Welcome to the hamlet of Ingraham Trail: home to a couple of hundred residents spread out over one long, thin stretch of highway, and a fire service of their very own.
That’s the possible outcome Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson raised on Thursday as he fought in the legislature for action to be taken regarding the imminent withdrawal of Ingraham Trail fire coverage.
The City of Yellowknife intends to stop responding to house fires on the trail from April next year.
At the moment, it’s not clear what kind of service, if any, will fill that void.
Pressing the minister of municipal and community affairs as the legislature reconvened, Johnson described – or, more accurately, threatened – one potential solution.
“We’ve allowed more and more people to live on the Ingraham Trail, such that I have 200 constituents out there … larger than many of our communities in the NWT,” he said.
“We have not adjusted our Hamlets Act, which has a threshold of 25 residents. They could incorporate tomorrow and be entitled to millions of dollars.
“If we do not address this now and if we lose fire services, I’m going to recommend incorporation and I’m going to get millions of dollars, when this is a hundred-thousand dollar problem.”
The Hamlets Act does indeed state that a minimum of 25 residents may request the establishment of a hamlet.
While the creation of Ingraham Trail as the territory’s 34th community is not likely, the prospect highlights the gap into which the trail’s residents fall when it comes to services like firefighting.
Maca ‘in conversation’ with city
As they are outside Yellowknife’s city limits, residents of the trail don’t pay municipal taxes on their property and therefore do not, technically, qualify for the city’s fire coverage.
Until now, the city has essentially argued in recent months, it has responded to fires out of the goodness of its heart.
Some residents dispute that characterization, pointing out that they spend plenty of money in Yellowknife or otherwise contribute to the city’s economy – and, moreover, have no other option for fire service.
That’s where the city says the territorial government should step in, but whether and how the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (Maca) should provide that coverage is not clearly defined.
“Maca is in conversation with the City of Yellowknife and has established a working group,” Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible, told Johnson on Thursday.
The minister said legislation was being examined to see how the department could “work with the Ingraham Trail in looking at the services to be provided there.”
Chinna appeared to suggest one option might be residents paying some form of additional tax, or an equivalent, “so we can look at other financial means for providing fire services.”
The clock is ticking on any resolution, with less than six months now remaining before the city formally withdraws its coverage.
“My constituents won’t be able to call 911 and get a fire truck if their house is on fire,” said Johnson, envisaging the worst-case scenario.
“I don’t blame Yellowknife for their decision. I blame Maca for not responding quickly enough to resolve this issue.
“I am afraid the GNWT won’t move fast enough to solve this problem, just as they have not moved fast enough to solve all of the previous problems that led us here today.”
Chinna said it was “too premature” to make any financial commitment for the GNWT to step in or any other solution to be deployed.
“We are in conversations and these discussions are happening,” she said.
Johnson, meanwhile, suggested many Ingraham Trail residents may not yet even know their fire service is about to end.
“I’m worried they are going to call for fire and either we will be liable or the City of Yellowknife will be liable as nobody has told them,” he told Chinna.
The minister said consultation with residents would take place.