Mother and Habitat for Humanity volunteer Nicole Sok is hoping to be the next MLA for Range Lake.
Sok said if elected, she wants to prioritize tackling the territory’s housing crisis and infrastructure deficit. Her campaign also highlights championing small and medium-sized businesses, developing critical minerals and the green economy, addressing food security, and providing accessible education.
Sok said the next government needs to be proactive rather than reactive and prioritize the growth, safety and prosperity of the territory and its people.
She said she can offer knowledge about housing and experience serving others and helping them to succeed as a volunteer and stay-at-home mother who homeschools her children.
This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: To start, if elected, what will be your priorities or the most important issues you hope to tackle over the next four years?
Nicoke Sok: Housing. Housing is a big thing I want to tackle.
There’s just not enough. And the news that’s been coming out the past few weeks in regards to public housing and new builds that they’ve got coming in, are great. But there’s just an absolute lack of housing.
That’s not even touching the houses that need to be seriously retrofitted, that don’t necessarily fit with the people living in the dwelling. Right? So housing is the biggest one, I think that needs to be tackled.
Followed closely by infrastructure, because the infrastructure issues and the deficits there I think are exacerbating the problem with our economy, and getting people up here, and having enough workers. So infrastructure is another really big one.
Within those two big priorities, are there any specific goals or things that you would like to see happen?
I would love to see utility infrastructure finally be sorted out.
I’ve lived here for 12 years now and this has been a topic of conversation for as long as I’ve lived here. And not much has really changed, at least in regards to the Taltson expansion, in tackling how the carbon taxes and everything coming down from the feds – and their push for a net-zero grid – is going to translate for the territory as a whole, for smaller communities, for the mining sector, for all of it. So really making a point of sitting down and hammering on a mandate where that gets addressed and we stop playing catch-up would be a great start.
With housing, if we want to have a university up here and the students and staff that go along with that, if we want to diversify our economy, we need more homes. And so adding to that surplus in ways that are beyond apartments is a good start too.
As an MLA, how would you make sure that those priorities and goals are addressed?
First and foremost, we do sit together as a group and discuss mandates and what we want to see happen. So I think the big push comes at the beginning to try and prove why those things need to be addressed and tackled.
And then beyond that, it’s just keeping ministers accountable. And asking for updates on where projects are at, and what’s going on, and what sort of timelines they’re working with. And just continuously beating that particular drum. “OK, how are we doing? How are we doing?” Because it’s easy to let those things slide and shelve them for other issues that kind-of come up.
You talked about holding ministers accountable. Would you be looking to be a regular MLA or potentially seeking a seat on cabinet, if elected?
I get that question a lot. The reality is, there’s only so many MLAs that get picked from Yellowknife. Right? And as a brand new MLA, do I have any expectation that it’s going to be me? No, I don’t.
But would I love to oversee the housing portfolio? Yeah, I would, I really would. I think I could do that particular portfolio a lot of good and pay it a lot of attention that it really hasn’t received. But is that my expectation? No.
What do you think makes you stand out as a candidate, particularly in the Range lake district?
That’s a really good question. I like that.
I think what makes me stand out is I’ve spent the past 10 years in a role where I’ve been serving, that’s been what I do day in and day out. I’ve served my kids, and my spouse, and my inner community in a way where my goals have always been that they are able to grow and thrive and reach their goals and potential.
And that’s what I’d also like to do as an MLA. I think that is a skill set that transfers completely and utterly when you’re talking about the public service, and leading the public service. It’s the ultimate role of servitude. So I’ve been doing that for 10 years. And I think that might be the biggest thing where I stand out from my opponents.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what that role has been?
I have been a stay-at-home parent the past nine years – a homeschool parent as well. I’m facilitating their education, three different grades, and what would be the equivalent of IEPs [individualized education programs] at that as well.
We’re a mining family, so we’re two and two. So on top of that it’s been me and the kids for half the year at a time.
So that’s what I’ve been doing is I’ve been holding down the fort and creating the stability for my kids that they’ve really needed the past few years.
What would you say your successes have been as a stay-at-home parent who is also homeschooling?
Proud momma moment here. OK, so a little bit of a brag, a little bit of a gush: my middle child is on the spectrum and he was minimally verbal. And when you look at him now, you would never know where he started.
A lot of it is all on him, absolutely, all on him. He’s made tremendous gains. But that’s something that I’ve got to be a part of, through thick and thin, through happy days and sad days and frustrations and all of it. That’s a big one.
