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Conservatives vow to 'restore NWT's mojo' with energy, mining

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"On the ice road yesterday I was so happy. Trucks bringing diesel up north. I counted over 30 trucks waiting to get filled yesterday. This is what it's all about."

Kevin Waugh, the sportscaster turned Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Grasswood, spent the weekend in Yellowknife in his role as the party's deputy Indigenous and northern affairs critic.

While Conservatives in the NWT are still identifying a candidate to face Liberal nominee and incumbent Michael McLeod in this fall's federal election, Waugh used an extensive interview with Cabin Radio to set out a sweeping Conservative agenda for the North based on promoting Canadian economic might.

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"We've lost our mojo in the world," Waugh declared. "Isn't that serious, when you think about it?"

Setting out a platform where economic gain takes precedence over environmental concerns, and where industry self-regulates on issues like emissions reduction, Waugh said the Conservatives would restore that mojo "not only to the North, but to the whole country."

'Future is mining and resource'

Taking aim at Liberal NWT MP McLeod, who is completing his first term in office, Waugh said: "He's not in cabinet. He's not even a parliamentary secretary."

"I would have said to you, three years ago, we have no chance of winning these seats," said Waugh. "That has all changed. Canadians, coast to coast to coast, are tired of Justin Trudeau's mistakes. They're tired of paying for those mistakes."

Waugh said attracting an Indigenous candidate to run for the Conservatives in the NWT "would be fabulous."

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Like the present Liberal government, Waugh said a Conservative priority would be funding for the Taltson hydro expansion – a project to help the NWT access cheaper, cleaner power, dubbed "potentially transformative" by the territorial government.

Background: LeBlanc says Liberals committed to Taltson expansion

"The future is here," he declared, referring to the territory's economy. "It's in mining and resource."

No major party has yet released a full manifesto for the North. The 2019 federal election is set for October 21.

Below, find a transcript of the interview which has been edited for length and clarity.


Listen to the full, unedited interview on Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News podcast for Tuesday, February 5 2019.


This interview was recorded on February 4, 2019.

Ollie Williams: Infrastructure is of great interest to anybody listening. There are a couple of critical projects in the eyes of the Government of the Northwest Territories: one that has been in the news recently is the Taltson hydro expansion, projected to be a $1 billion-plus project that would involve expanding and connecting our hydro systems to the south to ensure cheaper, greener power in the North.

Now, the Liberal government has begun to take steps to commit itself to helping the Northwest Territories get that built. How do you see that project? And how would you see a Conservative government approaching that project?

Kevin Waugh: We're wrapping up a study on northern infrastructure in Canada. This is a central to northern Canada, and I know there are environmental groups and green energy – but if you're going to grow the North, this project has to happen. The Liberals have sat on it. All of a sudden now, 'Yeah, you got $1.2 million.' But we're eight months away from a federal election. Why didn't you start this when you took government in 2015? You knew the project was there. We talked about it in the Conservative government previous. This is essential. This connects you to everybody.

We need Taltson. We do. If we're going to expand mining; if we're going to have the capacity – and this is what this is all about, it's a capacity thing. Is Yellowknife going to grow? Yes, it is. I know that you have some mines that will be shutting down in the next 10 years. But at the same time, the future is here. And it's in mining and resource. This is a rich area, the North. I'm worried about it because we have seen other countries take a look at this area – we have done little or nothing in protection of it. We've heard that, and I'm worried that the Chinas and the Russias of the world... they have developed. Russia has developed their north. We haven't done as well.

But this project has to go ahead. I know it's expensive. We know there's only a pot of about $2 billion. So if I give you $1.2 billion, that means I've only got $800 million left. So all of a sudden, Nunavut wants this for their ports and then you've got the Yukon... but this is a bigger discussion and I think this is essential for the Northwest Territories to move forward.

You've touched on a very interesting point there, though, because when you say the Liberal government sat on this for a few years and is only acting now... it is of course easier, in opposition, to write blank cheques and to say, 'Yeah, we'll pay for that, we'll pay for that, we'll build that as well.'

