Kate Reid says her platform for election as Yellowknife’s Great Slave MLA is: “Nobody gets left behind.”
Reid says she can bring experience as a union local president and president of YWCA NWT to the role, alongside a background as someone who grew up in the district.
“My personal superpower is connection with people one on one, and actually hearing what they are saying and incorporating that into my worldview. I think I’m extremely emotionally attuned and patient,” she told Cabin Radio.
“There’s got to be a lot more collaboration. I think we’ve seen less-than-stellar collaboration in the last few assemblies and I think I am an excellent candidate in that regard.”
This interview was recorded on October 19, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: In 30 seconds, tell us a little bit about your background that you think is the most important for voters to know.
Kate Reid: I’m going to take more than 30 seconds, Ollie. I am a Yellowknifer through and through. I moved here in 1989 with my family and went to both Mildred Hall and St Pat’s. I went away and did two degrees down south but came back by choice. I have a background in journalism and a master’s degree in Information Studies, which I went and got after I was a public library clerk. I ended up at the NWT Archives at PWNHC for quite a while. I moved on to legislation and policy with ENR, now ECC, Environment and Climate Change. And I have a very wide breadth of experience in the volunteer capacity, including here at Cabin Radio, YWCA NWT, I am a union local president and, yeah, a very passionate performer in the burlesque sphere as well as an arts booster all across the board.
What do you think you offer that’s unique to you as an MLA?
I think my personal superpower is connection with people one on one, and actually hearing what they are saying and incorporating that into my worldview. I think I’m extremely emotionally attuned and patient. And my capacity for parsing through information that I hear from people is excellent. And that’s a skill I’ve developed over many volunteer and professional roles.
And how do you hope to put that to use as an MLA?
I know people say this quite a lot but, you know, I think there’s got to be a lot more collaboration. I think we’ve seen less-than-stellar collaboration in the last few assemblies and I think I am an excellent candidate in that regard.
Looking at your priorities that you’ve listed online, there’s a quote from one here: “We need a territory that puts people at the centre of its decisions and policies.” What does that mean in terms of practical change in how the NWT is governed?
That’s a great question. That means for me a culture shift – that I think has begun in some degree. I think the previous assembly was hampered by, obviously, a lot of emergencies, some recent, some long-term with Covid. But changing the culture to be more responsive and client-oriented and client service-oriented, if I might, to actually provide reasonable information and reasonable programs and services based on what people want, not what people are told that they want.
How do you change a culture at a government?
Slowly and a battle of attrition, I think, if I’m being honest. But again, I think it comes down to relationships and meeting people where they’re at and realizing that it will take a while, but also with kindness. Because it is a big change. I’ve spent a large part of my time looking at the history of the GNWT in a previous role, and it’s very clear to me that we keep spinning our wheels on certain topics, because we keep doing things in the old ways and expect new results. And that’s the definition of insanity, isn’t it?
You used a phrase there, client service. You use that elsewhere in your priorities, as well. There’s a quote here: “Moving toward a client service model that enables continued improvement.” What does that look like?
So I think that looks like what a lot of MLAs have been calling for over many years, which is, you know, you need to actually listen to our people and what they need and what they want, and base programs and services on what communities and individuals need and are crying out for. I think that looks like re-envisioning the GNWT to look deeper at their policies and procedures that are hampering that.
Out of three major sets of priorities you found space for arts and culture to be one of them. Core funding for arts is mentioned as an example here on your priorities page. But the words health, education and infrastructure aren’t. How did you reach a decision to prioritize arts and culture?
So if you look at my platform, it’s very broad buckets. I did prioritize arts and culture because it’s a personal passion of mine. If you look at my platform holistically, it’s about nobody gets left behind. We find ways to thrive. You can’t just be a human doing, you need to be a human being. You need to have a full breadth of human experience to feel like you’re part of a community, which is what my campaign is all about. And arts and culture, for me personally, has had the ability to open me up to a wide range of communities and experiences that have helped me grow as a human being.
It is an aspect of governance that often get swallowed up by other things like infrastructure, like health in terms of the amount of time that’s spent talking about them and the amount of money that’s spent funding them. How are you going to carve out time for arts and culture as an MLA, and advocate for that, when there are bound to be dozens of calls to you from your constituents with health and education concerns, and those concerns on a broader level as well? How do you change that balance that maybe we haven’t struck in the way you’d like it to be struck?
The fantastic thing about government – like when you’re talking to all of these candidates and folks who bring up those major points, like you just mentioned, and maybe I don’t explicitly mention – is that government is doing these things. And we can help set the strategic ways that we want to see those things accomplished better for our communities. They are always going to be issues that are of high importance. For me, highlighting arts and culture and making sure that’s part of the discussion is something that’s gravely needed, because it’s been overlooked for so long as you say.
What should happen there?
