Danny McNeely, the Sahtu’s MLA from 2015 to 2019, wants to get back to work with community governments if he’s re-elected this year.
McNeely says he’ll focus on improving healthcare and education infrastructure in the Sahtu, pushing to complete construction of the Great Bear River bridge, and addressing high living costs.
In 2019, McNeely lost his seat to Paulie Chinna by 2022 votes. “This time around – because of the last four years and a lot of situations that have happened since then – I think we’re going to see a positive outcome for change throughout the election ridings,” he said.
This interview was recorded on October 20, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Aastha Sethi: Tell us about yourself and some of the work you’ve done in the past.
Danny McNeely: I’m a long-term resident of Norman Wells, born and raised in Fort Good Hope, a land claim beneficiary of the Sahtu Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim. I did extensive work here in the region, both in the private sector, government and industry. Going from the private sector, I went into a number of political positions at the local government levels, sitting on band councils and part of the land claim negotiating team. I ended up becoming the Sahtu MLA during the 18th Assembly.
In the 2019 election, you lost to Paulie Chinna. Do you believe the outcome will be different this time around?
First of all, it’s really hard to say. You’ve got to keep in mind, my last defeat was short by 22 votes. That’s a three-percent margin. This time around – because of the last four years and a lot of situations that have happened since then – I think we’re going to see a positive outcome for change throughout the election ridings.
In April, you shared with us some reasons that pushed you to seek re-election. You said little progress had been made. Would you like to elaborate on that?
If we look back at the projects that I advocated for – look at the Colville Lake school. We passed that in the 18th Assembly capital plan and there still remains no school in the community of Colville Lake. The health centre in Tulita is the same thing. These are both essential services to the livelihood of the community. These are two projects that are behind for various reasons of delay – mostly due to post-Covid inflationary costs. However, it needs to be done. The building in Tulita is partially built. The lumber material is sitting there. The piling foundation is in the ground and ready to move on to the next phase.
Those are just two building projects and there’s some unfinished business that I wanted to do there for the only NWT community self-government, the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government. We have the guardianship. We passed legislation here for the guardianship incorporation in Fort Good Hope at the Ramparts Delta area. We have our own infrastructure department based in the regional hub of Norman Wells. So, five communities got several things from the 18th Assembly and little movement was made, in particular the projects that I mentioned before plus the Mackenzie Valley Highway. During 2017, I was successful in doing some lobbying for some funding. We got funding for the Great Bear River bridge and some regulatory meetings and a small section of economic development road north of Wrigley. I don’t see very much movement in that area. As my poster says, we’d like to finish what we started.
What steps need to be taken to move these projects forward? In particular, the school you mentioned in Colville Lake, and the need for fast-tracking the highway’s construction after barging issues caused supply problems this summer.
It would take an aggressive position to finalize the decisions made to achieve that. If you take the school in Colville Lake, it’s seasonal access only. You only have several weeks to mobilize the material on the winter road so you can execute the project. These other projects related to the Mackenzie Valley Highway? We need an aggressive plan and a follow-up plan based on decisions. Decisions need to be made to cut it off and move the project forward. We were successful in seeing the developer’s assessment report being submitted from the GNWT to the regulatory agency. That is a milestone achievement through the regulatory process for the project to move to the next phase – the environmental assessment proceedings. So that process is going to commence, I’m hoping, as quickly as possible so we can start community engagements.
But also recognizing the need for that expedition is, as you said: the natural disasters are happening. The low water levels, the tugboats getting stuck nearby the community of Fort Providence, the Hay River delta. We depend on the barging season and we never saw the last barge here in September. There was deck cargo and fuel that never got delivered. So you think about the climate change – and do not deny climate change. It’s here. It’s real. These are just examples of the implications and the impacts of climate change. We have got to start thinking adaptation. How do we adapt for the Sahtu into climate change?
In April, you also mentioned ideas about creating employment opportunities. Can you tell me more about that?
Employment and economics, they’re both related. Training. Unfortunately, today’s society is totally different compared to years ago. I recall seeing the Norman Wells oil field expansion build the six man-made islands. In today’s reality, we will probably never see that project again, ever, because of the regulatory improvements that have happened since the 1980s. Several land claims have been concluded, giving authority to the regulatory systems of the NWT.
We’ve got to think differently in today’s society. I think the remediation opportunities forecast by GNWT are an ideal starting point to revive our local and regional economies in two particular areas. The abandoned mine sites on the south shores of Great Bear Lake are going through a remedial reclamation process. Norman Wells will soon go into the next phase from production to reclamation. So we have got to prepare our workforce and identify these opportunities, and prepare a training readiness plan for those opportunities created by reclamation.
Do you think you will be successful in pushing that plan forward?
There’s moneys committed to the abandoned mine sites on the south shore of Great Bear Lake and an estimated number for the reclamation of Norman Wells. Using both of these reclamation sites, we have in excess of a billion dollars.
Coming to housing. How do you think that can be improved in the Sahtu?
Housing to me is progressing. We can see some improvements. But let us look at what happened over the last two years with the federal engagement, recognizing the housing crisis. The Sahtu region has seen $75 million going from the federal government to the only community self-government in the NWT, and that’s the Délı̨nę Got’ı̨nę Government. So they got some funding and the regional land claim Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated got some funding, and together they have received $75 million.
You mentioned the health centre in Tulita is at a standstill, too.
The 18th Assembly issued the procurement process after approval of a capital plan for the health centre in Tulita. That went out to a contractor and then Covid-19 added some implications for the project moving ahead. Since then, it has been sitting there dormant and idle with partial work done. So you have some capital that’s committed to that project. Now, we just have to revisit the inflationary costs and see where the shortfall is and move to the next step of procuring and completing that project.
How do you think you’ll be able to fill that shortfall to move the project forward?
I can’t really say there. If I’m successful, I would first like to identify what the costs associated with completing it are before I can identify what the solutions might be, or even the shortfall.
Would you like to share anything else you feel like our audience should know about you?
I want to say in closing here, aside from the projects that I mentioned, we have some high concerns of our regional cost of living. I’d like to explore that and I’d also like to explore the issues of education and partnership with BC’s curriculum system. I’d like to also visit how we can move towards a strategic plan on mental health. In the community of Délı̨nę, with their only self-government in the NWT out of 33 communities, I’d like to revisit the ice crossing there. In February 2016, a fuel truck fell through the ice. Great Bear Lake is registered as a biosphere and also the community is very rich and strong and their language and culture. Those are just some of the areas on which I’d like to work with the community government that we had initially started during the 18th Assembly.
Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.