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NWT Election 2019

NWT Election 2019: Cherish Winsor's Kam Lake interview


Cherish Winsor hopes to be the next MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake.

Best-known as president of YWCA NWT and the Yellowknife Food Bank, Winsor's campaign literature promotes her mining background and desire for the NWT to "invest in this industry through strategic infrastructure, exploration, and innovative technologies."

In her interview with Cabin Radio, she sets out her platform's key planks of growth, opportunity, and leadership, and explains why her platform places a focus on the economy and social issues ahead of environmental concerns.

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Winsor says the NWT should pilot the introduction of a guaranteed income for all, as a means of saving on costly administration of current income support programs.

She says the NWT must have a clear strategy to maximize availability of federal funding, calls for the introduction of a child and youth advocate, and suggests childcare in the territory be heavily subsidized.

Below, find a transcript of the full interview.

Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News podcast.

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More information: Cherish Winsor's campaign website

More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far


This interview was recorded on September 3, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ollie Williams: What are you offering the people of Kam Lake? What's your basic pitch?

Cherish Winsor: My signs all say growth, opportunity, and leadership. Those are my big tenets of my platform. So growth in terms of economic growth – I haven't seen a lot of strategic thought in the current assembly and I think we are too focused on the here and now. We need to look more strategically, more long-term into what we're doing.

And so for me, growth in our economy is huge. I want to invest in the resource extraction sector, I think we need to really look at not just our short-term, not just our long-term, but something in the medium-term: what are we going to do for the next 10, 20 years? And so for me, that's going to look at mining. We do need to diversify our economy, but certainly mining is where we are right now. So just supporting and protecting the economies.

Opportunity: I'm going to be the social-issues candidate for sure. My background with the YWCA and with the food bank, they're definitely going to be what people know me for. That's definitely a big part of my platform. So housing, homelessness, mental health and addictions, especially for youth support for children and families, that's all under opportunities.

And then leadership. One of my competitors, Kieron, talked a lot about party politics, and so I decided I was going to come out pretty strong for consensus government. It's something I really believe in. So he's kind-of backed off on that a little bit but I want to make sure that the people know that's something I'm for, not something that I would ever advocate to get rid of for the North.

He had a bit of a point, though, didn't he? You've just said the territorial government lacked strategic direction for the last four years. You had to wait till now to do anything about it, you don't have a party to kick out, the party doesn't have control over ministers to kick out. He had a bit of a point, didn't he, about accountability?

I don't see it the same way. I mean, we have 19 opinions, we would have 19 opinions, whether they were from parties or not. But with the consensus system, we have a better chance of bringing the issues that people care about within our constituencies to the table. We're not protecting a party, we're not all looking at the same party lines with the same conversations over and over that the party wants to push.

I mean, we can see it now in the federal government. All of these spending announcements, they're all because it's the party rhetoric. That's what's coming out. So if we're all about our constituents, and we want to look at what the actual people of the Northwest Territories want, we have to look at the consensus system.

The issue with the consensus system is cabinet solidarity. That's where it falls down. And so I think we need to fix it a little bit, you know, change a little bit and finesse it, but I don't think we need to get rid of it altogether.

Let's get into some of your platform specifics. A line that leaps out to me is a guaranteed income program that "reduces the administration and cost of the GNWT's complex income security programs." When you say a guaranteed income program, what do you mean?

So first of all, it would have to start with a pilot project. I mean, I'm not advocating for bringing something in fully. I would like to see, during this assembly, a pilot project in one or two communities of a guaranteed income. So that would look at a base set income for everyone, a set amount, whatever that works out to be – we have really, really smart people that would figure out what that should be, how much that should be.

The idea is that it would reduce the administrative burden on the GNWT. We're spending a ton of money, we have so many employees basically policing a lot of the income-assistance clients. And it's not just income assistance, this is our whole income security programs. And so a guaranteed income program, I think, would allow us to reduce that burden by just providing the same amount of money to everyone.

The way it works is it's seen as income on your taxes. Those with a lower income or with no income, they would not have to pay any taxes on it, so it would just be almost the same as getting income assistance, but without the reporting that they have to do now. But for other people, it would just show them as a higher income when they do their taxes.

