Land ownership dominates as main election issue in Enterprise, say residents
'The government has every lot in the town tied up and will not let anybody buy them at this point'
Residents of Enterprise, N.W.T., say the territorial government is holding their community "hostage" as it hasn't turned over ownership of land despite a years-long battle.
On a Wednesday morning in the hamlet — known as "the gateway to the N.W.T." — trucks stop at the weigh station, the odd tourist pops into Winnie's Dene Art Gallery and Gift Shop and municipal workers trim grass and collect garbage. A handful of seniors chat over coffee and a game of Scrabble at the community hall.
The seniors say the quiet, tight-knit community of about 131 people is a great place to retire in the North. The only problem is, they haven't been able to own land here.
Several of them said the government was "holding [the community] hostage."
"The government has every lot in the town tied up and will not let anybody buy them at this point," said Allan Flamand, owner of Enterprise Plumbing and Heating who was the hamlet's first mayor.
"There's probably 20 or 25 people that haven't developed in town ... because they couldn't get a lot."
Mayor Winnie Cadieux said the issue is particularly frustrating for holders of equity leases — or long-term leases, some of which end in ownership — who paid off their leases years ago but still don't have land titles.
"It's a very convoluted process," Cadieux said.
Land ownership hurting development
The government's ownership of land also prevents Enterprise from growing and diversifying its economy in industries like agriculture and tourism, the mayor added.
While plenty of traffic passes by the hamlet located at a junction on the Mackenzie Highway and along the territory's waterfalls route, fewer people stop there since the community's only gas station shut down earlier this year.
In an email to CBC News, Toni Riley, a spokesperson for the N.W.T. Department of Lands, highlighted the land lease-only policy in unsettled regions in the territory and said the territory stopped issuing equity leases in 2017.
Riley said the department is working on the potential transfer of land titles to select residential and commercial lots in Enterprise. Lease holders, meanwhile, said the department promised that would happen by July. The department neither confirmed nor denied that claim to CBC.
Riley added that the territory already transferred about 2.13 square kilometres of land to the hamlet in 2015 primarily for commercial development and is working with them on transferring more.
All I need is a roof. I don't need a luxury roof, just a roof.- Lou Frost, community member
In 2016, the hamlet sold about four square kilometres of land to Brad Mapes, president of Aurora Wood Pellets Ltd., for a long-anticipated, multimillion-dollar wood pellet plant.
Enterprise Plumbing's Flamand said that project is "the future" of Enterprise, but with the land ownership issue, private developers can't build housing in response to the new jobs it's expected to bring.
Housing, health and education also of concern
While many residents said land ownership is the number one concern in Enterprise, there are other issues on their minds this election.
The hamlet is part of the Deh Cho riding along with Fort Providence, Kakisa, and the K'atl'odeeche First Nation.
Cadieux said Enterprise, which is home for more than 24 children, is the only community in the N.W.T. that doesn't have its own school. Kids in Enterprise take the bus to Hay River for school, located about half an hour away.
"We see it as a wellness thing in our community," Cadieux said.
The mayor said the hamlet has been working "quite vigorously" with its MLA and the territory's Department of Education to get a school. It has a building in mind, the current municipal office, but it will now fall on the new government to make it happen.
Cadieux said accessing health care can also be difficult for people in Enterprise. Home care workers from the Hay River health authority travel to the hamlet, but for many services, Enterprise residents have to travel to the regional health centre in Hay River. Cadieux said that can be inconvenient when there are no walk-ins available or appointments are cancelled.
Yellowknife is sucking the life blood out of the communities and that's got to stop.- Malcom MacPhail, community member
She said about three years ago, the hamlet began supporting a mental wellness counsellor in Enterprise through its own money. Currently, there isn't a wellness counsellor in the community. That's something she'd like the territorial government to help support.
For community member Lou Frost, her biggest concern is housing. She works in Enterprise but lives in Hay River, which is also facing housing challenges.
"All I need is a roof. I don't need a luxury roof, just a roof for the winter. And that's a hard thing to find here in the South Slave," Frost said.
"I haven't seen a lot of help to make things better."
Resident Malcolm MacPhail said he's concerned with the lack of protection of health information in the territory. He believes his private information was breached, along with about 40,000 other N.W.T. residents, when an unencrypted laptop belonging to an employee with the N.W.T. Department of Health was stolen in Ottawa in May 2018.
"We never hear back of any consequences," MacPhail said. "People should be fired and they're not."
Like many living in small communities, MacPhail is also troubled by the centralization of services and jobs in the territory's capital.
"Yellowknife is sucking the life blood out of the communities and that's got to stop."
With files from Sidney Cohen