The Northwest Territories wants one-point-whatever billion for Taltson; it also wants hundreds of millions, maybe $800 million or more, for the Mackenzie Valley Highway. It wants hundreds of millions more for the Slave Geological Province Access Corridor, the the road through to Nunavut; it wants more for oil and gas support in the Northwest Territories. And the money required to bolster healthcare in the North.

Where is all this money going to come from? What is going to get the green light and what isn't?

Well, that's right and government has to make decisions. There's no question, when you get elected, you have to make these decisions. Taltson should be the priority right now and move forward. We had a prime minister that made the statement on the moratorium for drilling and the Beaufort. He does that in the United States. He doesn't even have the gall to come up to the North and make the announcement. Did he consult anyone up here? Again, northerners are going to let people – MPs in Ottawa – know what their priorities are.

You know, the road to Tuk – the finance minister of the day, Jim Flaherty, committed hundreds of millions of dollars to get that road done, and all of a sudden they come to [a Conservative committee on Indigenous and northern affairs] and they say, 'We had no idea. We had 5,000 people come this past summer on the road to Tuk. Well, we had no infrastructure, we didn't have hotels, we didn't have a proper restaurant, we didn't have restrooms.' Again, let's have the conversation. If this happens, what do you need?

But you're right, the North is expensive. We know it's going to be two and a half to six times more expensive, but where's our priorities? And we need northerners to sit down and tell us what their vision is, and then we'll act on it. We'll make sure it happens.

I know you've had a chance to speak to a lot of people locally over the past few days and, I'm sure, meet people from the local Conservative branch up here as well. They are looking at choosing a candidate for the forthcoming federal election this fall. What kind of candidate do you think will win that election in the NWT?

That's a good question. You know, I would have said to you three years ago, we have no chance of winning these seats. That has all changed. Canadians, coast to coast to coast – and we've talked to a lot of them – they're tired of Justin Trudeau's mistakes. They're tired of paying for those mistakes. I've seen our results in Nunavut. We're going to win that riding. We don't even have a candidate there and our polling is way ahead of the Liberals. And I look at the Yukon – we have a candidate there, we're neck and neck.

We need a candidate here. You know, everyone wants an Indigenous candidate. That would be fabulous. I think if you look on the Liberal side, Michael McLeod is not in cabinet and he's not even a parliamentary secretary. I've been in there for three years, they've had three or four ministers. They just moved Philpott out and put a guy from Newfoundland in there. They moved, you know, Seamus O'Regan from veterans–

The last 28 federal ministers with any northern affairs portfolio, regardless of which government they've been from, have all been from – on average – about 3,000 kilometres away from any northern territory, so it's nothing new there. [We produced a map of them.]

Now, are you saying a Conservative government would commit to making sure that someone from the North represents the North in cabinet?

Well, I would hope so, but I don't make those decisions. That would be Andrew Scheer. I mean, you look at 170 or 180 candidates, their strengths, their weaknesses, where they fit in, and that's up to the prime minister of the day to make that. For here, I think you need a strong voice. There's no question: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut have been shut out of a lot of the decisions in Ottawa.

I've just told you our strategy would be led by the North: you tell us about the resources, you tell us all about that. We want to give you the royalties back – that's a big issue – you need to keep 100 percent of the royalties. [Currently, the federal government keeps a share. For more about this, read our earlier coverage.] We know the cost up here but if we can give you some royalty kickback, all 100 percent of it, that's a great start.

The North is almost like Western Canada right now with this Liberal government. The alienation that this Liberal government has given Western Canada? I feel it in Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC, probably a little bit here. You know, I went on the ice road yesterday, I was so happy. Trucks bringing diesel up north. I counted over 30 trucks waiting to get filled yesterday. This is what it's all about. You've got a three–

It's 'all about' diesel use in the North?

Well, you know, for me it's all about the economic–

And not about the environment?

Yeah! We are 1.6 percent of the world's issue and we're dealing with shutting this industry down.

But we care about Canada as well.

We all care about it. But right now, as you know, this government is on a collision [course] with the energy sector. What happens if, all of a sudden, the energy sector shuts down? We already own a pipeline that we're losing at least a million dollars we paid for it, way over – I mean, Bill Morneau admits that – and then $700 million a year more to keep it up, and we don't know where that's coming from.

