Bruce Valpy is seen in an image published to his campaign website.
Former NNSL editor and publisher Bruce Valpy is hoping to become the next MLA for Yellowknife North.
Valpy said if elected, he will focus on supporting the communities to grow the territory’s economy. His platform highlights childcare, small businesses, tradespeople, homelessness and addictions, on-the-land healing, housing and education.
Valpy said his experience following politics as a journalist and being outspoken on issues affecting the territory has prepared him for the role of an MLA.
Among the first candidates to declare their intention to run, Valpy said people should be talking about possibilities for the territory all year long.
This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: If elected, what would be your priorities or the most important issues that you’d hope to tackle over the next four years?
Bruce Valpy: My platform is pretty clear. I’m talking about homelessness and addiction. And the lack of daycare, scarcity of tradespeople, and hiring and keeping staff.
I’m kind-of reading off my door hanger there. But really, it’s about the economy of the NWT. We’ve got to start focusing on that and looking for ways to grow it.
Within those priorities, what kind of things would you like to see happen?
Well, we’ve got to focus on the communities because that’s what’s been neglected.
We’ve got to look at the healing options that are out there and what we’re doing with housing, which is unfortunately not very much, and how that’s affecting our education system. Because it’s the education system that is supposed to be giving people a chance to go on to college, and to go on to the trades, and to have a good living and take care of their families. But it’s not working outside of Yellowknife.
As part of that, are you hoping to see more funding? More collaboration?
Well, I think we’ve got $2.5 billion. I think we have enough funding. I don’t think funding is an issue – it’s spending. It’s how we’re spending, and we’re not spending properly.
We’ve got to be looking at how we can spend for the future, really. And the future, it’s the people outside of Yellowknife. Because Yellowknife is doing well. Our employment here, for middle-aged people is about… it’s close to 98 percent. It’s difficult to find people to work.
And it’s quite the opposite outside of Yellowknife. There’s a high unemployment rate, there’s a high rate of people who are not in the job market. And far too many who aren’t equipped to get into the job market, even though they’ve been through the school system.
So this is what we have to focus on. We have to develop the human resources out there. And that entails infrastructure investments, certainly in education. And outreach. We’ve got to take our government to the people, because just expecting the people to come to this government? It has not worked and it’s not working.
How would you ensure that those priorities are enacted?
With the consensus system it’s difficult. All you can do is keep repeating it, and pointing out the obvious, and hoping that you can get other people on side.
I’ve watched the Legislative Assembly. Many of the ordinary members, even the ones from Yellowknife, understand the problems and advocate for them. But unfortunately, it doesn’t get past the senior leadership in cabinet. They’ve got to be reminded of their responsibilities.
We need, basically, to reorient them and hold them accountable for results. Because they’re not being held accountable for results. We go through assembly after assembly, we have the same graduation rates, the same unemployment rates, the same housing problems, and nothing changes.
And I think people are getting tired of that. I hope they are.
So if elected, would you hope to be a regular MLA or would you consider putting your name forward for a spot on cabinet?
Well, if they said to me, “Bruce, we want you on cabinet,” I’d say, “OK, but I’m not going to go on cabinet unless you support the goals that I campaigned on, which are healing, housing, education, and basically investing in the communities.”
I mean, we’ve got to get daycare going. We’ve got to be producing tradespeople. We’ve got to be giving healing options in the communities and focusing on our education results.
I mean, we’ve got to acknowledge the problems, because one of the problems we have now is not acknowledging the problems. We try to cover them up.
I’m curious why you chose to run in the Yellowknife North district.
That’s where I live, so it seemed to make sense. And Shauna Morgan, who I think is a fine candidate, I didn’t think she should run unopposed. So the voters here will have a clear choice, I think, between myself and herself. And I think either way, they’re going to come out ahead.
There’s a third candidate who’s put their name forward.
Oh, yes. I don’t know much about Jon. I’ve worked with Jon. He was kind-of a late candidate so I haven’t had time to really consider his platform and I don’t know what it is, to be honest with you. So I really can’t comment on Jon. I was more-or-less focused on Shauna. I think he, probably, must have come forward on Friday or something.
What do you think makes you stand out among other candidates in the district?
I’ve been working on this for a year. I took a trip to the Dehcho and I talked to leaders down there. And I talked to leaders in the Tłı̨chǫ over a year ago. And I launched my website on my birthday a year ago. I’ve been working on this for a year.
So I’ve been researching what government’s been doing, and actually following government all my life as a journalist in town. So I’m committed to doing this.
I have spent a lifetime speaking out. When you’re a journalist, as you know, you’re kind-of on the sidelines, and in the stands and the peanut gallery, and there’s no sort of requirement to take somebody seriously no matter how much sense they make. Unless they excite the population, which is kind-of difficult in the North, it doesn’t really seem to happen too much.
I felt that it was time for me to, I guess, put up or shut up and put my name in, and see if I can get a place where I could speak and people would have to listen and hopefully consider my ideas.
You were one of the first candidates to declare your intention to run. Why was that important for you?
I felt that if people thought I was running, they might say, “Oh, what happens if that guy gets in? So what’s he about, and what’s he talking about?”
I mainly was talking about specifically territorial issues. That was the healing, the housing and the education, because I’m looking at how we can improve the lives of our people and do something different in the North than what we’ve been doing.
Our population is shrinking. That’s not a good thing. And we’re the only place probably in Canada that is shrinking. The Atlantic provinces are growing, Newfoundland is growing, the Prairies, Alberta and BC, and the Yukon and Nunavut. And there we are going the other way and nobody seems to be raising the alarm.
