Rocky Simpson in Hay River on October 12, 2023. Aastha Sethi/Cabin Radio
Incumbent Rocky Simpson says he will continue to be accessible and address issues for residents of Hay River South if re-elected to a second term
Simpson says he will prioritize the recovery effort for residents impacted by floods and wildfires, advocate for harbour remediation, champion the Mackenzie Valley Highway project, and work to address the illicit drug trade.
If elected, Simpson says his main focus will be securing proper resources for disaster recovery in the community, by working with other MLAs to bolster the leadership of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, which is responsible.
Meanwhile, he says the Mackenzie Valley Highway would “open up the North” and allow more development along the road’s route.
Simpson wants to implement civil legislation to address Hay River’s drug problem and strengthen aftercare programs to help people recovering from addiction.
This interview was recorded on October 25, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Simona Rosenfield: I’d like to start by asking you about your time in the 19th Legislative Assembly. Can you speak to what you accomplished for your constituents?
Rocky Simpson: I think the biggest thing that I was able to accomplish is that I actually provide a voice to all the people that maybe didn’t have one.
I was very accessible. For four years, people were able to get a hold of me. We returned calls and worked on numerous issues for constituents in Hay River, and also from other communities as well. That was one of the biggest things and one of the most important things as well.
At the end of the day, for me, it’s all about representation of the constituents and people of the NWT.
The other things would be: we were able to get additional positions for the health centre here in Hay River. We were able to get dredging operational again, after numerous years without it. And we were able to work through two years of Covid, two fires and one flood.
As you said, Hay River has evacuated multiple times as the result of wildfires and floods over the past few years. How have you made a meaningful difference to residents affected by these crises and what support can they expect in the next assembly, if you’re re-elected?
One thing I think I’ve done is, again, being accessible. And with my background as well – I do have a technical background, I do have a legal background. I understand the processes that people have to work through.
In Hay River you have some people who are not quite sure where to start with the process of rebuilding, while you have others that maybe had insurance and are able to go through the system fairly easily. So it’s people who need a hand that usually come to me, and that’s been actually keeping me quite busy. It includes getting quotes for people, doing the paperwork, helping them do the paperwork, talk to pathfinders for them, talk to the minister for them. So, there’s a lot of advocacy there that’s required.
One of the things that we have to do, though – and I’ve talked to the minister about it – is we have to put more resources towards recovery for Hay River, because it’s a year and a half since the flood and we still have people living in motels, temporary accommodation. And if we don’t do something quickly in this next assembly, I doubt very much if we’re going to be able to complete recovery in the next assembly.
So that’s my priority. My big priority is recovery for people from the flooding and the fires, and they really need some support, and they need a supportive government to do that.
Can you share more about the key elements to your platform?
The big thing for me is the floods and fire recovery. That’s the big one. Being accessible, and then also the flooding, the fires.
Hay River itself, we’ve had low water levels, everybody knows that. We’ve had issues with barging. Going forward, if that’s the way of the future, it’s going to impact Hay River itself and the industry we have.
Hay River needs to revitalize itself, it needs to reinvent itself. But that takes the residents, it takes the town government, it takes the Indigenous governments, and it also takes the NWT government to make that happen.
There’s lots of potential here for Hay River in terms of the manufacturing sector. We’re close enough to the border where we can ship stuff back into Alberta. We have the rail and highway as well. So, those are a couple of things.
The harbour remediation, that’s been a big sticking point for Hay River, and that we’ve got to keep pushing. What I’m hoping to do, if elected, is to keep pushing that, and I like to see that we get some additional funding from the government – I’m hoping that we get up to $35 million to do some long-term harbour remediation, to ensure that MTS and the fishing vessels and other boats have access to the harbour without any damage.
Those are the main ones. Some of the other stuff is, everybody knows, with the amount of drugs around and addictions and that, we’ve got to do something different. When I look at what’s happening, I look at it and I say, it’s really all about money. We have drug dealers, they’re there for the money, and they need people to be able to sell it to.
So, we have to do something a little bit different. We have criminal law, but I think we also need some civil legislation. And one of them is implementing the Scan legislation and civil forfeiture legislation, so that the RCMP will have a little bit more to go on. We’ve got to be able to hit those that are selling where it hurts, take what money they make, take their assets and be able to hold them, and maybe that will deter some of that.
