Bi-Annual Visit of Senators to the NWT
The third bi-annual visit of Senators to the Northwest Territories, April 18-22, 2007 was a tremendous success. Seven of my colleagues joined Karen and I in Yellowknife for a series of events and tours designed to familiarize them with northern issues and conditions. Liberal Senators Percy Downe (PEI), Maria Chaput (Man.) Elizabeth Hubley (PEI), Sandra Lovelace-Nicholas (NB) Robert Peterson (Sask.), Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth (Ont.) and Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy (Ab.) all participated in the trip. An eighth Senator, Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia had to cancel at the last minute due to an illness in his family.
My guests arrived throughout the day on Wednesday in anticipation of an early start the next day. At 7 a.m., we departed our hotel for a day long tour of Diavik Mine, with our host and tour guide, Tom Hoeffer. The Senators learned the history of the mine and of Diavik’s relationship with local communities as well as touring the entire operation. They were impressed with the sophistication of the facility carved from the middle of the wilderness. They had a chance to talk to a number of mine employees and were struck by their enthusiasm for their jobs and commitment to making Diavik a good corporate citizen. After our return to Yellowknife, Senators were on their own for supper and were spotted in a wide variety of local eating establishments.
Diamonds sorted while Senator Lovelace-Nicolas looks on
Friday began with more diamonds – a tour of BHPBilliton’s sorting facility and the Arselanian polishing plants. Senators who had been surprised not to see any diamonds at Diavik were enthralled by the many glittering stones – both rough and finished – on view during the two tours. We paused for lunch in the bright and airy Our Place restaurant where I had the opportunity to introduce the Senators to a number of prominent northerners, including Judge Ted Richard. Although Ted was his usual friendly self, I noticed he chose to dine somewhere else – too many politicians in the room always make judges a bit wary!
After lunch, we received a very good and comprehensive briefing on the NWT economy from Peter Vician, Deputy Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. The briefing took place at the Legislative Assembly and after we took a tour of the building. Our tour guide was an old friend, Clinton Unka, who served as a Senate Page for two years while attending Carleton University. All the Senators were pleased to see a familiar face so far from Ottawa.
Clinton Unka describes the Legislative Assembly to Senator Nancy Ruth
At the end of the day, Senators took the opportunity to meet privately with NWT groups on specific issues. For example, Senator Chaput met with Fernand Denault and other members of the FrancoTenoise to discuss francophone issues. Later we all met for supper at L’Heritage where the food was impeccable and the conversation warm and entertaining. Most everyone tried some northern cuisine – the caribou and char were particular favorites – and it must have had an effect. As I’ve said before Ottawa is very partisan but throughout the trip, and especially that night, party labels were forgotten. It was a real northern evening!
On Saturday, Senators McCoy and Hubley had to leave early for other engagements but the remaining five Senators participated in a driving tour of the city conducted by my policy advisor, former Yellowknifer, Hayden Trenholm. For the rest of the day, Senators were free to visit local sights, such as the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre, or participate in a favorite northern sport – shopping!
Our tour ended in spectacular style with a dinner at the Explorer Hotel, jointly hosted by Ministers Brendan Bell and Charles Dent and Terry Villeneuve and Denyse Nadon-Holder of the Native Women’s Association of the NWT. Elder Judith Charlo opened the evening with a prayer and we were treated to young hoop dancer and to inspirational speeches by Sharon and Shirley Firth. Each of the Senators and Ministers said a few words and I gave a short speech on the work we do in the Senate. The evening closed with a spectacular fashion show put on by Bows and Arrows, Darcy Moses and Fur Cloud from Fort Providence.
Hoop Dancer Gareth Jones
The next day Senators made their way home filled with northern memories and a fresh understanding of our concerns and issues. I can hardly wait until my next tour when I plan to take Senators beyond Yellowknife to another NWT community. Last time it was Fort Smith – who can say where it will be next time?
See more pictures from the tour at the bottom of this page here.
