delivers on his promise.”