But energy is not a dirty word. I mean, come on up here when it's minus 40 and 50 and the trucks are running all night because they have to, You know, we can have windmills and solar, but that's not going to help this area. To me, yesterday, going to where they fuel up and seeing 35 trucks – Super Bowl Sunday – looking at people wanting to work, wanting to be a part of Indigenous–

I think people want to work no matter their political stripe. I think some people just want to make sure that they work and they don't ruin the Arctic at the same time.

Yeah, but the regulatory agencies that... You know, this government by Trudeau, they really don't care about energy workers. I'm going to be honest with you. We've got a convoy starting in Western Canada in February 14. They're not being heard. It's like up here. You know, are you telling me that we're not going to use diesel in northern Canada?

Wrap your head around this. We're only 1.6 percent of the problem in the world. If we're going to have this conversation about the environment, we all know we have to have China there. We all know we have to have the United States and India at the table. And we've got to work this thing out. Do I want to see a better green economy? Absolutely. The Conservatives want to see it.

How are they going to make it happen?

Well, we're going to have these conversations. Let industry lead it.

You're going to get to a cleaner economy by letting industry get you there.

I'm going to tell you this. My province of Saskatchewan was the only one that has stood up to the Government of Canada over carbon tax. It was led by Brad Wall. Scott Moe is continuing that. In fact, we have a court case coming up in Regina in two weeks' time: we are challenging the federal government's telling provinces and territories what they can do. All of a sudden Doug Ford of Ontario gets elected last June, and now we have an ally. Even Rachel Notley and Alberta agrees. And then Manitoba joins. Higgs elected in New Brunswick, he joins.

Everybody should be concerned about this carbon tax. Everybody in this country. This Liberal government has exempted many, many companies from the carbon tax. It is going to be seniors, you and me, paying for this tax. And it is a tax.

There's a difference between not liking the carbon tax and finding flaws in its implementation, and having a plan to make a cleaner, greener economy a reality.

Look at Fort McMurray, what they have done up there over the years. Yes, they have been big emitters in the past. But all of the companies have gotten together and talked about a green economy. Now, you can't... obviously we're going to have greenhouse gas emissions up there. But why are some of these companies being exempt when me and you have to pay for this? They say you have to pay for pollution. Well, they're not paying for it. They're exempt from this. And if we're going to have a discussion in this country, it has to be led by industry.

So to be clear, we might as well just exempt everybody and not have it in the first place. And then let them figure out how to do it.

Absolutely. Have the conversations with them, have them lead it, because they're the ones that need to change. And give them incentives as provincial and territorial governments.

Surely you can see how some people would perceive that as saying, 'Don't worry, the foxes will be able to figure out how to reliably and profitably run the henhouse without ill effect to the hens.'

Well, you know, look at the United States right now. They're not on this plan and yet industry has cut their emissions drastically in the last year in the United States, and they don't have a carbon tax. And yet industry in the United States has led the attack themselves to get lower emissions.

What are you... sorry, what's your source for that? [US emissions have indeed declined significantly in recent years, though this is most often attributed to coal being replaced by natural gas as a power source, and rarely cited as an example of proactive, industry-led action.]

Well, California, of course, is leading it.

A Democratic state that's opposed to just about every measure the federal government in the US is taking.

But you know, Trump has eaten our lunch. He really has. Say what you want about him as President of the United States – he's taken all our capital and moved it down south. And with that, our innovation. You know, Canada used to be a great innovation country. We built the railway from coast to coast, we built the bridge on Prince Edward Island.

We can't build anything any more. We've lost our mojo in the world. Isn't that serious, when you think about it? This country was built on innovation, people going out and believing in the country, doing the railway, doing the Trans Canada Highway, connecting Prince Edward Island to the rest of the country. You tell me one project in this country now that will bring this country together.

A federal election? No, maybe not.

But you know what I'm saying? We've lost our mojo. It's gone.

Will a Conservative government bring back the mojo to the North?

I sure hope to the whole country, not only to the North. We have some great innovation in this country and they've been subdued by this regulatory Liberal government. They're putting up roadblock after roadblock. Sooner or later you're tired of a project that should take three years and you can see it's going to take 20.

Would you rather live in Donald Trump's America than Justin Trudeau's Canada?

Well, I live in Canada, I believe in this country. I love this country.