Deanna Cornfield is hoping to be the next MLA for Frame Lake.
Cornfield said if elected, her priorities will be diversity of infrastructure, lowering power costs, and ensuring the Extended Health Benefits policy supports seniors and people with disabilities.
Cornfield said she has a strong understanding of business drivers with more than 20 years of professional experience across various industries working in marketing, sales, technology, procurement and logistics. She also highlighted that she sits on boards for the NWT Disability Council and the Stanton Territorial Hospital Foundation.
Asked about the outgoing two-term Frame Lake MLA, Kevin O’Reilly, Cornfield said: “I’m trying to make sure that I’ll always be prepared, that I’ll always be read. And I will look at all the issues that he looked at. I don’t know if I’ll always support the same issues he supported, but I will try to emulate the strength he showed in ensuring you’re working for your riding.”
This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: To start off with, if elected, what will be your priorities or the most important issues you hope to tackle over the next four years?
Deanna Cornfield: The things I’m looking to tackle over the next four years are diversity of infrastructure, lowering the cost of power, and tackling the NWT benefits policy. The changes that have been made so far are good, but we still have some changes to make to protect people with disabilities, and Elders and seniors.
Within those priorities, what are some specific goals that you have?
Some of the specific goals are working on the Taltson project and bringing up the timeline on that, working with local companies and finding out what we need, construction companies, what we need to engage with the housing market. This work I’ve done with them so far has shown that they have a problem getting labourers, that we need to do something to bring skilled labour to the territories.
How would you make sure that those goals are achieved and those issues are addressed?
That’s a fantastic question. I look towards the assembly’s mandate. And some of the ideas they had there were fantastic and needed to be implemented. And I’m sure they would have been if they hadn’t dealt with Covid. But there’s some on there that we need to revisit and need to put back on the timelines.
I will be learning as I go. I am new to the Legislative Assembly. How I make sure they happen? Work with the community, work with my counterparts, and work to make sure we can get the territory back on its feet.
Talking about the new Extended Health Benefits policy, what kind of changes would you like to see?
One of them is putting in proper thresholds for families that are living with a dependant with disabilities. Right now, the threshold calculator is the same whether or not you’re a person simply living with high blood pressure, or a person that has to support an adult who’s completely disabled. Those aren’t the same costs.
And the thing that concerns me greatly is the amount of time the current government has said, “Don’t worry, seniors, this won’t affect you yet.” It’s that “yet” that bothers me.
Another main aspect of your platform is supporting businesses and economic recovery. What supports would you like to see the GNWT provide to existing businesses and also work to encourage new businesses?
The chamber of commerce had an amazing fundraiser on Friday and what they put forward makes the most sense. Reinvest in the business community. It’s not just about what you can give them but how you work with them to ensure that they can succeed. So you need to actually listen to the business community and work with them to ensure that you’re helping them succeed.
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 love my neighbourhood. I love my neighbours. I’ve been on the ground in Frame Lake since I started living in Northwest Territories. I’ve been on the ground helping my neighbours, working with the Northlands community. I’ve been on the community board for many years. And I’ve been the one standing on the ground, helping my neighbours and volunteering on the street. I work with this community, I know what it needs.
You’ve highlighted your work experience in marketing, sales, technology, procurement and logistics. What do you think in those roles were your biggest successes and how will that prepare you to be an MLA?
My success in the business world has been ongoing. It’s been a work in progress. Where I would put my biggest success – I could go to a PBX product launch that I did one year.
But I don’t think specific career successes is what matters. I think my overall understanding of business and my broad depth and understanding of the North and business is what will help me in my future career as an MLA.
You mentioned diversity of infrastructure as one of your priorities. Could you expand on that?
Sure, very simple. We need a submarine cable under Great Slave Lake that carries our power and our telecommunications infrastructure to ensure that Yellowknife does not get cut off, to ensure that our communities do not get cut off.
You also talked about the importance of expediting the Taltson expansion. That, of course, is very dependent on federal funding. How would you advocate to expedite that project?
We need to lower the cost of power in the Territories if we’re going to be as successful as other territories. Other territories have much lower costs of power. We need to find a way to lower the cost of power now rather than later. We need to find a way to diversify our power now rather than later. I think that this summer really showed the diversification need.
Why did you want to run for MLA?
I’ve been thinking about running in government for a while. I’m on a lot of different boards. I do a lot of community work.
This summer, when I came back from the evacuation – everyone has their own evacuation story, I won’t go into the details of my time in Edmonton and Red Deer or how I felt the government handled it – when I got back, I started volunteering at the airport and driving people home during the week. The final thing for me, that said to me that I wanted to be part of the solution, was on the weekend when I was driving people home and the government and the city didn’t show up.
I wanted to be part of the solution after that. Not just complaining about what I needed to happen, but be part of the solution to make it happen.
Kevin O’Reilly previously held this seat for two terms and was known for his stance on environmental issues. How do you plan to fill those shoes or maybe represent the district differently?
They are very large shoes.
I sat down with him before I started my campaign to get his advice. And he sat with me for about an hour and a half. I respect his time as an MLA, he’s one of the hardest-working MLAs I’ve ever seen. We did not agree on every single issue, and he respected the fact that I started the conversation with that. But his work was impeccable. You never go into a room without being prepared when you’re meeting with Kevin O’Reilly, and that was an absolute priority for him.
So I’m trying to emulate him. I’m trying to make sure that I’ll always be prepared, that I’ll always be read. And I will look at all the issues that he looked at. I don’t know if I’ll always support the same issues he supported. But I will try to emulate the strength he showed in ensuring you’re working for your riding.
Are there any issues particular to the Frame Lake district that you’d like to speak to?
Are they specific? My community has told me that they need childcare, they need better housing, they need more jobs. They need skilled labourers brought to the territory so that they can finish the jobs that they’re hired for. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to make sure I talk to them and always know what specifics they need.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or clarify, or that you’d like to say to Frame Lake constituents?
What I’d like to say is that I would appreciate their support. I want to hear from them. I want to hear what I need to earn their support.
I want to go through the previous mandates of the previous ledge. I want to understand what could and couldn’t be pushed through. And I want to serve my community.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.