And learning too about that, because you get kind-of thrown into the pool a little bit. You don’t have the same toolbox full of tools. And it’s a learning curve, and you have to be humble enough to go, “I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing here. I need to seek out guidance and help.” And then watching those that know what they’re doing and learning from them so you can carry on that work. So far, I think that’s been my biggest success and for my kids, they make me proud.
What has made you want to run for MLA?
I was the kid at eight sitting at the table with all of my relatives while they discussed politics and current affairs. I’ve loved it ever since.
I think that’s sort-of what led me to pursue political science at school. But I never actually thought I would run, in all honesty. I’m not extroverted. I didn’t think I was super charismatic or had all those skills that you’d see politicians have on TV.
But it’s funny how life brings you full circle. So here I am running with lots of ideas. And I’m really ready to roll up my sleeves and come to the table and see what we can do.
I saw your campaign talks about the government being reactive rather than proactive? How do you hope to change that culture?
Culture is a great word. I like how you used that.
I think one of the ways that you can do it is just sit at the table and go, OK, let’s talk about how we’ve gotten comfortable doing what we’re doing. And how we get past that and really sort-of encourage a creative approach to how we tackle problems? And starting to look at what those potential things coming down the pipes could be.
Like from the feds, a lot of stuff has been kind-of pushed down with their goals and their plans and they’re downloaded onto us, right? And we have to react to those things we’re being told that we need to do, or things that we need to change.
And so if we can start looking towards what those things may be, and addressing how do we tackle them when we have more time to do it – and two, we could create plans that are better suited for us. But that takes collaboration and it’s definitely a group effort.
I also saw you highlighted bureaucracy and red tape as a barrier to the private sector. How would you like to see that addressed?
I’m pretty sure Minister Wawzonek had started with that. She’d created a program where it encouraged employees to submit ideas that would help reduce red tape. That’s a start. I’d really like to encourage that to grow.
There are duplications in regards to mining, the mining sector. There’ve been couple of recent reports, actually, that when it comes to the Northwest Territories, duplication of some of our policies keeps them from investing in us. And that could be something where we could start looking at what’s happening there.
And again, with BDIC, or I guess it’s called Prosper NWT, and ITI [Industry, Tourism and Investment], there’s duplication in programs and things like that, where perhaps if we were to split them a little bit more with more clear lines of who’s responsible for what, there wouldn’t be duplication, again, in policy and regulations and red tape that businesses, entrepreneurs and industries would face.
In the last couple of minutes, is there anything else you’d want to say to potential constituents?
Even though I’ve been a stay-at-home parent for the past nine years, the reason why I have such a heart for building homes is because that’s something that I’ve been involved with in one way or another for the past few years. And that’s something that’s really important to my spouse and I.
We are big supporters of Habitat for Humanity. His business contributes to every project at this point, since he’s had it running. It’s a love that we share, jointly. And before the pandemic, we actually started to do global village builds, specifically in the country of his birth because that was a way for him to give back.
So housing is huge for us. And then you go overseas to an emerging country and you see the disparity that is happening there as they grow. And then you come back here to the North, and you see the issues that we have, and you desperately want to do everything you can to tackle them.
Beyond that, I’m currently sitting on a working group that is looking at getting a housing project off the ground as well. So again, that’s just a working group, because there is a lot that goes into that process and it is very slow. But I’m involved in that way, too. So housing is very big for me and I do understand quite a lot about housing.
One idea actually I did have – it’s not on my platform because it is multifaceted – is when you are designing a build, with your architecture, you have the ability to specify products you want to use. You see them all the time in the tenders that get put out. There are now products being used in Nunavut as part of their 3,000-home project – already used, already tested, we already know it works – where these panels come up and they would help build projects and homes faster.
It would fall in line perfectly with rapid housing initiatives. And because we have a skilled labour shortage and a trades shortage, these types of things make a lot of sense right now, because you don’t need to have large companies coming and bidding on these projects, bringing in huge crews. You just need a few that know what they’re doing and the rest can learn on the site, which is great for taking them out into the communities. And now you’re providing communities with opportunities to hire locally or even hiring some of the apprentices that are working in the communities and don’t necessarily have all the opportunities that we do here.
So there are things that I see as possibilities in ways that we can be creative and how we approach things going forward. And yeah, I think that’s a big thing I want to clear up.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.