An under-construction housing project in Yellowknife is pictured in August 2021. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT government will bolster the territorial fire marshal’s office by bringing in contractors to help, easing demand on an office sometimes blamed when building projects are stalled.
A health centre in Norman Wells and seniors’ home in Fort Good Hope are among facilities whose operations were held up by objections from the fire marshal. The office has even ended up in court against the territorial government.
Even Yellowknife’s Snowking had what was termed a “dust-up” with the fire marshal in 2018 over the Snowcastle central to the city’s March winter festival.
Earlier this year, the leader of Yellowknife’s chamber of commerce, Rob Warburton, told the CBC the process of having the fire marshal’s office vet building proposals, a process he termed “arbitrary and unaccountable,” was creating too much uncertainty for some projects to go ahead.
Concern has also been expressed that the fire marshal’s office introduces a bottleneck because it fulfils many activities – not least investigating the cause of fires across the territory, while retaining responsibility for approval of buildings – while operating to a comparatively lean budget.
“The Office of the Fire Marshal only has a $500,000 budget. It’s a pretty small office with quite a lot of responsibility,” Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said in the legislature on Monday.
“Not only does it have to supervise every single GNWT infrastructure project, it has to supervise all the private ones as well through a series of inspections from the design phase right to the permitting.”
Katrina Nokleby, the Great Slave MLA, said the increasing strain on supply chains for northern projects made it “more critical that the Office of the Fire Marshal moves plans through faster or does its inspections faster.”
Johnson asked Shane Thompson, the minister of municipal and community affairs, whether the territory planned to help the office – which has three staff at its headquarters and five regional assistant fire marshals – by contracting out some of its work.
Maca deputy minister Laura Gareau, responding on Thompson’s behalf, said that while contractors weren’t used last year, there were plans to introduce them in the near future.
“We are in the process of developing a request for proposals to engage contractors on an as-and-when basis. There is quite a bit of volume going through the office and a small complement, so we do want to have that additional capacity going forward,” Gareau said.
“I am very happy to hear that,” said Johnson as MLAs inspected Maca’s proposed budget for the year ahead. “I think we ease the workload of those people at the Office of the Fire Marshal by doing that. So I look forward to seeing that RFP.”
Johnson said the approach echoed Nunavut’s contracting out of building plan reviews after the territory “decided they weren’t ever going to build that capacity.”
“The turnaround times are amazing, I’m told, by the professionals in that area,” Johnson said.