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Mackenzie Valley Highway tops wish list for voters in Norman Wells, N.W.T.

People in Norman Wells are calling on the next assembly to put shovels in the ground on the next phase of the Mackenzie Valley Highway — an infrastructure megaproject that could revive the town’s hurting economy and reduce the high cost of living.

Economic downturn in Sahtu region has voters calling for next assembly to put shovels in the ground

'It’s been tough, very tough,' said Pascal Audet, the owner of an oil-field maintenance and construction company based in Norman Wells. He hopes the next assembly will prioritize the Mackenzie Valley Highway project. (CBC)

With less than a week before voters in the N.W.T. head to the polls, people in Norman Wells are calling on the new assembly to put shovels in the ground for the next phase of the Mackenzie Valley Highway — an infrastructure megaproject that could revive the town's hurting economy and reduce the high cost of living.

"I've seen about a 40 per cent decrease," Joe Caidler said of his business, Mr. Joe's snack shop, at the community's airport. "That's when I had to get the second job." 

Caidler now gets up at 3 a.m. every day to make extra money working at the local weather station.

Mr. Joe's is one of many businesses in town that have felt a ripple effect from the latest economic downturn. The region is bracing for its second winter without oil exploration since oil giants Husky Oil and Conocophillips announced they would put their drill programs on hold for the foreseeable future.

Many voters in Norman Wells say the town and the region need an infrastructure project such as the all-season highway to survive the latest slowdown.

Joe Caidler, who owns Mr. Joe’s snack shop at the Norman Wells airport, said his business has seen a 40 per cent decrease in sales. (CBC)

The proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway is an all-weather road that would run from Wrigley, N.W.T., north to Tulita, Norman Wells and Fort Good Hope and connect to the Dempster Highway. The project has been talked about since the 1970s.

During the last assembly, the territorial government announced it would develop the road in phases. The Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk phase is already under construction, and the territory has applied to the federal government for more than $500 million in aid to help build the $700 million stretch between Wrigley to Norman Wells. 

'We'll be ready for when the oil companies come back'

"It's been tough, very tough," said Pascal Audet, the owner of Northridge Contracting, an oil-field maintenance and construction company based in Norman Wells.

Audet invested millions in equipment to support the last exploration boom — but now half of it sits idle in warehouses, or at the company's lot, covered in snow.
Northridge Contracting, an oil-field maintenance and construction company, invested millions in equipment to support the last exploration boom - but now half of it sits idle at the company’s lot or in warehouses. (CBC)

"[The highway] would be great for us," Audet said. "We're in that line of work so that would be excellent for us and the community, and outlying communities."

He wants the next assembly to make the Mackenzie Valley Highway a reality, saying it would keep his workers employed.

"We'll be ready for when the oil companies come back," Audet said.

Lauretta Kelly is determined to use this down time to prepare for whatever industry or project lands in Norman Wells next.

"I'm trying to get all the courses I can get, whatever the school is offering," Kelly said.

She's working on completing her Grade 12 and is also taking courses in construction and labour at Aurora College in Norman Wells.

"I wish there were more jobs out there for us young people," Kelly said. "I wish more young people would go to school and further their education."

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