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Big city dreamers can go south: Premier

Mayor, finance minister do not share Kakfwi's view

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 05/02) - Premier Stephen Kakfwi's announcement he'd like to keep people out of the territory has "puzzled" some territorial politicians.

NNSL Photo
Stephen Kawfwi

Joe Handley, territorial finance minister, and Yellowknife Mayor Gord Van Tighem said that desire is not realistic.

Kakfwi said he'd like to keep the territory's population small with the only influx coming from tourists.

"If people want to live in a big city then they can move down South," said Kakfwi to the Dene leadership during the Dene National Assembly in Fort Simpson last month.

At the time, Kakfwi did not elaborate on how that could be done.

Kakfwi could not be reached for further comment by press time, as he was in Halifax for a premiers meeting last week.

The statement comes at a time when territory doesn't have enough people to fill retail jobs in the big centres much less the mining and oil and gas jobs opening up with increased exploration in the territory.

There has been no mention of population restrictions in cabinet meetings or in any piece of government policy, said Handley, who added some in government circles are puzzled by the statement.

"I think the statement may be more the premier's personal view," said Handley.

The territory's according to the 2001 Statistics Canada census is 37,360. The NWT is contesting that number, a population drop of almost 5,000 people in five years.

Mid-sized cities in Southern provinces have more people than the territory. Thunder Bay, Ont., for example, has around 100,000 people. By contrast, Yellowknife's population has dropped 4.2 per cent to 16,541 since 1996, Statistics Canada reports.

Van Tighem said the territory will never contribute positively to the overall Canadian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) unless it gets more people.

"The reality is that with the number of people we have today we don't have enough to support day to day requirements," said Van Tighem.

Retailers in Yellowknife have complained they can't get enough people to work. Oil and gas exploration and the diamond mines can't fill all their positions with Northern workers.

According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, 70 per cent of people in the territory of working age have jobs.

In hard numbers that's 20,600 people who have jobs out of 29,300 people over 15. There are 1,700 people currently unemployed.

Handley points to the health field as an area where the territory needs to import people who will stay.

"We can't wait to train doctors to hire doctors," said Handley.

Population and economic activity go hand in hand.

If the territory wants to have a robust economy then it needs the people to generate revenue.

"If you want jurisdiction and try to limit economic activity that would be contradictory," said Handley.

Then there is the Charter of Rights granting Canadians the right to mobility.

The issue may come up during the government's next sitting in mid-October, said Handley.