What should happen there is, I think, starting to happen there. I was actually encouraged a little bit by some of what’s been coming out – obviously, the MOU around the funding with the Canada Council, I think that’s a great start. I think it’s a great start that we have an arts officer, that we’re repurposing, how that programming goes out and funding goes out to people and to put organizations in the driver’s seat. I think that’s a great start. I think there’s further to go.
There’s a quote here on your list of priorities: “What We Heard shouldn’t mean What We Want to Hear.” What’s the concern there?
Well, gosh, Ollie, I’m sure you’re quite aware that the What We Heard reports are often framed in ways that reassure the government, they’re ticking all their boxes, right? “We talked to the people and we’re going to keep going down our way, because we talked to the people.” But did you hear what they said and incorporate it? I don’t see that often enough.
How do you change that? What do you want to see them specifically do differently?
It’s taking the feedback and making changes and, where you can’t, explaining why not appropriately to people – like they’re adults – instead of dismissing it, which I think is happening from time to time.
What’s an example of where you’ve seen that fail as a process?
Oh, gosh, I don’t want to point out any one program, really, and nothing comes to mind immediately. But it’s just an overall feeling that I have from people who give feedback at public engagements or are going to standing committee or are going anywhere to give their personal opinion to the government, that they don’t feel heard the way things exist now.
You want to represent a district that includes Tin Can Hill. Are you excited to welcome a university campus there? Or are you excited to welcome it somewhere else?
That’s a good question and it’s one I’m getting at doors. I’m a heavy user of Tin Can Hill with my dogs, my husband’s there probably three times a week with our pups. And what I want to see is the character and established trails of the hill remain. I think that the transformation project has not done a good job incorporating people’s feedback. They just came out and said, “This is our number-one choice,” without anybody being able to say, “Well, why?” The minister recently said, I think, in this last session, “We don’t know if it’s going to go there.” And we need the money to go there. They are in an environmental assessment. There’s a whole bunch of unknowns.
And I think the thing about Tin Can Hill is that you’ve kind-of biffed it from the start from the public engagement. So you need to do better and be better in bringing people in and telling them, “This is our plan, but what do you want? What do you want to see?” And the only way that I would support a building for the polytechnic on Tin Can Hill is if it had a minimal footprint, if it was towards the current infrastructure that’s up there right now.
Which is essentially what the government has so far outlined, even if it hasn’t done an overly reassuring job of communicating its position. Do you think there’s a better site for the campus? Or is that the best place if it’s done right?
I’m not sure that the building needs to have the view of the lake. I’m not sure if that’s the thing that’s most beneficial to students. I’m not even sure if they’ve spoken to Indigenous governments and said, “Is that where you want us to be situated on the land?” I am not really sure of any of these things, these are unclear to me from reading public documentation. I genuinely would like to see them work on finding a solution where it’s infill, because we could have more services for students here in the downtown where you’re situated. But there’s got to be a lot more information that’s public and a lot more opportunities for input.
What sort of leader of industry do you hope you could be as an MLA?
Industry as in business?
Our economic sector as a whole.
Economic sector as a whole – so, that’s a good question. I will happily admit that I am not a corporate person, I’m a public servant. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think our businesses here have to thrive. And obviously, they’ve had hit after hit in these last four years with the calamities, as I like to say. But fundamentally, I am a big booster of buy-local, I’m a big supporter of local business. I want to see ways that businesses and industry can be supplemented or supported by government to actually have what they need. And what they need probably varies across the board. But yeah, and as a proud union local president, I’m 100-percent behind buy-local and ensuring that dollars made in the North stay in the North.
One of the first things the new government is going to have to address is collective bargaining with the UNW. You’ve been a local president. What insights from that would you try to bring to the role of MLA?
That labour is important. That our workers are valued, that they deserve a fair deal.
Do they have a fair deal?
I am not part of the bargaining table.
At the moment.
Do they have a fair deal at the moment? Well, right at the moment our collective agreement expired in March, Ollie. I’m sure you know that.
Was that a fair deal?
I feel that was what the membership was looking for at the time, yeah.
What do you see your role being as an MLA, if elected, in terms of labour?
I will always be an advocate for labour. And it’s not just the UNW, right? There’s many unions in town. And they have many priorities that they want to see reflected in workers for the North, and I am very happy to promote their desires.
You drew a neat equivalency earlier between a human being and a human doing. There are different kinds of MLA as well in terms of an MLA doing and an MLA overseeing. Sometimes they overlap. But there’s a difference between which side of the chamber, for example, you want to sit in. What do you imagine you want to be as an MLA?
I think it’s hard to guess before everyone sits in their seats, obviously. And you have to sit down and see who your colleagues are. I know that’s a generic answer, but it’s the truth. Fundamentally, I would prefer to be a regular MLA. I think my interests right now lie in holding the government to account and we’ll see what happens.
Why is that? What motivates that?
Probably the journalist in me that never went away. The person who wants to ask why all of the time. Sometimes, when I ask a question why and I’m given a great answer, fantastic. We’ll talk about it, we’ll move on, we’ll grow together. And sometimes you hear answers that are less than stellar, and I’m happy to dig on those.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.