Longtime information technology professional Aaron Reid is hoping to be the next MLA for Range Lake.
Reid said the 20th Legislative Assembly needs to set specific, trackable goals and get back to basics. His campaign’s primary focus is on public safety and ensuring communities are prepared for natural disasters.
Reid highlighted his nearly two decades working for Northwestel and said he would advocate for technology-based solutions for the North.
This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: If elected, what will be the most important issues you hope to tackle over the next four years?
Aaron Reid: If elected, my primary focus is on public safety. And in particular, making sure that what happened in the summer of 2023 never happens again to any of our communities here in the Northwest Territories.
I believe that for the North to grow, and thrive and prosper, we need to create a healthy economy, and we need to have healthy people. But we can’t get there if we’re worried about our homes burning down or having to evacuate.
I mean, look at what we just went through, you know? Seventy percent of our population had to evacuate more than 1,000 kilometres from home, some of them twice in the same season for the same thing. I don’t believe that what we went through is something we can go through again. And we need to take steps to deal with that and to rectify it.
I don’t want to go too far off on a tangent on this. But it really comes down to the fact that I believe our world has fundamentally changed. The problem has changed, it’s grown by an order of magnitude. And our responses to that problem have been incremental.
I mean, if you look at Enterprise, Enterprise did everything right. They were firesmarted and they still got decimated by fire, destroyed by fire.
I think we have very difficult problems. We have very critical issues. And I’m not downplaying any of those, you know – mental health, addictions, housing, all of these things are critically important. But I don’t feel that we will be able to address them meaningfully unless we first have the right conditions, the right level of security, that we’re not worried about losing our communities to fire and other natural disasters.
So yes, the first thing I would do would be to focus on public safety. And I have some very specific goals that I think we should carry out as soon as possible to help address that.
What are those specific goals?
So the first thing is, I think we need to create a wildfire version or firefighting version of the Canadian Coast Guard.
I know that sounds kind-of strange. But if you look at the situation we’re in, right now, the idea of dealing with wildfires is all premised on a very small number of professionals with a huge burden on their shoulders. I think that we’re too remote that we can always anticipate that the right level of professional help will always be able to get to us in time. Especially as we saw with the wildfires, you know? When a wildfire can move tens of kilometres in a few hours and threaten your community, the current systems we have in place to deal with that don’t suffice. And the idea that we’ll always be able to get firefighters on spot, professionals on spot to deal with these issues, I don’t think that’s a workable solution.
But what I think we do need to look at is what are the assets we have? What are the resources we have? And that’s you and me, that’s common residents. But I think if given the right training, the right tools, and the right supports, they would be able to defend their communities in a time of need. And a perfect example of this has already been done today with the Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s just being done in relation to the water and it’s a much smaller group.
So really one of the things that I’d be advocating for is the creation of community-level volunteer groups. That would be like the Coast Guard Auxiliary, but they would be geared towards wildfire. They wouldn’t be firefighters, they wouldn’t be wildfire fighters and, you know, they couldn’t be mobilized to go and fight a fire 100 kilometres away, although they could certainly volunteer if they wanted to. But they would be people just like you and me, regular residents in their community, that would have the tools, the training and the supports necessary to be able to jump into action to defend their community from things like wildfire and other natural disasters, as and when they were required to.
And so I call them – I mean this would be a good one, I’m bad at choosing names – maybe we call it the Fire Guard, maybe we call it the Community Action Groups. But it’s acknowledging the fact that the world has changed. It’s acknowledging the fact that our current system and our current structures and support don’t have the resources that they need. They’ve said that openly. And it’s also acknowledging the fact that an incremental response won’t cut it.
For example, if NWT Fire says they don’t have the resources, increasing their budget by 15 or 20 percent won’t suddenly mean that we have a large number of trained firefighters in every community. But we can deal with that, is if we actually give residents the tools and training to be able to defend their own homes.
And again, purely voluntary. It’s not like everybody in the community would be demanded to do this, but give them the opportunity to be able to do it. And I think you’d be surprised at how many people would volunteer for that.
How will you make sure, if elected, that these priorities are enacted?
By bugging people continuously until they finally relent and cave in. No, I’m joking.
Like anything in life, if something is worthwhile, you have to fight for it, you have to stick with it. And so quite often – and you see this when somebody is running a petition, or they’re trying to promote change and action in government – if you get somebody on your side, but it’s not their baby, it’s not their idea, they’ll only carry it so far. And at some point, you run into a roadblock or you run into a delay, and you say, “Oh, well, sorry, it’s not going to work out, we have to move on.” And that’s the end of that idea.
If elected, I won’t give up on it, because I believe it’s the right thing to do.
And it’s working with other departments. It’s working with other legislators, working with other departments. And it’s trying to get across the message it’s not a GNWT thing, it’s not a city’s thing, it’s not a Maca thing or an ECC thing. It’s an all of us thing.
It’s really about acknowledging the fact that we need to redefine what it means to be a community in the Northwest Territories, and acknowledging and redefining what it means to be a resident of a community in the Northwest Territories. Because unless we do that, I don’t see a bright future for us. And if we can get there, if we can get people on board, and we can get these measures enacted.
