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Anglers looking to get away from it all find they have left just about everything behind except their tackle when they land in or about Lutsel K’e and the landmark Frontier Fishing Lodge.

Billed as the gateway to Thaidene Nene, which was recognized as a national park reserve in August, it’s smack dab in the middle of an unfathomable acreage of pristine wilderness. Ill-fated lake trout, pike and Arctic grayling have been taking the bait there for more than half a century.

The Lutsel K’e Den First Nation is upset after the territorial government threw up a “bureaucratic trap” — rescinding occupancy orders — on its recently acquired Frontier fishing lodge near the community. photo courtesy of Frontier Fishing Lodge

So why would the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) think for a second there would be a mountain of paperwork to summit before they could take over this season when, as Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn rightly said, the only thing that has changed “is that the lodge is now owned by an NWT Indigenous community instead of non-residents?”

The problem according to Caroline Cochrane, who has been minister of Municipal and Community Affairs for a couple of months now, is that they applied for a liquor licence, which means they also require a business licence. The combined effect is that the LKDFN needs an occupancy permit from the fire marshal’s office, the approval of a floor plan, a review of the business by public health officials and a site inspection.

The GNWT’s suggestion, repeated by Cochrane in the legislative assembly, is that the LKDFN hire a consultant to help them become compliant.

As could be expected from a community that has thrived on the remote East Arm of Great Slave Lake since time immemorial, the LKDFN made a more sensible suggestion: just exempt the lodge from requiring a MACA licence until the GNWT sorts out its regulatory regime. In other words, to grandfather the new owners in.

“The reality is that my opinion is that we were a little bit lenient with lodges before,” Cochrane said in the legislature, adding the LKDFN was one of the first owners to take over such a business since a review of regulations found remote lodges are subject to the NWT’s building code.

New data shows the NWT’s GDP fell nearly nine per cent between 2018 and 2019, absent any impact of the pandemic shutdown. Choosing the middle of an unprecedented global health and economic crisis that threatens to dwarf that already depressing figure as the time to practice covering all the bases is ludicrously myopic and accomplishes nothing but creating work for the bureaucracy by taking work away from the private sector.

There’s no worldly explanation for the lack of perspective at play here while the minister responsible for MACA is also premier. Cochrane has to do better than suggesting outfitters had it easy in the good old days and that the new Indigenous owners’ best way forward is to hire a specialist to navigate the regulatory labyrinth she oversees.

In a conversation about red tape, that has to be a red flag.

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