Post for key decision-maker on Aurora College's future remains unfilled

Last October, Education Minister Caroline Cochrane pledged to have the senior bureaucrat tasked with leading the transformation of Aurora College on the job by January. It remains unfilled today, with no clear indication on when the person will be hired.

Minister committed to 'get the best person in the country' to lead Aurora College transformation

Education, Culture, and Employment Minister Caroline Cochrane says there are three candidates shortlisted for the associate deputy minster's job to lead the Aurora College transformation. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The search for a new senior bureaucrat to lead the transformation of Aurora College into a university has been delayed nearly two months, and it's unclear when a candidate will be hired.

In early September, the territory's Education Department hired Boyden Canada to recruit an associate deputy minister to make key decisions following a foundational review of Aurora College.

That review made 67 recommendations on the college's future, including turning it into a polytechnic university. 

The position has not yet been filled, despite a previous pledge from Education Minister Caroline Cochrane to have someone in the role by the beginning of 2019.

"I do have to take responsibility," Cochrane said in the Legislature Wednesday, responding to questions from Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green.

"I realize that it's a little bit more delayed and I'm not happy about it," she said.  

Cochrane blamed the delays on her and department staff being away during the Christmas holiday period, saying she may have been too optimistic with the initial timeline she provided in the Legislature last October.   

'The best person in the country'

Three candidates are going through job interviews and are having their references checked now, Cochrane explained. She could not provide a firm date for when a successful candidate would be hired and on the job, but promised it would happen as soon as possible.   

Cochrane said she does not know how many people applied for the associate deputy minister position, but she hopes this process will ultimately come up with the best person for the job.

"My commitment is to get the best person in the country to help us move [Aurora College] into a polytechnic university," she said.

Whoever takes over as the new associate deputy minister will likely be expected to make one of the most important decisions for the school going forward — deciding where the main campus will be located.

The foundational review recommends putting it in Yellowknife, but the territorial government has left that question open for now.

That issue has been hotly debated during the last year as residents in Fort Smith fear losing the college to Yellowknife. But officials in Yellowknife, meanwhile, say that success from a strong university would spill over to other campuses in Fort Smith and Inuvik.  

Cochrane said she expects to give the Legislative Assembly a more complete update on post-secondary education later on in the sitting.