For lower-income people right now, people that are on income assistance, they have to report every month. That's different from a lot of other jurisdictions where it's ongoing – it's not something that everybody knows, but every month you have to resubmit your paperwork. Not everyone, I shouldn't say blanket, but generally, that's the way the program works. And that takes a lot of administrative burden just to process all that paperwork all of the time. So the number of employees we have doing that, that's a lot of money that the government's wasting. I don't think people are being as supported, that way, as they could be. And then we're wasting money on places that I don't think we really need to.

On the one hand, we have the guaranteed income. On the other hand, if I look at the rest of your platform – you acknowledge that Kam Lake has a lot of small business interest. A lot of your platform is geared toward small business in Kam Lake, for example, "a balanced approach to minimum wage." What does that mean?

As a social issues candidate, people would probably assume that I am for increasing the minimum wage. However, I think if we were to increase the minimum wage too high, which is kind-of what people are pushing for… so everyone has this idea of a $15 minimum wage, just because that's the number that's been floated around. But we have people, we have a committee every two years that looks at minimum wage. It's made up of people in different industries, business, NGOs, everyone, and they look at it and they make recommendations. And the $15 that's been floated around isn't one of those recommendations, it doesn't make sense because it's not a reality for our territory.

I don't want to get into the math of it because I'm going to mess something up if I try to actually look at that, but we need to balance between what businesses can handle and what people need. So absolutely a living wage, I understand the need for a living wage–

Which is about eight bucks an hour more, last pegged at about $23 an hour.

It's seriously higher. I would encourage businesses, obviously, if they can afford it, to pay minimum wage, but if we look at the minimum wage, that's the lowest legislated amount that a business can pay. That's not necessarily an amount that a parent is going to make. That's not necessarily the amount that someone who's trying to support a family is going to make.

Editor's note: Cherish Winsor later told Cabin Radio she slightly misspoke in this answer and meant to say she would encourage businesses to pay a living wage, as opposed to the minimum wage.

In the Northwest Territories, we have about 400 people that make minimum wage, most of them are youth, they don't need a living wage. Living wage is based off, you know, a dual-income family with two kids. That's not the same people that are getting the minimum wage.

So we have to look at how that balances between business needs and their need to still be able to hire and make a profit, and then the employees' needs of being able to actually make some money. So when I look at my teenagers, they don't need 20-something dollars an hour. The $13.46 that it is now or a little higher? That's OK.

The bigger problem for small businesses trying to remain competitive is government salaries, isn't it? Not the minimum wage.

Well, I guess it depends on the industry. I mean, it depends on what the employees do.

For example, if we looked at restaurants, places like that, often they tend to lose people either to the diamond mines or to government rather than necessarily to competitors. There's certainly a fear, I think, among small businesses, that they struggle to compete salary-wise with the two big institutions, which are the GNWT and the mines.

Absolutely. And I don't know what the answer would be for that. I mean, increasing the minimum wage isn't going to help that. But that's something obviously that would need to be looked at. I mean, I don't really know what a government could do, because it's, you know, a free market on the side of employees.

It comes down to the capacity and the skills that the workers have in the territory. Part of my platform talks about bringing people to the North, not only for the economic benefit of the $30,000 per head that we get from the federal government, but also to bring more skills and more capacity to the North, so that we can have more businesses and more employees being able to work.

I mean, you know, through immigration, or through other people that live within the country, we need to entice them to come here so that we can grow. Without them, we're not going to be able to fill any of the labour shortages, whether that's government or or elsewhere.

Looking at the economy in the bigger picture, you seem very on-board with the territorial government's recent approach to infrastructure, in terms of the way that the territorial government is trying to secure federal investment in big, big projects, like the Slave Geological Province access corridor and the Taltson hydro expansion. Those seem from what I can read like projects you definitely want to see happen.

Absolutely. I think we have a huge focus on the North right now both nationally and internationally – I mean, we see so much happening. You know, Trump had his bid for Greenland! We see everybody is noticing the North and the Arctic, and they want a piece of that. And here at home, nationally, why not capitalize on that and do what we can to use federal dollars that aren't our own to build these things? So if it's ripe for the picking, then go for it. That's how I see it.

I don't want to spend our own money. We don't have the money to do these things. But if the timing's right, and if it makes sense, if we have a strategic direction, then use it. If the territorial government has a strategy for the North, and what we want to do over the next 10, 20 years, then we can use that to pull in the funding.

