Educator Spencer Tracy is hoping to be the next MLA for Frame Lake.
A resident of the district, Tracy said he wants to be part of a Legislative Assembly that sets a small number of priorities and establishes clear goals.
“Things around high school graduation rates, things around housing and the quality and the waitlists for housing. Something around mental health and addictions. What are we doing?” Tracy said. “What do those services that we talk about so often, wraparound services, what do we actually want to accomplish? And what’s the timeline?”
Tracy has worked as an environmental scientist, as a teacher, and at the Native Women’s Association of the NWT. He said he will bring his experience and passion for improving the North for everyone to the territorial legislature.
This interview was recorded on October 25, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emily Blake: To start, if elected, what would be your priorities or the most important issues you hope to tackle over the next four years?
Spencer Tracy: Great question, common question.
My number-one priority would have to be housing – but I do feel that housing is just so closely linked with other concerns that I have, and I think a lot of Yellowknife worries that my constituents have, which are improved mental and physical health for people, specifically on the margins and the underhoused. It’s linked to educational outcomes and, of course, it’s linked to the cost of living just with rent prices and real estate prices just increasing endlessly.
Within that, are there any specific goals or outcomes that you’d like to see?
I think something that the GNWT could do is set hard housing targets across the housing spectrum. So everything from new units for people with families, also targets for people who are maybe underhoused, so you know, transitional housing. I think we need clear targets for communities.
Of course, this would involve partnering with both the federal government and Indigenous governments. But personally, that would be something that I would take forward. Right now, I don’t have that number. But I think it’s something that we need to mandate. That we want to build this many houses over the next two years, over the next four years.
And then have quarterly updates from the Housing Corp saying, “OK, this is where we’re at, this is where we’re behind, this is where we’re ahead.” Just because right now, I feel like a lot of that data simply either doesn’t exist or, if it does, it’s not made public.
How would you ensure as an MLA that those priorities are addressed and those goals are enacted?
Right now, I feel like a lot of our most pressing concerns in the NWT – and I believe this personally but also, in banging on maybe 150 doors over the last week, the voters believe this to be true as well – a lot of our number-one priorities are often not discussed, or at least not prioritized.
So things like housing, right? We spend a lot more time talking about the Taltson hydro expansion, or maybe a conflict of interest in the ledge, whether it be someone breaking a Covid quarantine or…
And I really want to focus on a set few priorities as an assembly and have very clear goals on how we track those. So things around high school graduation rates, things around housing and the quality and the waitlists for housing. Something around mental health and addictions. What are we doing? What do those services that we talk about so often, wraparound services, what do we actually want to accomplish? And what’s the timeline?
Because right now, those topics often are not covered. We spend a lot more time talking about other interests. And I feel like sometimes those priorities do not get the attention they deserve.
During this election, the Frame Lake district is turning out to be one of the more competitive districts. What do you think makes you stand out as a candidate?
I’m thrilled that we have so many interested parties in serving Frame Lake and the next ledge.
What makes me stand out? A couple of things.
One is that I actually live in the district. I think that’s important. I recognize people. Going door to door has been great, because I’m just building those relationships with the neighbourhood.
Number two, if you look at my history, I came up here originally as an environmental scientist. I’ve since kind-of transitioned to education, working as a teacher. But also along the way, those 20 years, I have been really interested in housing. I worked a long time with individuals in Yellowknife that are either underhoused or marginalized, and so living kind-of on the fringes of society.
And I recognized early on as a teacher in the North, especially a teacher of adults, that housing is the number-one determinant of success. So I was working as the intake coordinator, kind-of a career counsellor for a long time downtown, above the post office, in fact. And when I was doing my intake interviews, what I learned early on is that if people are precariously housed, if they’re couch surfing, if they’re in and out of the shelter, those people really, really, really struggle to be successful. Despite how many training programs, how much money we throw at this problem. Housing just kind-of underpins so much of what is important.
And that’s something I’ve been working on for basically 20 years. That’s the experience that I feel like I can bring to the ledge.
What else makes me stand out? I guess that I’m passionate and I really believe that we can do better. And not just for people that are living precariously, or precariously employed, or people that are on the margins – I think we can do better for all of us.
I truly believe that the future – my future and my kids’ future – is closely tied to people that are less privileged than myself and my family. And I feel like that’s something I will focus on and will be an absolute priority if I end up being elected.
Are you still a teacher?
I took this semester off. Since Covid, I’ve been working part-time, just because with the school closures, I have three school-aged children. So I’ve been teaching them.
Also I’ve been doing some other work. I work a little bit as a carpenter. I have my own small business where I do housing and educational consulting in Nunavut and the NWT.