And the other thing too: a lot of this is not huge, big-dollar initiatives, right? Getting people some fairly rudimentary training and some equipment and maybe you show up one night a week or one night, every couple of weeks in the wintertime. These are not big-dollar things, but they can have a huge impact for a relatively small investment.
Perfect example, look at Enterprise. A handful of residents, just a handful of residents in Enterprise, were able to save multiple structures. What would have happened if maybe there were 10 or 15 more residents in Enterprise who actually had training and actually had equipment? Could more of the community have been saved?
And I think that’s a door we have to knock on. And we shouldn’t turn that idea down on face value. And so yeah, I would basically fight for it. But at the same time, I would make the case that in the long run, this will save us money. This will probably save us lives, and it’ll save our communities, and it’ll save the North.
What do you think makes you stand out as a candidate for Range Lake?
I don’t have a political background. I am a rookie. I do acknowledge, every discussion that I’ve had, I do not have an in-depth knowledge of every single issue. And I don’t pretend to. I don’t have a policy to fix every issue. Especially during some of these debates, I’m sure I’m going to be putting my foot in my mouth.
And so what makes me stand out is I’m trying to be very realistic and honest about what I can do. And what I think we need to do is, instead of trying to focus on multiple different things all at the same time, what I think makes me stand out is my message that, no, no, no, no, we have to walk before we run.
We can’t go and try to fix everything at once because that won’t work. I don’t believe that will work. And we need to really get back to the basics and focus on, really it’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? A lot of the problems we’re facing are higher-level problems that go higher up the hierarchy of needs or the pyramid of needs. We’re not there. We need to focus on the baseline problem of making sure that we have a secure community and a secure North. And then we can progress from there.
The other thing, too, is I think I do bring a unique perspective. I come from a technology background. And again, I don’t come from a political background, I don’t normally do this type of thing. Coming from a technology background, I think there are doors we’re not knocking on. There are opportunities we’re not exploring with technology that could revolutionize and move the ball forward significantly for people in Range Lake, for Yellowknife, for the Northwest Territories. So I will be promoting a lot of technology-based solutions that I think would advance the North that we’re not seeing in the public discussion today.
You’ve highlighted your work with Northwestel. What do you think some of your successes in that role were?
I’m very proud of my time with Northwestel.
When I first came to Yellowknife, the North was fed by these very low-bandwidth radio links. Streaming TV like Netflix, wouldn’t work, Amazon Video wouldn’t work. In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve seen the North go from very skinny radio pipes to very large fibre-optic networks that can carry thousands of times the bandwidth that we could when I first moved here. And I’ve been a part of that and I’m proud of that.
I was involved in turning up the first smartphones in the North. I was there, it was in Yellowknife I think in 2008 or 2009, the first time that a smartphone would work. And of course, because it’s Yellowknife, it was somebody watching an Oilers game. But you could do that. Previously, you couldn’t.
A lot of the communities, when we get our fibre-optic network rolled out to these sites, they can do things. They can do ecommerce, they can do telehealth, you know, sending diagnostic imagery for analysis down south for healthcare. Education, right? Remote education. These are really powerful things that previously you couldn’t do.
And I had a role. I’m not saying I did it all myself, but I had a role in helping that come about. I’m very proud of it and I think we can do more of it. I think we can do more of it across a variety of sectors in the North. Not just in information technology and communications, but a whole array of different technological areas that the rest of the world is advancing in and they’re embracing – and we’re not, and we should be.
Is that something that you would continue to push for if elected?
One of my topics that I’m very, very passionate about is the topic of bringing data centres into the North. There’s currently no commercial data centres North of 60. I think we’re losing out on a lot because of that. I think that if we were to promote bringing data centres in the North, that would actually be a way we could flip the script on the discussion about the economy. And it’s a way that we could actually help the rest of Canada reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Because data centres require a tremendous amount of power, they require a tremendous amount of power just to cool them. We’re in the North, we’re naturally cold. So right away, you have a massive advantage in that you don’t have to spend the same amount of carbon and energy just to cool down your data centre.
At the same time, we have massive infrastructure needs. Like, we keep hearing about Taltson. We keep hearing about how there’s no customer that could use the power for Taltson. Well, sure there is. A data centre could use that and it will help justify a lot of the infrastructure buildup.
So things like data centres, things like AI – AI is being massively used in the south. It’s being used here but the government isn’t using it. And I think that would help make a lot of people’s lives easier and it would save a lot of people time, and could free up critical government workers to be able to do other things if we were further embracing AI.
We have about a minute left here. Is there anything else you would want to add or clarify?
Well, so much. My big thing is that there are doors we’re not knocking on that we should be, and it’s to our detriment.
We need to be working with our neighbours better. We need to be asking why our neighbours are growing in population and economy when we’re not, we’re stagnating.
Perfect example, electric heat. The Yukon, in the last 17 years, has had more than 4,000 dwellings move to electric heat. That’s a massive reduction in carbon and greenhouse gas. Why aren’t we even talking about it? We’re not even talking about it. And there’s things like that, that our neighbours are doing, that we should be doing, and we should be talking about it. And so I would promote a lot of those discussions.
So I think I do bring a fresh perspective and a bit of new blood into the game. And I would love to be the voice and advocate of the people of Range Lake if they’ll have me.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.