What's in a home address? N.W.T. MLA says a lot if it's for the president of Aurora College

·4 min read

An N.W.T. MLA is calling on Aurora College's president to move to Fort Smith, saying the community is and will continue to be the institution's headquarters as it transforms into a polytechnic university.

Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos's stance — as well as recently discussed plans to build a new campus in Yellowknife as part of the transformation — raise a question about where the institution's headquarters will be in the years to come.

In an email obtained by CBC News and confirmed by Martselos, college president Glenda Vardy Dell said she plans to live in Yellowknife.

Vardy Dell, who was named the college's president earlier this year, wrote that she enjoyed living in Fort Smith for two years before the pandemic and it would be her "first choice" — but a difficult decision to live in the capital was related to the serious health concerns of an immediate family member.

Aurora College
Aurora College

"I will commit to regular trips to each of our campuses at a minimum four times a year," she said. "I am committed to this role and although it is unfortunate that I cannot live in Fort Smith, I believe I can move the college along the path to a polytechnic with an effective travel schedule."

To Martselos, however, the health matter is an excuse — demonstrated by the fact Vardy Dell has, according to Martselos, spent the past two years working remotely in Nova Scotia because of a different family member's health matters.

"Even as ordinary MLAs, if one of our family gets ill or anything, they don't accommodate us. So why are we doing this for senior bureaucrats?" she said in an interview.

Other bureaucrats have not attended Legislative Assembly sittings because of family matters in the past. This spring, for example, Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said he'd missed most sittings in the month of March because of his daughter's wedding before becoming sick himself.

'She's got to be told she's got to come here'

"This is a Fort Smith position, and she's got to be told she's got to come here," said Martselos.

And she's putting the onus on R.J. Simpson, the territory's education minister, to make that happen.

"[He] didn't actually tell her she had to live in Fort Smith, which I feel is wishy washy. But I think that he's got to take a stronger stand," said Martselos.

Alex Brockman/CBC
Alex Brockman/CBC

In an email written to Simpson on July 6, Martselos said if Vardy Dell doesn't want to live in the community he could appoint her to another job in Yellowknife or "get rid of her."

In a statement to CBC News, Simpson said the Aurora College Board of Governors is responsible for the appointment and supervision of the institution's president. He also pointed out that there's nothing in the Aurora College Act about where officers and employees live.

CBC News reached out to Aurora College for an interview with Vardy Dell, but a spokesperson said the school's employees do not comment on human resource matters.

Fort Smith to remain 'administrative centre'

Where Aurora College's headquarters will be, as it's transformed into a polytechnic university, is a question that's come up before.

A 2018 review of the college that recommended it be turned into a polytechnic university also recommended it be based in the capital city. Leaders in Fort Smith railed against that guidance, saying it would eradicate dozens of jobs and decimate the economy.

Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada
Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada

On Dec. 10, 2019, Simpson told the Legislative Assembly there were no plans to move the school's headquarters out of Fort Smith.

Following a City of Yellowknife meeting about the location of the new campus in Yellowknife earlier this year, Martselos raised the issue in the legislative assembly again — to which Simpson said the concept of a main campus was "outdated" but that there were no plans to remove the institution's "administrative headquarters" from Fort Smith.

"Some people, perhaps, you know, saw that there was something happening with the campus in Yellowknife and assumed that everything was getting sucked into the capital. That is not the case," he said.

A communications official for Aurora College also said in an email the Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith would continue to play a role as the "administrative centre" of the institution.

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