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To-do list for the next Nahendeh MLA
Leaders in smallest communities concerned about housing, education

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 15, 2011

Chiefs in the Nahendeh's smallest communities are united in what they see as the most important issues facing their next MLA.

Housing was the first word out of the lips of the chiefs of Nahanni Butte, Jean Marie River and Trout Lake when asked what tops the lists of issues in constituency.

Chief Fred Tesou, Chief Stan Sanguez and Chief Dolphus Jumbo all said the primary problem is how houses are allocated by the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation.

If people make too much or too little they don't qualify for the corporation's programs, said Tesou.

"Where's the line in between to be qualified," he asked.

Even if people qualify, they can still have problems, said Jumbo. If a family is making a good income, they can be charged $1,500 a month for rent but on top of that they have to pay for heat and electricity. By the time they are finished, there is no money left for food and to catch up on bills, he said.

While residents in communities closer to the highway may be able to meet the costs of living, Jumbo said the situation is complicated in Trout Lake where costs for transportation of food and fuel are higher. Jumbo said he would like the next Nahendeh MLA to work on changing the policy on how rent levels are set giving special consideration to communities like Trout Lake.

In Jean Marie River, Sanguez said he'd like to see the policy changed to a rent-to-own solution where residents can make payments towards a home regardless of their income.

"It would help the people here," he said.

Sanguez said housing is a problem for small communities but also for the whole of the territory. The three chiefs also have concerns about education. According to their chiefs, both Trout Lake and Nahanni Butte need new school buildings. Tesou added students who go to Fort Simpson to attend high school education need a stronger support system.

Currently, students who are living at the residence who get into drug or alcohol abuse problems are simply sent home, he said.

Sanguez said more resources are needed to help students move forward to post-secondary education. When students graduate from high school, they often have to take additional courses to upgrade before they can enter college or university, he said.

Sanguez said devolution also needs to be at the forefront of the election. Small communities are struggling and need royalties from devolution. If the royalties go to the territorial government, the communities will be left with nothing again, he said.

Small communities are also at a disadvantage because of the way the territory is divided into constituencies, said Sanguez. There are too many MLAs in Yellowknife so issues raised by small communities are out voted, he said.

"People don't really want to vote anymore because they don't feel it's our government," he said.

Sanguez said he's been encouraging residents to vote because, otherwise, the status quo will remain.

Sean Whelly, the mayor of Fort Simpson, the largest community in the Nahendeh, has a different view.

The front-end delivery people in areas such as education, health, transportation and housing are doing a great job but they are being asked to do more with a budget that isn't increasing, said Whelly. The civil service and bureaucracy in Yellowknife is so large that the government doesn't have any flexibility to offer new programs or increase budgets, he said.

"They've hit the debt wall," said Whelly.

Whelly said he'd like to see the Nahendeh MLA and other MLAs work together for the whole of the territory by downsizing the bureaucracy in Yellowknife and tackling debt so better services can be offered, especially to smaller communities.

The territorial government also needs to empower community governments and increase their funding so they can equalize the quality of life with that in Yellowknife. Fort Simpson, for example, has aging infrastructure but has seen no increase in funding for the past three years, said Whelly.

Two candidates are running for the position of Nahendeh's MLA: incumbent Kevin Menicoche and Bertha Norwegian.

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