NWT Election 2019
Yellowknife

YK could be two councillors short after territorial election


One Yellowknife city councillor is standing in October's territorial election and another is considering doing the same, with Friday the deadline to submit the relevant paperwork.

Rommel Silverio, a 22-year resident of Yellowknife and two-time city councillor, was on Tuesday confirmed by Elections NWT as a candidate for MLA in Kam Lake.

The district now has six candidates, including incumbent Kieron Testart, and is easily the most crowded race in the territory as things stand.

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Three-term councillor Niels Konge, regarded as an outspoken member of council, said on Tuesday he is reserving his right to wait until Friday to officially declare his candidacy.

As first reported by the Yellowknifer, Konge tipped reporters off to his intentions as he stepped out of council chambers during a Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce presentation on territorial election priorities, declaring a conflict.

The day after the territory's chief electoral officer issued the writ for all 19 districts, 25 candidates have so far filed their nomination papers. Potential candidates have until Friday to submit their papers.

For both Silverio and Konge, territorial politics provides answers to some of their frustrations in working to solve issues like Yellowknife's social problems, transfer payments from the territorial government, or land transfers.

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"The GNWT holds the keys to a lot of those opportunities. They just need to start unlocking doors," Konge said.

Apart from his focus on social issues, land transfers, and the $11 million the City says it is owed by the territory, Silverio didn't mince words about the dire state of healthcare staffing in the Northwest Territories.

"There's a growing crisis in the hospital right now. Not just in Yellowknife, across the board in terms of short staff," said Silverio, who is also president of the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

"More and more I'm hearing doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers leaving the territories because they're so burned out. There's no investment in the people."

A 14-year veteran of nursing in the North and currently a patient coordinator at Stanton Territorial Hospital, Silverio said staffing issues are manifesting themselves in the new hospital's inability to open some programs, while others are admitting fewer patients.

Silverio said he wants to see a forward-looking strategy on recruitment and retention of staff instead of "band-aid" solutions like bringing in temporary workers.

Staffing for the growing problem of mental health issues among young people – including a child psychiatrist, which the territory doesn't have – needs to be addressed "as early as possible," Silverio added. (A recently announced anonymous $2-million donation will help some NWT youth access psychiatry services by phone and video.)

Konge said he hadn't considered territorial politics until he was approached by several people urging him to run in the past week.

If he were to run, Konge said, he would focus on the perennial issue of cost of living. Other areas of focus would include power, social issues in Yellowknife, and land.

Konge has repeatedly argued for the City to push for fee simple acquisition of territorially owned land, as opposed to the practice of leasing land from the NWT government.

"I think that that is an issue that the GNWT has completely dropped the ball on. They were looking at a Lands Act and unfortunately didn't get very far," said Konge on Tuesday.

While Konge is a resident of Kam Lake, he ruled out running in that district. Having counselled several candidates running in Kam Lake, Konge said it wouldn't be fair to counsel then run against them.

If one or both of the councillors were to be elected, Silverio explained, there would have to be a by-election to fill the empty council seats. Up until that point, however, the councillors say they will be able to keep their seats at City Hall and go on the campaign trail.

Cabin Radio will feature extensive interviews with NWT election candidates beginning at the start of September, when nominations officially open. Bookmark our NWT Election 2019 homepage to follow our coverage.

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