EDITORIAL: Norman Wells debacle a lesson for all communities

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The Town of Norman Wells is back on its feet and the municipality, it appears to be pointing its nose back in the right direction.

And not a moment too soon.

We provided an update last week from Mayor Frank Pope on how town council was faring six months after October’s municipal election. In late 2017, the town’s council was disbanded and its administration taken over by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) after it became clear the town’s council and administration were not following proper procedures and bylaws – no small measure for a tax-based community.

Previous council meetings were characterized as dysfunctional and divisive with poor record keeping and an inability to reach decisions on important matters.
For about a year and under the direction of bureaucrats in Yellowknife, a single municipal administrator from MACA was responsible for making political decisions that would normally be carried out by council, including the updating of policies and procedures, bylaws and holding public meetings to keep citizens informed.

This was only the second time in recent NWT history that such an incident was forced upon an community, following a similar situation in Fort Resolution in 2014, but all communities in the territory ought to take lessons from the incident as to what can happen when local governance rules aren’t followed.

Municipal government is the best — and often only — vehicle for residents to express their needs at a local level and it is clear from the Norman Wells example that democratic rules of procedure are in place for this reason. If they aren’t followed, the territorial government might take over and not necessarily appreciate or understand the issues on the ground.

It must be some relief for Norman Wells residents that the situation has been resolved and confidence is being restored in the community government. The fact that 15 people ran for council last fall indicates the depth of residents’ desire for a return to local government.

It is always best when local people can run their own communities.
As noted elsewhere in this edition of News/North there remains important political challenges on the horizon specific to Norman Wells and its residents — including the need to address the cost of living and the lack of infrastructure, such as a completed Mackenzie Valley Highway.

Community governments will be at the forefront of addressing these needs, as they should be.

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