We’ve also got to make sure that we have in place the healthcare supports as well, for people, for addictions. We really have to look at that, because if we want a healthy economy, we need a healthy population.
Earlier, you mentioned your priority is the recovery for people affected by the floods and wildfires. The flooding happened a year and a half ago, and some residents are still living in temporary accommodation. What will you do differently in the next assembly to really secure support for people who are displaced as a result of these disasters?
If I get in there, one thing we need is: whoever the minister of Maca is, we need somebody who’s in there that understands the processes, that understands the programs that the federal government provides. I don’t think that, in this last government, Maca actually utilized those programs to the fullest extent.
When it comes to electing a premier and electing the cabinet, I want to make sure that we get the right people in there, because if you don’t have the right leadership to push that, we’re going to be going through the same thing.
I would want a commitment that we’re going to see additional resources, and that we’re going to have a department that is a “yes” department and not a “no” department, and find ways and solutions to ensure that people are looked after to the fullest.
I’d like to see those that have been impacted to at least get close to where they were before the fire and the floods. Nobody’s going to be 100 percent, but I want to get as close to that as we can.
We are the ones that have to be out there and making it happen. I know people are coming to me, and it’s been tough trying to deal with the department on some of the issues that people are bringing forth, but we just need the right team in place.
Moving on to industry. You mentioned rail, highways, manufacturing, the harbour remediation. What’s your vision for energizing the economy through the stagnation that it suffered in the past few years?
When I look at the Northwest Territories, government is a big part of the economy. The government provides a lot of the work. But we also need the private sector as well.
People want to spend a lot of time promoting natural resources. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work in the oil and gas industry when I was younger, and spend a number of years in there, and got some education in that as well. I know what the resource sector can do for people in terms of employment, education and that. We have to do something to promote that.
But again, resource companies, if there’s money to be made here, I would think they would be approaching us and coming to our doorstep, and trying to do some exploration development.
One thing I’d like to see – and one thing that I’d like to champion – is the Mackenzie Valley Highway. I don’t think we’ve had anybody champion that project for a number of years, and somebody has to do that.
That’ll open up the North to the communities, and I would hope that it would also open up the North to other areas of development along that highway. We could have offshoots there.
I told people before: I was 16 years old and I was actually working on the highway just south of Wrigley. It hasn’t progressed much past that in the last 50 years. We haven’t made much headway, and somebody has to champion that and get the federal government to buy into it and make it happen.
I’d like to pivot and talk about substance use. You spoke about how you’d address the illicit drug trade, but what kind of support will you offer to people who are navigating addiction?
I actually spend a lot of time walking around town and talking to people that are on the street, and helping them out as well, and trying to find out what it is they want.
Some of them, they know where they’re at, they know what the issue is, and they know what their problem is. We need probably more facilities, recovery-type facilities in the North.
Some of them don’t mind going south. It takes them away from what’s in front of them here in the North. But when they come back, they just don’t have that aftercare.
We have to concentrate on that aftercare. We have the facilities in the south we can send them to, but we don’t have anything for them when they come back, or very, very little, at least in the regional and probably smaller centres. Yellowknife may have something, a little more support.
And the other thing as well is the families and friends have to be supportive as well, for those that are coming back. We don’t want to stigmatize people, because they’re already going through enough.
We have time for one last question. Briefly, can you tell voters why they should support you on election day?
For me, it’s all about the people.
When I ran last time, I said I would be here throughout the entirety of the four years, I would be available. And I’ve done that.
I’ve been able to provide services that we don’t have to people. I’ve been able to provide legal services in terms of helping people do wills and land transfers, and things like that – free of charge, of course.
I’ve been able to listen to people. I like to listen to what people have to say. I’d like to know their issues and I’d like to also try to solve those issues for them. That’s the important thing for me. It’s all about the residents and it’s about the people of the Northwest Territories. They’re my priority.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said: “It’s no secret that I had a business that ran into some trouble when the oil and gas industry went down, and that’s public knowledge through the courts. So, if there’s any information you need, you just have to look through the court documents.”