Senators' Tour -- 2003
Senators Milne and DeBané (second and third from the left) visit Ekati diamond mine during the 2003 Senators Tour of the NWT
One of my most important objectives as Senator is to increase awareness of the Northwest Territories in southern Canada. Last year I initiated an annual visit by my colleagues to the NWT. In April 2003, Liberal Senators Lorna Milne, Vivienne Poy and Pierre DeBané and Conservative Senator Donald Oliver came to Yellowknife to meet with business and government leaders and to tour the Ekati diamond mine. They also attended a dinner and old-time dance to raise money for the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre. All the Senators indicated that the trip was very informative and enjoyable and that they developed a new perspective on northern issues and needs.
One measure of how successful the trip was is that, when I announced plans for 2004, eighteen Senators expressed interest. In the end, I expected seven or eight to actually make the journey which was scheduled for the end of May. Unfortunately the election call forced me to cancel this trip.
Senators' Tour -- 2005
Karen, Nick, Senator Madeleine Plamondon, Senator Viola Léger and Speaker Paul Delorey in the NWT Legislative Assembly (Picture by Julia Heyland)
The second bi-annual Senators Tour to the NWT took place from March 31 to April 2nd, 2005. Karen and I were joined by Senators Madeleine Plamondon of Quebec and Viola Léger of New Brunswick. Also making the trip were my assistants, Hayden Trenholm and Carole Hupé and Senator Plamondon’s assistant, Jean Roberge. Two other Senators and their spouses had to cancel at the last moment because of health problems.
Despite our numbers, the tour was an excellent opportunity to educate my colleagues about the North. Neither Senator had visited the NWT before and they found it an eye-opening experience. During our three days we visited the Ekati Diamond Mine (much thanks to John Bekale and BHP Billiton for hosting us) as well as the Arslanian polishing plant. Following a press conference, we joined Speaker Paul Delorey and a number of MLAs for lunch and a tour at the Legislative Assembly. Senator Plamondon, who sits in the Senate as an Independent, was particularly impressed with the consensus style of government. A visit to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and a reception with the FrancoTenoise rounded out our visit to Yellowknife.
On Saturday, we traveled down to Fort Smith where Mayor Peter Martzelos had organized a full day of events. We toured Aurora College and Parks Canada and visited with noted carver Sonny MacDonald. The day concluded with an excellent dinner and talent show attended by well over 100 people. Funds raised from the dinner and charity auction will be donated to the town of Fort Smith to support community activities.
Senators Leger and Plamondon left the NWT with a much better understanding of northern issues as well as plenty of great memories of their trip. Both of them have promised me they will share their new found knowledge with their colleagues and encourage them to make the trip themselves next time.
Plans are underway for a third tour of Senators to the Northwest Territories. This one is planned for April 19-21, 2007 (barring a Spring election!). Many Senators have expressed an interest in coming North. More details will be provided as they become available.
UPDATE: It now appears that eight Senators will be coming North this year. We've arranged for visits to the Diamond mines and a number of briefings and community tours. The Government of the NWT is assisting us with making arrangements and in hosting a dinner. This may be our most successful trip yet!
Third Bi-Annual Senators’ Tour to the Northwest Territories
Senator Nick Sibbeston will be hosting his third bi-annual tour of Senators to the NWT on April 18 to 21, 2007. Joining Senator Sibbeston will be Liberal Senators Percy Downe (PEI), Terry Mercer (NS), Maria Chaput (Man.) Elizabeth Hubley (PEI), Sandra Lovelace-Nicholas (NB) Robert Peterson (Sask.), Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth (Ont.) and Progressive Conservative Senator Elaine McCoy (Ab.)
The high profile of many northern issues – from economic development and the impacts of climate change – combined with the beginning of International Polar Year, makes the NWT tour particularly relevant to the Senate this year, resulting in the large number of Senators participating in the visit.
The Senators will tour the Diavik mine site on Thursday. On Friday, they will participate in tours of a sorting and polishing plant, the Legislative Assembly and will receive briefings on social and economic issues in the NWT. More tours and briefings will be held on Saturday culminating in a dinner hosted by the Government of the NWT and the Native Women’s Association of the NWT.