Enterprise mayor has ‘a million questions’ for MACA

Enterprise Mayor Michael St. Amour says he has “a million questions” for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) and the wider GNWT.

“When those questions are answered, I’m going to have a million more,” he added.

In August 2023, much of Enterprise was destroyed by wildfires.

Outside of a three-day period immediately following a mandatory evacuation order, St. Amour said he has been in the community ever since, doing what he can to help its roughly 120 residents.

In the first days after the fire subsided, that meant handling “the daunting task of advising people that they’d lost their homes.”

More recently, he said, his priorities have involved cleaning up the scorched community, and helping displaced residents return after losing their homes.

In late September, St. Amour attempted to purchase new modular homes for those who suffered losses using hamlet funds. However, that plan was ultimately shut down by MACA, he said.

“All I wanted to do was use our capital dollars to buy housing,” he explained. “The evacuees, they’re in hotels right now, or private accommodations. Why wouldn’t we do the housing thing instead of paying for hotels?

“[I wanted to] use that disaster assistance program money — the rental portion of it — to pay for housing,” he added. “They threatened to dissolve council and put in an administrator, so we backed down.”

While the GNWT did not approve of St. Amour’s housing plan, he said it did get a green light from the federal government. However, it could not proceed without the GNWT signing off.

“It’s a good plan. Everybody’s saying it’s a good plan except the GNWT,” said the mayor.

The housing proposal isn’t the only area where St. Amour has had difficulty with MACA and the GNWT.

“I’m arguing with them constantly on issues,” he said. “They came in and said, ‘We’ll take over everything, while consulting [you], and they haven’t. It’s always after the fact.”

A spokesperson for MACA agreed to answer questions about the situation in Enterprise, with the caveat that “MACA has contracted the work being done in Enterprise, so some information may need to be coordinated with the contractor.”

As of print deadline, the department had not responded to any of the six questions NNSL Media submitted.

Receiving backlash

Some residents of Enterprise feel that St. Amour and hamlet staff are failing to communicate relevant information to displaced residents, who are scattered across the NWT and even farther afield.

Former SAO Tammy Neal, who said she “lost everything” in the fire, feels that she has “basically been forgotten” by the community’s leaders.

Former mayor Winnie Cadieux offered a similar assessment, contending that the hamlet office isn’t “advocating in a positive, healthy way.”

A third displaced community member who asked not to be identified by name, accused St. Amour and senior administrative officer Blair Porter of “keeping people in the dark,” and called for an “audit” of their office.

In response to those concerns, Porter stated that the hamlet office often doesn’t have the answers people seek, contending that MACA “should be the ones that are communicating those decisions to the public.”

St. Amour added that “there was a good six weeks with absolutely no staff” at the hamlet office, and that landlines were only reinstalled in town “about a month ago,” which has made communicating with displaced residents difficult. Some residents have also been difficult to locate.

“We’re trying out best,” he said.

Glennis Poitras, who has lived in Enterprise since 2021, vouches for the mayor. She’s one of just a few community members whose home was not destroyed in August’s fires, but contended that its value has plummeted and she “probably wouldn’t be able to pay somebody to take it.”

“The mayor tried to get housing in here for these people,” Poitras said in response to the criticisms of St Amour. “We got a prize mayor.”

She also contended that “MACA is definitely bogging things down” as far as getting people back to Enterprise.

‘A wedge in the community’

With many unanswered questions, and frustration rising, St. Amour couldn’t say when or even if things will return to normal.

Some of the displaced residents whose homes were destroyed have already decided to live elsewhere due to the sheer difficulty of getting a new home in town, he noted.

“People are starting to get really frustrated,” the mayor said. “There’s some people that were coming back that aren’t now. They’re walking away.

“They’re insured ones. They’re saying, ‘You know what, give me the payout for my loss, and we’re moving away.’”

That creates another problem.

While residents may choose not to return to Enterprise, their charred lots will remain, and there is already debate over whose responsibility it is to clean them.

“Now we have two or three properties that haven’t been cleaned up that are insured properties, and I get the contractors here saying that ‘they’re insured properties, we’re not touching them,’” said St Amour. “Wow! Excuse me? This is a community and you’re not touching those? It’s sick.

“They’re putting a wedge in the community that I don’t know if we can fix.”

Dehcho MLA Sheryl Yakeleya was left multiple messages, via phone and email, but did not respond to requests for comment on the situation in Enterprise.

There is a municipal election underway in Enterprise, which will conclude on Feb. 13.