With his experience working for the Justice Department, years of community service and time in local politics, Vince McKay hopes to become Hay River South’s next MLA.
McKay says, if elected, he will focus on the issues closest to home, which include government funding, substance use disorder, and the high cost of living in the North.
He says he intends to work with the territorial government to secure funding for local organizations as well as residents who lost their homes due to natural disasters. McKay also says he will work on facilitating communication between community members and the GNWT, to help simplify the process and get the “government red tape fixed.”
He also says he’ll address the illicit drug trade by increasing support to enforcement agencies as well as working to find more resources to help vulnerable residents.
McKay says he will “find a different solution” to the federal carbon tax to address the high cost of living in the North.
He wants to sit down with Ottawa “and try to get some of these funds that are used for carbon tax … to the people that were impacted by climate change.”
This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Simona Rosenfield: You were a councillor in Hay River for years before stepping back from politics in 2018. Why did you decide to run for MLA?
Vince McKay: I’m from Hay River, born and raised. I’m pretty passionate about our community and I enjoy politics. However, I also enjoy working for the community and I think I have some good ways to get things done.
I left council not because of anything other than I wanted to concentrate on my family. I had a son graduating and my daughter entered into high school. I had a vision, even back then, of running for politics as an MLA once my kids were at that age where they could fend for themselves, essentially.
What are some things you hope to see addressed in the next assembly?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially over the last few years with all our issues in Hay River. The territorial government will always take care of the Territories. I think right now, with everything that’s been going on in our town, we need an MLA that’s going to prioritize the community and concentrate on the issues at home.
That’s my goal, if I get elected: to concentrate a lot on the home issues, ground-level stuff. The territorial government will always take care of itself. Of course, I will be involved in the discussion if elected, but my priority is the community itself.
Can you give three examples of issues you would address in the next assembly?
Funding in general is always an issue. Everybody can always complain about money, but when you can point out and prove to the territorial government the shortfalls that Hay River has been getting for years, and nothing’s been changed, then there’s a problem there.
We sat down with Municipal and Community Affairs years ago as town council and showed them their formula funding errors, and nothing’s ever been changed.
I’ve most recently seen numerous organizations lose funding in Hay River and I’d like to work on finding a better solution to get the money back out to the communities, including Hay River.
Another issue at hand is we’ve been through a lot as a community: fires, floods. It’s nice that the territorial government, federal government always step up to fork out some money a little bit. But that being said, that money does not come without a bunch of red tape. And I mean, a bunch of red tape.
We’ve got elderly people who don’t work well with technology. We have people in general that don’t work well with technology. It can get time-consuming when they want to concentrate on their home. And I want to work on getting the government funding, the government red tape fixed, and get the money to the people that need it with fires and floods.
Sadly, Hay River’s the hub of drugs also. We’re not only the hub of transportation and the hub for other things, we’re also the hub for the drug trade for the Northwest Territories. And I think the government has forgotten about that. We need more resources here to combat this bad drug trade, illegal drugs getting into the Territories.
And our main road comes by Hay River. We need to station some resources here to assist the enforcement agencies, but also have the resources available if something does happen and they need to take action on it. We do have a lot of problems. Enforcement’s not always the issue, but when it comes down to slowing things down and helping our most vulnerable, we need to get those things off the streets first.
Looping back to the fires and floods. Year after year, the community has seen the impacts of climate change. What are your ideas to combat climate change?
Climate change is a huge, huge topic, and it’s always so simple to point fingers at carbon fuels and all that stuff. This is a world issue, not just a Canada or North issue.
To me, we’ve been taxed here far too much. Our carbon tax is crazy. Our cost of living is already ridiculous. But, to me, things have to change. We’re not like Edmonton or Toronto or anything like that – we’re a small territory.
We need to sit down with the federal government, find a way to work on proving to them our impact in the North is small, keep our cost of living down, and try to get some of these funds that are used for carbon tax and everything else back to helping with technology, getting it to the people that were impacted by climate change.
I will speak only of Hay River at this time. We just had people lose their homes in fires and floods, and they’re still – even from the floods, they’re still battling to get money, get assistance.
Regarding the carbon tax, is that something that you would address directly with the federal government?