In your campaign you have also highlighted your work with the Native Women’s Association. Also talking about being a teacher and your other roles, what do you think your biggest successes have been in those roles?
I’ve also coached hockey, and I’ve been involved with lots of other youth organizations and non-profits – the curling club, Ecology North. What’s nice about working in public education or working for a non-profit is that you build a relationship with the entire spectrum of society. So it’s not just the hockey players, which are generally kind-of middle-class kids, right?
Being in a high school, especially over the last few years, it’s really reminded me just how divided our community is – some of the opportunities that exist for some kids and not for others. Whether it be housing stability, whether it be a healthy lunch, whether it be access to recreation, or arts, or on-the-land opportunities.
I think my greatest success has been working towards narrowing that gap a little bit. Whether it be through my work with non-profits, or volunteer work, or even now with my small business, something I’m trying to do is improve educational outcomes. Most recently I have been working with the college in Nunavut, but I feel like it’s a very similar situation here.
Kevin O’Reilly previously held this district for two terms and was known for his record on environmental issues. How do you plan to fill those shoes or maybe represent the district differently?
I’m a better hockey player than Kevin O’Reilly. I’ll just start with that.
I have an undergrad, I have a Bachelor of Science. And so for a long time I was really – and I still am – focused on issues of sustainability, and climate change, and reducing our carbon footprint. Then I went back to school, and I actually have a Master of Arts in community development and geography. I became more focused on housing and issues of poverty alleviation.
Going back to your question about environmentalism, I’ve been closely tied with the environmental movement – or concerned with the environmental movement – for 30 years. I was on the board of directors, I think I was the president, of Ecology North for a few years. I’m still active in some of those movements, whether it be waste reduction or community gardens. That is something that I’m concerned about.
If you visit my website, you’ll see that when I discuss climate change, I actually link a lot of it to cost of living. So what I really prioritize or focus on is ideas or initiatives that reduce our carbon footprint but also give Yellowknifers or northerners a break financially.
Simple things like our school bus system. I don’t think there’s a parent in Yellowknife that is impressed with our current school bus system. I think it should be fully subsidized. I think that if you live over a kilometre from school, you should have free access to school bus transportation from K to 12. That might involve a partnership with the city bus system as well.
Last year we saw a number of routes closing or cancelled because they couldn’t staff them or, you know, for a host of reasons. It’s unacceptable, right? There’s single parents, there’s people that don’t have vehicles. How do you get your kids to school?
I had a student in Grade 9, every day a taxi. Think of the cost of that. And then you think of the environmental implications. I live right near École Įtłʼǫ̀ and the number of vehicles that drive by there every day dropping off their children. And the high school, I teach at the high school, the number of parents dropping off their children throughout the year, there’s congestion issues like vehicle congestion, there’s environmental considerations, there’s safety considerations.
Making transportation free would not only encourage attendance and make sure kids can get to school, but it would give parents a little bit more time in the morning and after school. And then, of course, there’d be a reduction in oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
You talked about the fact that you live in Frame Lake. Why do you think it’s important for the MLA representing a district to live there?
I think running for public office is building relationships with your constituents.
I’ve already lived there, have already established relationships with that neighbourhood. And now they’re getting stronger. But I will continue to live there, and I will continue to see them when I go to check the mail, when I walk my kids to the tennis court and the swimming pool. And so I just feel like I’m rooted in that neighbourhood. I’ve done quite a bit of volunteer work there. I’ve been working with the city on improving the Forrest Park playground. Each year – although last year we had to take a break – I’ve been helping put in a hockey rink at Rat Lake.
I just feel like I’m really tied to that community. I feel like I have connections there. And that’s how I think you improve things, right? Is through that strengthening of community bonds, and community connections, and collaboration. If you don’t live there, it’s hard to imagine how you build that.
Is there anything else that you’d want to say to potential constituents?
I would just say get involved.
I’m a math teacher by trade but the last couple years, I’ve been teaching social studies. I think it’s so important that people engage with the political process, that they get informed, and that they vote. And that they discuss it with their family.
The other night, I went to a door and it was a father with his two grown children, and they were sitting around their fireplace, looked like maybe having a glass of wine, and they were talking politics. And they said, “Come in Mr Tracy, have a seat.” And I stood there much longer than I should have, probably for 25 minutes, and it was great. And I said, “This is so healthy. I wish this was the situation in every house.”
Get active and get informed, and think about what’s important to you. If you had a voice in the next assembly, what would you want cabinet to hear, the premier to hear? Is it housing? Is it climate change? Is it education? And bring those concerns, at this point, to those people running.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.