So I’m used to speaking my mind. And I’m used to doing research because I don’t like to be caught out with wrong information. You’re in the business, you know how much that hurts to spell somebody’s name wrong or get the facts wrong and have to walk things back. It’s no fun. So I’m just using my research skills.
I’ve also raised five children and have four grandchildren. I’ve been through the daycare system, I’ve been through the school system. And I’ve invested in Yellowknife and lived here for a long time. So I’d like to give back what it’s given to me. I’ve had a good life.
What’s your vision for growing the population?
Well, we’ve got to grow the economy. You know? That’s the only way to do it.
We can’t allow about half our population to sort-of sit outside the economy in the communities. And that’s exactly what’s happened. We have half the population, and out of those people who are unemployed, many, many of them want jobs. We’ve got to provide them the opportunity. And it hasn’t worked, the way we’ve been doing it.
So my main thing is that we ignore northern knowledge. There’s a lot of knowledge in the communities and in the regional centres that we haven’t accessed.
And you hear it all the time, all the mistakes that we make in Yellowknife with our policies. I mean, you can’t fix things with policies unless the policies can produce results for the people they’re meant for. And that’s not happening.
You mentioned your experience at NNSL. What would you say your biggest successes in that role were, and how it would prepare you for being an MLA?
The last three years I was involved in reviving the company and getting it back on its feet. And basically, the owners were looking for a way out and nobody wanted to buy it. So we went looking for someone to buy it. And I achieved that in the middle of a pandemic, and it happened and the paper is still going strong.
And it’s unfortunate it had to be sold to a southern company, but we’re seeing that happen a lot, and that’s because – and you know, Cabin Radio knows this – the advertising base, it’s frayed. We’re losing businesses all the time and largely dependent on government.
We’re really in a government economy. So what I want to do is use the government economy, and the 6,000 staff that we have, and $2.5 billion-dollar budget, to start building the economy so that we can actually have some choices and some options as to what we do and the type of businesses we have. And create something better than what we’ve got that is going to attract people.
I mean, somebody asked me the other day, “Bruce, what are you going to do about the cost of living?” And I said, “Well, we’ve got to pay more. That’s what we have to do. Because that’s why people come North, because the salaries are higher and the jobs are interesting.”
So the jobs may be interesting but if the salaries are lower, and people can’t live, it’s not going to work. We just have to realize that we have to pay higher salaries and benefits. And we have to focus on our employees and staff and make sure that they can live here.
We can only do that by growing the economy. Every time we lose somebody in the population – I think Cabin Radio did the story – we lose money. So we can’t afford to lose people. Because it’s going to really impede our… even stabilizing ourselves now, it will start to erode. That’s what will happen. People have to see that.
What’s your vision for diversifying the economy and particularly growing the private sector?
Again, it’s outside Yellowknife. The private sector is strong in Yellowknife, as strong as it can be. Although I would say that the unfortunate situation now is it’s kind-of a competition to survive, rather than a competition to grow and grab market share. And that’s not a good situation.
But I see the answer outside of Yellowknife. We’ve got probably 19,000, 20,000 people out there. If we can start getting them into the job market and get them employed, that money stays in the NWT.
Right now, you know, in the neighbourhood of $400 million leaves every year as we access services that we don’t have. My point is, we’ve got 6,000 well-paid, highly educated people. I don’t think there’s anything, any problem, we can’t solve in-house. If we have to go south for expertise or for better buys, I’m not necessarily against that, but let’s start building what we’ve got and using what we’ve got.
There’s just a huge amount of expertise in the communities and in the regions. And we’re not accessing it. We’re kind-of blind to it. And it’s showing, because what’s happening in the communities is that they’re not growing.
And now Yellowknife has seen that it’s not growing. We’re seeing empty lots downtown. I’m pointing out that the centre of the capital city of the NWT, that lot is worth far, far less than my lot. And that’s not good. I mean, that’s a real economic indicator that there’s something wrong and we’ve got to get busy and fix it.
You’ve talked a lot about your vision for the territory and communities. Where do you stand on issues specific to the Yellowknife North district – for example, the reduction of fire service on the Ingraham Trail?
I want to talk to the people out there, and I’m meeting with someone this afternoon and I want to get some information.
I’m not sure of the issues beyond the firefighting and I do know that the services were restricted. I’ve got to find out what they want and where they see themselves in 20 years.
I’ve spoken with friends in Whitehorse, in a place called Marsh Lake out there, and they have a volunteer fire department. Now, they have 500 houses. I think we’re probably a third of that, maybe more, out on the Ingraham Trail.
But it’s important for me to find out exactly what they want, because they’re very independent people, they live off the grid, they take care of themselves, and they don’t necessarily want administrative services. But having said that, they do want to protect their homes. And they do want something, they’re citizens of the NWT.
So I’ve got to research that a bit more and come up with some proposals for them.
In the last minute that we have, is there anything else you’d like to say or clarify?
I’m just glad that the election period has started, because I don’t think that, what is it, 28 or 29 days of you asking me questions and we debating amongst ourselves what we should be doing is long enough.
It’s an immature political system we have here. We should have been talking about this stuff, well, we could have been talking about this stuff three months ago, but we’ve got it in our heads, I guess, that we don’t do that.
And I declared back in October, because I wanted to start talking about that. And I’ve been advertising with you guys, and other people, and Facebook and everything for the past three months.
And I want to change that sort of conversation beginning shortly before the election. It should be all year long and we should be talking about the possibilities.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.