Longtime Yellowknifer and diamond worker Stuart Wray is hoping to become the next MLA for the Frame Lake district.
Wray says big projects and vision are needed over the next four years to ensure the NWT doesn’t fall behind.
Currently the superintendent of health and safety at Ekati Diamond Mine, Wray says he is of Inuit and Scottish descent and will bring a unique perspective to the Legislative Assembly. He said his experience collaborating with others and working on continuous improvement at the mine have prepared him for the role of a territorial politician.
“I’m not going in there with an agenda where I’m against environment, or I’m only pro-mining. I’m coming in there with a fresh slate, with a fresh set of eyes, and just work toward a common goal for the NWT where we need houses, we need jobs, we need people to be healthy,” he said.
This interview was recorded on October 21 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: To start off, if elected, what will be your priorities or the most important issues you hope to tackle over the next four years?
Stuart Wray: My most important issue over the next four years would be housing. All levels of housing, affordable housing and market housing.
Especially here in Yellowknife for market housing. I’ve got people like my mother who are still living in the house I grew up in. There were seven of us when I grew up in that house. Now it’s just her, and she wants to downsize. But she’s struggling to find a place to downsize to.
Are there any tangible solutions that you’d like to see or implement?
I would like to work with the City of Yellowknife on their community plan.
They’re held by the Community Planning Act to develop a community plan and that community plan is signed off by the minister. That’s where we can have good collaboration and good teamwork with the city to ensure that we develop some market houses here in Yellowknife.
For affordable housing, I’d like to see the GNWT have a little bigger seat at the table. I feel like they’ve taken a step back and let the federal government deal directly with the Indigenous governments and local governments, because all the money’s coming from the Rapid Housing Initiative.
But the GNWT needs to be more ambitious in its housing plan. You look over at Nunavut and they’ve committed to building 3,000 homes by 2030 and spending over $2 billion. And the GNWT has committed three percent of its budget to housing next year. So we need to be more ambitious.
As an MLA, how would you make sure that’s enacted?
You’ve just got to work with the other MLAs and work with the cabinet. You need to collaborate, you need to be part of a team. And I just need to lobby so I can steer that vote in that direction.
Frame Lake is turning out to be one of the more competitive districts during this election. What do you think makes you stand out as a candidate?
I grew up in Frame Lake. I grew up on Woolgar, I have lots of family that still live in Frame Lake. I live on Taylor Road.
And I’m bringing a unique voice. I’m an Indigenous diamond worker. We haven’t had a voice like that in the ledge in a long time.
You bring up your background in mining. What are some successes in that role that you’d like to highlight and how will that prepare you to be an MLA?
Well I’m the health and safety superintendent at Ekati, so I’ve done lots of committee work. I’ve made lots of difficult decisions that have affected people. And I’ve worked with various levels of departments and people within the company in order to collaborate, identify gaps and make the plan better and continuous improvement in anything we do. So that’s what I want to bring to the ledge.
Kevin O’Reilly previously held this seat for two terms and was known for his record on environmental issues. How do you plan to fill those shoes or represent the district differently?
I just think mining nowadays, we have very clean, sustainable mining practices in the North. Some of the best mining practices in the North. So I don’t think it’s one or the other with mining. It’s not environmental concerns or mining, they can work together, they can work in parallel.
And I’ll just bring that perspective to the ledge. I’m not going in there with an agenda where I’m against environment, or I’m only pro-mining. I’m coming in there with a fresh slate, with a fresh set of eyes, and just work toward a common goal for the NWT where we need houses, we need jobs, we need people to be healthy.
Beyond housing, what other things would you like to see happen over the next four years in government?
I know we’ve talked about it for a few governments, but we need to develop our infrastructure. We need to connect our communities.
I’d love to see a road go up the Mackenzie Valley, and then we can develop linear infrastructure, power, all the way up that road.
I’d love to see the Slave Geographical Province road start to be developed. I’d love to see us connect to the first-ever northern grid with the Taltson project and the North Slave dams.
We need big projects. We need to have a big vision. We’re getting left behind in the North. The other two territories are zooming past us with their vision and their development. So, you know, we lost 1,000 people in the last year. How’d that happen?
With these big infrastructure projects that have been on the government’s table for quite some time, what vision do you have to get them done sooner?
Again, it’s just making sure that everyone has a common goal in mind. And we just need to sit down, we need to collaborate with all levels of government, with the GNWT, Indigenous governments. And we really need to put our concentrated effort into it.
I know as a regular MLA you don’t have too much power in the ledge. What power you do have is building relationships, and working together with people.
So if elected, would you hope to be a regular MLA or would you potentially be looking for a spot on cabinet?
No, I just want to be a regular MLA.
Why is that important for you?
Because I want to represent my constituents.
At the end of the day, I live in the neighbourhood. I want to be able to walk down the neighbourhood, talk to my neighbours, hear their concerns, be able to voice their concerns, while at the same time trying to manage my big-picture ideas I want to bring to the government. I think it’s easier to do that as a regular MLA than as a cabinet minister.
You’ve talked about the importance of industry and infrastructure. Where do you stand on goals to diversify the economy?
I’m for diversifying the economy 100 percent. It’ll bring some stability to our economy.
But I don’t want to do it in the face of mining and exploration. It needs to run parallel. They need to be done together.
Mining and exploration is what got the territory to where it is today. So I don’t think it’s something we abandon. I get it that it’s volatile and it creates for boom-bust. But that’s where we can have a diversified economy to get us through these boom-busts.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.