Dave Ramsay hopes to be the next MLA for Yellowknife’s Frame Lake.
Ramsay, the Kam Lake MLA from 2003 until Kieron Testart defeated him in 2015, said in July: “This city and territory holds so much hope and promise, but it seems the last four years have shown very little evidence of progress.”
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Ramsay said he had the leadership experience required to fill the “big void” left by a number of cabinet ministers stepping down at this election.
Promising he would “charge up the Northwest Territories economy” – a nod to his role at mining company Fortune, whose NICO mine would supply elements for electric vehicle batteries – Ramsay said the all-season road into the Slave Geological Province should be the NWT’s number-one priority. “The future of this territory could rest on us building that road,” he said.
Attempting to head off the perception that he is more economically than environmentally minded, Ramsay said: “I’m a balanced guy. I’ve always been – if you look through my campaign literature, the environment, climate change, that’s front and centre. We can’t do one without the other.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Ramsay’s interview is to be broadcast on September 6.
More information: Dave Ramsay’s campaign Facebook page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 4, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: Give us an opening sense of your priorities.
Dave Ramsay: I’ve been out of politics now for four years. So I’ve been on the other side of the fence, working with indigenous groups and the private sector. So I got to see government from a much different perspective. And there are roadblocks there. There are hurdles, challenges in dealing with government. In running again, I’m coming at this from a completely different angle.
You know, I’ve spent the last four years again, still trying to attract investment into the territory and get the economy moving from a different perspective. But my main goal is to charge up the Northwest Territories economy. This is a pivotal election, I think – the time for leadership experience. We’re losing four cabinet ministers including probably the premier, who hasn’t announced yet. That’s a big void to fill and now, more than ever, we need people elected to this next government that are going to work together.
We saw far too much bickering, far too much criticism, complaining, bellyaching – that kind of stuff has to stop and people have to work together, otherwise we’re not going to go anywhere. And really, my strength is in trying to bring people together. I’ve worked with a number of groups outside of Yellowknife, across the Northwest Territories, in my private company. I’ve got a world of experience in politics, close to 20 years. I’m comfortable sitting down with anybody: wouldn’t matter if you’re the Prime Minister, the premier of the province, the CEO of a major company, I’ve got that experience. So I think that’s going to be invaluable here as we try to turn things around.
Your campaign slogan is, “A clear choice.” What do you mean by that?
One of the decisions to run in Frame Lake was to give people a choice. We can look to the future with some optimism, or we can look to the future with some real scared looks. And from what I’ve seen over the past four years, you know, a lot of people do not want to see us continue down the path we’re going.
Property values are falling. We’re looking at diamond mines closing down here in the near future. It’s time we did something about it. And we can’t afford to wait four more years. We can’t afford to wait another year. We have to get aggressive on how we attract investment here, and it has to happen now.
I feel like the NWT government, if it had representatives in this room, would say, “Well, yeah, we know that, we’ve been trying.” What would you do that hasn’t already been done to try to attract some of that investment, to try to get the economy going?
I haven’t seen a lot of promotion of the Northwest Territories. What they say is you sell what you’ve got. What we’ve got is aurora and we’ve got cold weather. And I think we can do a lot more when it comes to promoting the Northwest Territories and Yellowknife, specifically.
Such as what?
Cold-weather testing, attracting big companies here to test their equipment.
Well, they’ve done that. There has been about a $5-million investment in the last few years, they’re trying to invest more in it.
Yes, we’ve done some of it, but we need to do more of it. And we have to aggressively get out there and meet with companies and attract them here. And I think we can do a better job of doing that and get more investment here.
On the aurora side, in tourism, we’ve done a lot. I led a couple of trade missions to China and Japan during my time as minister. We need to be doing more of that. I mean, I think a lot of the increase in tourism you see here is a direct result of us marketing ourselves internationally and nationally. And we have to do a lot more of that as well.
You weren’t successful four years ago. What lessons did you learn from your last campaign about maybe doing things differently this time?
I took a lot for granted, I own that myself. I was a sitting cabinet minister. I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have lost that last election, but I did, and I take full ownership for that.
We had a low voter turnout of 24 percent. One of the lessons that I did learn was you have to get your supporters out to vote. And this time, you know, I’m not going to leave anything to chance. Anybody that’s supporting me in this election is going to get out to vote, and I’ll help them find a way to get to the returning office or get to the polls on October 1.
