EDITORIAL: GNWT barge blunder punishing for Kitikmeot

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Pity the poor folks in the Kitikmeot who will be dipping into their own pockets after the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Marine Transportation Services’ barges failed to reach their destination.

The barges – carrying more than $3 million in goods – left too late to avoid thick ice and had to leave everything in Inuvik, with a plan to deliver next year.

The barge should have arrived by the end of September, and its cargo of all the usual necessities – fuel, non-perishable food items, personal effects, building supplies, and vehicles – are essential to the functioning of our Northern communities.

The GNWT will spend $1.75 million to finish the job. Or at least most of the job.

Of up to 100 flights, more than half will carry fuel for Paulatuk, NWT, which doesn’t have enough to last the winter.

Food and personal effects will be next, and maybe some building supplies, depending on how important they are.

Vehicles and heavy equipment won’t fly this year.

The GNWT insists it didn’t have to airlift anything but we find this hard to swallow. The folks in Western Nunavut feel the same way.

The idea that the GNWT was protected by a standard provision in their bill of lading – if freight doesn’t get in, it gets there later – doesn’t cut it when you consider that these goods will arrive a year later.

We can all accept the idea of waiting for the next flight for our bags to arrive – when the next flight is tomorrow or even next week.

But next year? Um, no.

You can’t deliver the heating fuel next year and put residents at risk of freezing to death.

You can’t deliver the food next year and have it go past its best before date while expecting residents to stretch their budgets.

You can’t leave communities in a growing territory without the building materials to fix existing homes or build new ones.

A service provider couldn’t make everyone wait that long without heads rolling.

If MTS were a Crown corporation – it’s not (yet) – or a private company, insurance would kick in and there would be an expectation that people with losses would be made whole. Instead of an insurance payout, in this case the funds need to come from the public purse.

Unfortunately, there are always those on the losing side. In this case, it’s not only the taxpayer but also the individuals and businesses in the Kitikmeot who won’t get the building supplies and vehicles they expected to use to fix their homes, and operate and grow their businesses.

That means a year of stagnation for many in a region where every dollar counts.

NWT MLA Herb Nakimayak suggests bringing the new Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway into the equation as a staging location to leave the goods before boarding the barge, and it’s not a bad idea.

This is MTS’s second season running the show, and it has some work to do to prove its claim it is “not an amateur operation.” Because if this happens again in the next few years, the government will have proven its inability to deliver, and faith in the system will be very difficult to restore.