North

Amidst Hay River strike, Fort Smith skips communities AGM

The mayor of Fort Smith, N.W.T., won't be at the N.W.T. Association of Communities' AGM in Hay River this year. 'Crossing a picket line is not something the leadership of our community wants to do,' he said.

'Crossing a picket line is not something the leadership of our community wants to do:' Brad Brake

Hay River , N.W.T., municipal workers picket in front of the Hay River recreation centre on Feb. 9. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The mayor of Fort Smith, N.W.T., won't be at the N.W.T. Association of Communities' AGM in Hay River this year, where municipal workers are almost three months into a strike over wages.

Brad Brake says it's not about taking sides. 

"We are entering into bargaining within the next month with our own unionized employees and crossing a picket line is not something the leadership of our community wants to do to send a message to our own employees," Brake says.

Organizers of the association have moved the annual meeting across the river to the K'atl'odeeche First Nation Reserve to avoid having to cross the picket line. But strikers, who accuse the town of "outsourcing" the work generated by the conference, are planning to set up a "virtual picket line," away from the meeting's entrance so as not to infringe on KFN land.

"We respect their right to picket and we respect their right to make their needs known," says the association's Sara Brown.

"We're really trying to stay neutral in the conflict between the town and we feel like we're doing that by coming out here, they don't. That's their decision."

Hay River's municipal workers have been off the job since Feb. 9.

26 out of 33 communities to attend

Leaders from Inuvik and Fort Simpson also won't be at this year's annual general meeting, but Brown says the expected number of communities is actually up from other years.

"We had 27 registered and we had one community with an emergency. So it's pretty fantastic to have 26 out of 33 communities here."

Usually, just 23 or 24 communities attend. 

Brown says they won't know for sure who is attending until the event actually gets underway later this afternoon.

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