And I think you’ll see an increase in the voter turnout this year. I think that’s a testament to Elections NWT. They’ve done a lot this year to help increase the voter turnout, including online voting, which I think is going to be a benefit to people.
Now, to oversimplify the race in Frame Lake, some people might see that as the environmental candidate versus the mining and economy candidate. To look past that a little bit, what would you want people to know about your vision for the NWT’s environmental protections?
First and foremost, I’m a balanced guy. I’ve always been – if you look through my campaign literature, you know, the environment, climate change, that’s front and centre. We can’t do one without the other. I think it has to be a balanced approach.
But let’s be frank, we need resource development here in the Northwest Territories and we need it soon. We need to be opening some new mines. One of the connections I’m going to try to make throughout the campaign is this green economy and the materials that are going to be required to support this green economy. And I’m talking about cobalt and rare earths. Fortune’s mine is predominantly a cobalt mine.
This is the mine outside Whatì, the NICO project, and you’re a director of Fortune.
I’m a director of Fortune, yes. And every electric vehicle that rolls off the assembly line has 50 pounds of cobalt in the batteries that power it. So there’s that. We have the largest deposit of rare-earth minerals outside of China located just southeast of Yellowknife. You know, these materials are going to be required to develop these batteries and new technologies. It’s time the Northwest Territories really pursue that with vigour.
As a director of Fortune, you’ve now been on the other side of a regime that essentially you helped create as the industry minister. You led the development of the NWT supports for industry for a number of years, and then you were the industry relying on those supports. How is that working?
Well, the supports are welcomed by industry, I know that. There’s a big uptake, you know, on the funding that’s available to geologists and mining companies trying to get out there and do some exploration. But I think it’s really just a drop in the bucket.
I think what we really need to do is look at a way to attract more investment and get more exploration happening. I’m a big supporter of the road into the Slave province, I think that should be the number-one priority of the next government, finding a way to make that happen. Because let’s be honest, that’s where the diamonds are. That’s where the base metals are. The future of this territory could rest on us building that road.
And does the Taltson hydro expansion go hand-in-hand with that?
Absolutely. There was recently a funding announcement by the feds, the GNWT is going to put some money in – but I think, you know, that’s part and parcel to all of this, the development of infrastructure: whether it’s hydro, whether it’s roads, the government’s got to attract investment, whether it’s through the federal government or looking outside for other types of investment. We need infrastructure here. If we’re going to develop our resources, and have a robust economy, we’re going to need to develop our infrastructure.
There are signs that the federal government is now committing larger and larger chunks of investment into projects like that. When you say other types of investment, what do you mean?
There are opportunities in countries like Korea or China, for that matter, trying to attract investment. When you need to build infrastructure, you should be looking at all different types of opportunities. And there might be other opportunities as we go forward to try to attract that investment.
People often get a little worried when they hear politicians say, “Well, let’s get China to invest in this, let’s get Korea to invest in this.” How do you deal with people who worry that that’s in some way ceding control, and that attracting foreign investment comes with risks as well as rewards?
It does. But if you can include the Government of Northwest Territories, local Aboriginal groups, you know, and there’s some clear lines drawn on what that investment is, how it works, and the benefits to the Northwest Territories… I think we’d be mistaken if we didn’t look at everything. If it’s going to benefit us and we can make a solid business case for it, it’s worth looking at.
Moving away from the economy – four years ago, you were a big advocate for universal childcare as something that the NWT could bring in. Now, in 2019, is that something that the NWT can afford to do and should do?
Well, I’ve been out of there for four years so I’m not intimately knowledgeable about the financial situation like I once was, but from what I do know, government can find money to fund something like universal childcare. And that’s something I’ve always believed in. And, you know, if we can work together as 19 new members and find a way to do that, that’s something I would still support.
And what else, as an MLA, would you be advocating for when it comes to the health and the wellbeing of residents in Yellowknife and the North?
Well, a lot has been made of the polytechnic university, I’d support that. Obviously, there’s been a number of issues with the new hospital and nursing shortages and things like that. I think those need to be addressed immediately. And of course, we’ve had a couple of Auditor General reports on Child and Family Services. That definitely needs our serious attention.
