NWT Election 2019: Louis Sebert’s Thebacha interview
Incumbent Louis Sebert is running for re-election in the Thebacha constituency.
Sebert said his platform includes supporting the Aurora College headquarters being based in Fort Smith and increasing the number of Government of the Northwest Territories jobs in the town.
He is particularly proud of helping to pass the Ombud Act and updating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Land Act, and the Corrections Act during his term in office. He served as the Minister of Lands and Minister of Justice.
Sebert is also in support of the Taltson hydro expansion and a road south from Fort Smith through Wood Buffalo National Park.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast.
More information: Louis Sebert’s Facebook page
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.
Louis Sebert: I was first elected, of course, in 2015. And was also selected to be on cabinet. And I’m particularly proud of some of the legislation that we brought forward. In particular, the Ombud Act – that we now have an ombud. That was one of the things that I wanted four years ago, and I’m just looking at my pamphlet from four years ago, that’s one of the things that I advocated, so I was glad to see that come to pass. We also updated the ATIPP Act to make it more accessible.
And very lately, it was an update of the Corrections Act which really brought it into the the 21st century. It hadn’t been changed for many years or properly updated for 20 years. So many of the policies that are set out in the Act, in the provisions of the Act, were consistent with the Mandela rules and dealing with such issues as admission to discharge, conditions of confinement, discipline and sanctions, contacted visits.
And so working with the regular members, we got in a vastly improved Corrections Act. So I was quite proud of that, it was long overdue. And again, it has become something that we can really point to as bringing our corrections service into the 21st century. So those are issues that I am particularly proud of.
In the area of lands, we updated the Public Land Act. It’s a new act, combining the two older pieces of legislation. So in my departments those are areas that I’ve been particularly happy with over the last four years.
Sarah Pruys: Now those are things more at the territorial level, what have you done for the residents of Thebacha? What things have you done in the community that you’d like to highlight?
Well, the new women’s correctional centre was opened – well, the official opening was on Friday. Now, I realize it won’t be utilized for a few months as training goes on. So I was happy to see that because the facility that has been here for many years was clearly inadequate. This is a major project and I’m very happy to see that open. It had been long contemplated and long needed and, finally, it’s just about finished. And as I say, I was really impressed with the facility when I looked around inside on Friday.
I was just actually reading an article that the Northern Journal had written prior to the last election saying that contract had been awarded in August 2015.
Yeah, it took a while to get it completed because it’s a complex building, but I think we’re all very happy with the result.
Anything else in Fort Smith that you’ve done that you’d like to talk about?
Well, it was not my portfolio, but I was really happy to see the mine training centre open here earlier this year. I was at the opening with some of the other ministers and I think it shows a real commitment to the community by the Government of the Northwest Territories. So I’m very happy to see that.
Let’s talk about Aurora College. You only recently came out more in favor of keeping the headquarters in Fort Smith. Do you want to talk more about your position there?
I taught at the college for a period of about 30 years, I mean, not the last four years, but before that, I taught at many of the different programs at the college. So I’ve been a strong supporter of the college. I’ve taken courses there. My wife is a graduate.
I think that clearly all colleges in Canada are going through a period of change. So I support the move to a polytechnic university, I think it’s the right step to take. But issues as to where the headquarters will be, it’s to be determined, and I think it should be in Fort Smith, not only because I live here, but I think there’s some strong logical reasons for that.
First of all, we have the staff here, we have facilities here, and I don’t think there’s any necessity that a college or university be in the largest city in the jurisdiction. Harvard is not located in New York, and Oxford and Cambridge are not located in London. So I think there’s a very strong case for having the headquarters and the main campus here. As I say, we have the facilities here, we have the people here, it’s much easier to build here than elsewhere. We don’t have to deal with Canadian Shield and permafrost. And as I say, I’ve been a strong supporter of the college as a part-time instructor over a period of approximately 30 years.
When all of the controversy was just starting to happen with the college and there was the threat of the headquarters leaving Fort Smith, you didn’t have too much to say then. Why were you a little bit quieter?
Well, of course, you know, the discussions go on in cabinet. But I think it’s important to notice that in the government’s response to the foundational review, it was decided that the issue of where the headquarters would be staffed was to be determined. It’s pretty clear from what the minister has said, also, she’s committed to three strong campuses and I agree with that. So the major decisions are to be made. I think, with my experience and background, I’d like to be at the table that makes those decisions.
But as far as saying you think the headquarters should be in Fort Smith, you’re only saying that now. Why not before when these discussions were starting?
Well I think at some of the public meetings, I pointed out the strengths of the community, as I have today: that, as I say, we have the people here, housing is reasonable here, we have the buildings here. And if we need to expand, it’s much easier to expand here than it is elsewhere.