I mean, if the funding's there, and we're not ready for it, and we don't know what we're going to do, then we're not going to get that money. So I think we really need to focus on making sure that we have a strategy where we know where we want to go. And then we can advocate for that money.

On the flip side of this, I can't find the word "environment" on your website.

So, I mean, we can't include everything in our platforms. You've seen my platform, it's a 16-page book already. So we can't include everything. And I decided that the issues that people know me for, the issues that I'm going to really push, are the ones that I've included – and that doesn't mean that I don't care about the environment.

Absolutely, climate action is a big part of what we need to do as a territory. I mean, we're the North, we're going to feel it the most out of anywhere. We have the least control over climate change, and yet we have the biggest effects happening here. So absolutely, that's a part of it. But it's just something that I didn't choose to include in my actual written platform right now.

It's definitely something a lot of people want to hear about in this election, more so than the ones that have gone before it. When you say climate action, what are you imagining?

It's hard to say. I mean, I've read a lot of what the government is doing now, what the territorial government proposes to do, and I think we have a decent handle on it. But at the same time, I don't think any of us actually have the answers. What's the numbers? Eighty-something percent care about climate change or want to see climate action? But they don't want to pay for it. So again, what's the solution? It's so hard to say what we can actually do without any money.

So back to the infrastructure problem. If we can get our communities off diesel by projects like the Taltson hydroelectric project and connect to the grid to the south that would allow us to get our communities off diesel, that would reduce our emissions.

Our own emissions in the territory aren't going to make a big difference. It is a global issue. So I think for us, our focus needs to be more on protecting the infrastructure that we have now. I mean, we're falling into the ocean in some places. That needs to be what we look at: how we protect ourselves from the changes that are already happening, not necessarily how we're going to stop our emissions or reduce our emissions.

I want to come back to the core of your platform and talk about daycare and childcare. Your platform talks about affordable and accessible childcare in all communities being a priority. What does affordable mean here?

I don't have kids in childcare any more, my youngest is six. It used to be $45 a day that I paid for childcare and, if you have more than one, that becomes unaffordable really, really quickly. So in Quebec – I don't know the exact figure – was it $7-a-day daycare? I don't want universal, free daycare, I don't think we could ever afford that here, but some sort of subsidies that keep it affordable. Under $20 a day, $10 a day, I don't know what that would actually end up looking like. There are lots of smart people that would be able to look at those numbers and figure out what we could actually afford.

But it needs to be a number that makes sense for the people within those communities. So we have 11 communities that don't have daycares. We need to focus on building those daycares. We need to focus on making sure that we have people to staff those daycares. And then we actually can look at what the funding is going to be, what kind of subsidies we could give as a government.

There's also the federal government that can be looking at that as well. We don't know who's going to get in and we don't know what those relationships could be like. So we'd have to wait and see how that plays out.

People listening will also probably be well aware that Child and Family Services in the NWT has been the subject of a couple of critical reviews over the past five years. You are suggesting a child and youth advocate could be part of that solution. Why?

Absolutely. Kids don't have a voice and a child and youth advocate would keep government accountable, would be able to look at those cases that we hear. Too often we hear about cases when they're too far gone, or when there are things that have already happened. We need a child advocate that can step in earlier on and advocate for the needs of those children, you know, before something catastrophic happens or before something really, really dangerous happens. So before a review comes along every however-long, if an advocate can step in throughout and help some of these cases, that's all I meant by that.

If I gave you 30 seconds, how would you describe the personal qualities you have that we'd see from you as an MLA? What do you as a person bring to the job?

As I started off saying, in the beginning, I bring a strategic focus to what I do. So as the president of the YWCA, my job was to make sure that the board is looking strategically long-term at what we're looking to accomplish, and making sure that our vision is always at the front of our mind. So I bring that, and not just from the Y but from everything I do.

I would bring the long-term focus, I would bring the strategic direction, and not necessarily looking at the day-to-day. We have an administration that does that. We have hundreds of government employees that look at the day-to-day. The point of the MLAs is to make sure that the entire government is going in the direction of where the people want it to go. And so that would be what I would bring to it. And I think my time both in my professional and in my volunteer lives, I think that I've gained those skills from there.

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