I would. To me, the impact that it’s done to the Northwest Territories for a carbon tax is too much. It’s hurt a lot of individuals. There has to be a different solution on how to lessen the impact to us as the North in general, and the smaller communities, where the cost of living is already ridiculous. They’ve got to work with us and find a different solution.
Do you have any other ideas to help regulate the high cost of living?
The reality is, talking to quite a few people and knowing how, for example, how diesel generation works – the diesel generators we use for the communities – it’s always easy to say they’re going to go away, and we can get rid of them as quick as we can. But, the reality is, you’re not going to get rid of them. They’re too reliable, the backup’s too reliable. When it comes down to stuff like energy and essential means, we need to take away this carbon tax. We need to get rid of it.
Moving on, I’d like to talk more about the illicit drug trade. What role do you see the government playing on this front?
I think the biggest thing for us is we need to make it uncomfortable for these drug dealers to do work in our communities. And right now, it’s not. It’s pretty easy for them to do work in our communities.
There’s a lot of people impacted by drug use in the communities. And it’s affected everybody, including myself, our own families. If you’ve lived in the North and you haven’t been touched by somebody who has been involved with drug use in the North, it’s very rare. It might be a family or friend. It’s taking out families.
We need to start with enforcement, make it harder for these guys to do work up here. And then start helping our people, getting them to treatment, getting them the resources they need to overcome these addictions.
There is currently no addictions treatment centre in the Northwest Territories, leading residents south to access these services. What are your thoughts on that?
I’ve worked in the Justice Department for corrections for 24 years. I’ve seen it first-hand, how it acts on people or how it affects people. To have no alcohol and drug treatment program in the Northwest Territories is not an excuse. It needs to be done.
We need something at home for our people. Once it’s a specialty thing, for sure, we can send them south, go to Calgary for fentanyl-related stuff. But we need something in the North.
We also need to support these programs by aftercare programming. Sometimes you spend all this time and money on an individual, and you send them right back to the same environment they came from. It’s not going to be helpful for them.
So, I think the important thing for the North is to re-strategize what we do with our money for addictions and work on getting these people the help they need locally first, of course, and then outside agencies.
I’d like to ask about your vision for the economy in Hay River.
This is always a tough one, because it depends on where you are in the North. The economy in the North is so vast. It’s up and down, all over the place.
For Hay River, I think our economy is based on transportation and construction. We do have manufacturers in Hay River that need to be utilized and used more. But we also need to rethink construction. People don’t want to work in very small communities for a long period of time.
So why aren’t we processing modular homes in Hay River and then transporting them out to these small communities on barges, and getting them into communities all set up, the next summer?
There’s other ways of doing stuff here in the North that I think would be more cost-effective. And then your tradespeople are living in a place where they can call home, like Hay River. I think we’d be more effective and efficient for getting these things done.
Our economy in Hay River – we’ve been a strong, vibrant community. We’ve had a lot of impact. We’re suffering right now. I think we’ll bounce back with the right people helping our government make some decisions to help our community.
Some residents of Hay River lost their homes in the wildfires this year. If elected, what can residents can expect in terms of support from the government?
This is really tough, because it’s such a slow process with the government, and that’s already started. I’d definitely get in there to try to push some of this money, to get it going as quick as we can.
There’s a lot of issues here. Like, the 90-percent payment of funds to residents to recover. To me, it doesn’t even make sense. These residents are at a disadvantage right now, based on decisions made in the government. And that needs to come to the forefront. We need to be able to rebuild these places for these people off 100-percent government dime. You can always say there’s no money, but we always seem to find money for other things.
These houses can be replaced. And if it’s not insurance, combination top-up with government funds. I support rebuilding these individuals’ homes with 100-percent government dollars, based on poor decisions that the government made.
Last question. Why are you the right candidate for this position?
Looking at my experience, my knowledge of the area, my community commitment – I’m out there all the time, I see things that are going on. I just don’t talk about this stuff but I hear about it, I see it, I’m out there.
My curtains don’t close at 9 o’clock at night. I’m involved in the community, I work for the community to help volunteerism and help things happen in Hay River, so people come out and do things. My involvement in the community is one of the main reasons why I think I’m a good candidate, but also my commitment to the community.
My experience with the government – 25 years. My experience with politics for 15 years. I think that says it itself, really. I think I have the experience to work with people to get things done.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.