Let’s talk about bit more about the Fort Smith economy. Other people have said things about how they would like to encourage local business and strengthen the economy in Fort Smith. What would you like to do in that area?
We are incredibly reliant on government positions. And as a private business person like myself, I would like to see the local economy strengthen. We have lots of very able entrepreneurs here in many different trades and occupations. So I’d like to see that strengthened.
One thing that we need to seriously look at, assuming a business case can be made out, is an expansion of the Taltson dam. So that would be an existing, exciting, rather larger project for this area.
And as an MLA, what would you be doing to encourage this expansion of the Taltson hydro project and growth of the local economy?
I think local entrepreneurs, and we have some very good ones, would likely be involved in the construction or expansion of the Taltson dam. I think that of course, there has to be a business case made out for it. But it seems to me that in the era where we’re trying to reduce our reliance on the greenhouse gases, a hydro project goes a long way toward achieving that aim, whether it’s exporting power south to provinces that overly rely on coal or connecting with the other part of the system north of the lake.
But as an MLA, what’s your role in this whole process? What do you do?
Well I think should I be re-elected and on cabinet, I would want to take a serious look at the expansion of Taltson.
What specific things would you do other than encourage those conversations to happen?
Well, I think we have to see if there’s a business case, and if there is a business case, and money can be found I think we should seriously look at going ahead with it.
OK, so right now you’re just waiting to see what the study comes back with?
Yeah, of course. I mean, as I say, there has to be a business case for it. But it seems to me, there are many things that would indicate this would be a very good idea.
I believe the project just got a couple million dollars in January to start looking at the project’s feasibility.
Obviously, there’s going to have to be feasibility studies to determine whether it’s feasible in an engineering sense and also in a financial sense.
One big thing in Fort Smith lately is talk of a road through Wood Buffalo National Park. Of course, that road would be fully in Alberta but it’s something that’s really important to the residents of Fort Smith. So how do you navigate that as an MLA?
I remember when I was on the town council, that project seemed very near to coming to fruition, if I can put it that way. So I was very much in favour of it then and in favour of it now, not only because it would be easier for us to drive south, but also I think it would encourage tourism in our area and also to the park. So I’m glad it’s reemerged as an issue. We’ve wanted this for a very long time in Fort Smith. And as I say, approximately 20 years or so ago, it seemed that we were about to get it, but unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass.
So can you advocate for the road? Since it’s not in your jurisdiction?
Of course, we can make representations to various other governments that are involved and a lot of them would be in the park. Yes, certainly, I would advocate for such a road as I think it would help us here. And also, I think, would it enhance tourist opportunities in the park.
Let’s talk more about tourism, too. I know there’s people in Fort Smith who think there’s definitely an opportunity there for more tourism in the area, especially because Yellowknife is just so full all of the time with aurora tourists and Fort Smith not so much. What would you like to see happen with tourism?
I would certainly like to see more tourists come here. Unfortunately, this year, we lost a very sophisticated tourism provider, Alex Hall, who was based in Fort Smith. But we’ve got fantastic opportunities around here, which I think is true for many of the communities outside of Yellowknife. So I think that I’d like to see us work with the local tourism providers to make sure that this community and other communities outside of Yellowknife become known to the larger world, if I can put it that way, so that people would be encouraged to come to the Northwest Territories, but look beyond Yellowknife.
Yeah, it’s definitely not just a possibility for Fort Smith but something all communities are looking at: how to help those people get off the ground.
You mentioned last time around when you were campaigning you had a brochure where you listed the things that you wanted to accomplish. Have you put together a brochure for this year?
Yes, it’s in production.
Do you want to run through some of the things that are going to be on it?
Well, the main issue, I think, in the community, is going to be the issue of the college which I’ve spoken of already. So that is a certainly a primary concern. And government employment in the community is also an issue. I checked the numbers and the numbers are virtually identical from four years ago. So there is a very strong government presence in our community and those jobs have remained constant over the last four years. So those are two major issues in the community.
You’d like to see more government jobs come to the community or for that to remain stable over the next term as well?
I’d obviously like to see more. In my department, Lands, we set up a very small group, admittedly, looking into the issue of equity leases. I would like to see continued expansion of government positions in the community.
OK, anything else on the brochure?
No, it mainly sets out some of the qualifications I have, which is usual in these types of brochures, but I see those two as being big, main issues in this community.
We’ll wrap up here in a minute. So just to finish things off, why should people vote for you? What’s your pitch?
Well, I am an experienced MLA now. Of course I have four years’ experience and was in cabinet. I have pretty broad experience in the community. I’ve lived here since 1984. I was a practising lawyer for 32 years and 14 years on town council. I sat on the board of directors of the power corporation for seven years. I think I have a pretty broad experience and there are important issues coming up and with my background and experience, as I said earlier, I’d like to be at the table when these decisions are made.