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95% of NWT's 31.74 million yolks go south

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Hay River (Oct 22/01) - The NWT's fragile egg industry would probably have received a break if highway tolls had been introduced, but would still have been in trouble, according to the territories' egg marketing board.

Chair Sandra Lester says officials told her egg shipping may have been exempted from the toll plan, because egg-laying is classified as Northern-based manufacturing.

Her presentation to a committee of MLA's Oct. 13 was typical of frustration felt in Hay River about government plans to introduce tolls that will pay for highway repairs.

Even though egg shipping could be exempt, a road toll will still add up to $58,000 a year to the cost of feed trucked from Northern Alberta for the territories' 115,000 chickens. Over 95 per cent of the 31.74 million eggs they lay a year are shipped south.

Lester said the territories' egg industry is operating on marginal profits, since quotas were imposed by a national egg supply management system last year. One of two separately-owned barns was designed to hold 170,000 chickens, but the quota system forced a reduction to 69,000, she said.

Lester said tolls "will make the egg industry non-viable in the North."

She told the committee that increasing the fuel tax would be a better way to raise a $100 million the GNWT wants to fix roads. She also suggests trying to make the federal government pay, by introducing roads into land claim negotiations.

One man who spoke at the hearing predicted that trucking companies will switch to single-axle trucks because the toll will not apply to loads under 12,000 kilograms.

Martin Giroux also asked if a call centre needed to implement the toll would be located in the North. Hay River MLA Paul Delorey, who sits on the committee and is against tolls, answered that he was told plans call for locating a call centre where it's cheapest, without regard for Northern jobs.

MLA's on the committee, including chairman Floyd Roland, say feedback on the toll idea has all been negative in communities the committee has visited to hold similar forums.

Except in Fort Smith. Mayor Peter Martselos says he would prefer no tolls, but something has to be done to fix a "deteriorated" highway system.

"Maybe everyone will have to some."