When The Party’s Over: NWT Days Are Fun, But Are They Worth It?

EDGEYK | Opinion

The GNWT has spent $1.2 million over the past two years, throwing week-long parties in Ottawa. They’re important, NWT Tourism spin doctors say, a prime chance for political and business leaders to sell others in the same line of work on our territory’s many splendours and investment opportunities.

Our chance to shine

Staged in conjunction with Winterlude, Ottawa’s own seasonal festival, the Boogies on the Rideau are also aimed at garnering media coverage for the territory. The first NWT Week had a genuine news hook: the territory was on the verge of signing a devolution deal, and the national and international press dutifully acknowledged this rite of passage.

This year, the party’s media impact was muted: it got coverage from APTN, some time on CTV’s morning show, a couple of snaps posted by the Liberals and Sandy Lee, Yellowknife baggage handler for Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, and a lengthy interview on CBC’s Trailbreaker in which Bob McLeod let the rest of the territory in on the government’s agenda in Ottawa.

EDGEYK.com parsed that agenda yesterday, and didn’t find more than the usual reliances on studies and the promise of becoming a conduit for oils sands. McLeod also let it be known that if Stephen Harper wants to paint the entire Arctic blue in the forthcoming election, he would be perfectly happy. It might bring the region more benefits than Dennis Bevington has been able to procure, he reasoned, given that Aglukkaq complains she can’t work with the NDP MP.

Taking it seriously

 According to NWT Tourism’s frequent social media posts, the NWT pavilion was filled with performers, films, art, and crafts. Leela Gilday sang against a backdrop of a vast Jen Walden landscape. Youth ambassadors demonstrated traditional games, sled dogs and their handlers roamed the banks of the Rideau Canal while skaters glided.

What the posts didn’t show were any eager throngs crowding the pavilion, hoping for one of the door prizes: lunch with Ice Pilots celebrity Mikey McBryan or an aurora-viewing trip in mid-February (a particularly favorite time for those who have endured a capital winter to bolt for a tropical climate.)

The curious thing about our big splash at Ottawa’s celebration of its miserable winter? Like consensus governance, no one outside a rather small group takes this annual event seriously. The Yukon enters a team in the ice sculpting challenge, as do several embassies. Only the NWT goes all out on a ‘pavilion.’

Perhaps, as is sometimes argued, the NWT has more need to invest in this sort of brand awareness. It’s a blank spot on the map for many southerners, caught as it is between two territories with, for better or worse, firmly established images.

But are NWT Days the best way to do this? Three years into their terms of office, many GNWT cabinet ministers might still think so. After all, by now they have spent enough time and taxpayers’ money in Ottawa to have favorite restaurants and bars, where the waiters know their names and can anticipate their orders – just like the prime minister when McLeod comes calling.

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