Premier wants investigation

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 07/97) - The premier wants to investigate BHP claims that Northern and aboriginal employment targets are being met at Canada's first diamond mine.

"I am hearing concerns from people throughout the (NWT) on why they cannot get employment at this mine," Premier Don Morin said Wednesday.

Morin responded Wednesday to questions from Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes about BHP plans to fly workers directly to the site - 300 kilometres north of Yellowknife - from Edmonton.

BHP, while claiming it is well ahead of hiring targets, confirmed that it has come to an agreement for direct flights to the Koala camp.

"We have just given a contract to Canadian North. They will fly the first flight on March 21," company spokesperson Karen Azinger said Thursday. "Our regular flights will start in April."

Under the contract, Canadian will fly once a week from Edmonton to Koala for the first three weeks, then twice a week for the rest of the construction season. Each flight has approximately 78 seats.

Azinger said the direct flights are provided for in the socio-economic agreement the GNWT signed with BHP. However, no direct flights are permitted during the operational phase, she added.

According to BHP figures for November (the most recent available), Northerners made up 60 per cent of the workforce with aboriginals at 38 per cent of the total. Targets for the construction phase are 33 per cent Northerner and 13 per cent aboriginal.

During the same month, the company spent $16 million on construction. Of that, 52.5 per cent went to Northern companies. The target set in the agreement was 28 per cent.

"I think the real story here is we are exceeding, by a large degree, our targets, both on the employment side and on the purchase of goods and services," said Azinger.