What we’re doing in a lot of regards, Ollie, doesn’t seem to be working. I mean, you walk the streets of Yellowknife just like I do, just like every resident here does. Things aren’t getting any better downtown. In fact, they’re probably worse than they have ever been. So I think it’s time that governments start looking at other options.
Recently, Nunavut’s had this intensive, on-the-land, 28-day program. Things like that maybe we should look at, trying to combat some of the alcoholism and the violence that we see on the streets of Yellowknife.
What tools in the armoury do we have that we haven’t yet explored?
Well, we don’t really have a dedicated treatment facility. Haven’t for a number of years. So I mean, that’s that’s one big gap I can think of right away.
The territorial government has often said a dedicated treatment facility doesn’t work as effectively as people say it will.
My answer to that is well, why do we keep sending people south for treatment in the same type of facility? That argument doesn’t make any sense at all.
To my knowledge, the argument there is that southern facilities are better at retaining their staff. The issue becomes that if you can’t retain the staff, a northern facility wouldn’t work as well.
I don’t buy that excuse, either. If we had our heart in something like that, we could staff it, we could keep staff there. And it could work here.
Why can’t we staff things? If I listen to what you’re saying when it comes to the economy, when it comes to healthcare, it’s that we need to do a better job of advertising the territory to industry, to investors, and to staff for places like healthcare facilities. How do we do that? What are we not trying that would do a better job of advertising the North?
Well, I think one of the one of the things people look at when looking at living here, moving here, is the cost of living. That’s obviously a challenge for a lot of people. And I’ve been in Yellowknife for close to 40 years. I mean, I’m really getting tired of seeing long-term friends and Yellowknifers packing up and leaving Yellowknife because the cost of living is too high.
You know, we can’t fix that overnight, obviously. But there are some things we could look at that are going to help people. The last government had mentioned lowering taxes on small business. That never happened. Things like that. There are things that we could do to address that.
The danger of being a long-term politician in the North who’s then out of office for a term is that people may look at you now, in 2019, and say, “This is a voice from the past. This is someone who had their time. Now they’ve been out of office. Why should we vote for them to come back in?” What argument would you make for that?
I’ve got lots of experience. And like I said, I’m capable to talk to anybody at any level. I’ve seen government from a different perspective, having been out for four years. I know government, I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader, I think I can make a difference. I believe I can make a difference.
And you know, people are happy to see me back. I’ve been knocking on doors, the reception I’ve been getting has been great. Putting up lots of signs in people’s yards. People want some change here and like I said, I’m giving them a choice. I’ve got lots to offer. I’m not out of the game yet and we’ll see what happens on October 1.
In terms of wanting to portray a clear choice, how strategic was the decision to run in Frame Lake this time, as opposed to Kam Lake that you represented the past?
I actually wasn’t going to run. I had thought maybe that was it for me. I talked to some people that I’m close with that are running in Kam Lake and told them I wasn’t running there. Then I kept watching government and its ineffectiveness, and trying to deal with them from a different level, and I just got frustrated and said, “Hey, I’m gonna run.” Sometimes the only way to change things is to take the bull by the horns and get involved again.
So when it came time to choose a riding to run in, Frame Lake was an obvious choice for me. I represented about a third of the riding from 2003 to 2007, when there was an electoral boundaries commission – I lost a big chunk of what was Kam Lake to Frame Lake. So I’m very familiar with a third of the riding. I’ve got a lot of friends and supporters in the other part of the riding. It was a decision that I could make easily.
Also the fact that I’m a lot different than the current incumbent in the riding. I want to show people how different I am and the approach that I take is much different than the one he takes.
In the district of Frame Lake itself, what do you believe residents most need to hear from their MLA over the next four years in terms of representing their unique concerns?
Well, I’ve like I said, I’ve lived in Yellowknife for 40 years. Whether you’re in Frame Lake or Range Lake or Yellowknife South, I mean, there’s maybe a bit of nuances from riding to riding in Yellowknife, but the city of Yellowknife needs some strong leadership. There are going to be seven members elected on October 1 and, hopefully, they’re ready to to get to work representing the entire city.
What people in Frame Lake can rest assured is I’ve got a strong track record of constituency work, helping people in their riding. If somebody needs something, I’m accessible, I’m accountable for what I do, and I’m there. I’ll always be there to represent them.