NWT Election 2019: Shane Thompson’s Nahendeh interview
Shane Thompson is hoping to remain the MLA for Nahendeh.
The incumbent said he has dealt with 780 constituent issues during his first term and helped larger projects in each community move forward.
Thompson’s platform focuses on specific things communities in his constituency have told him they need: from a fence around the airport in Nahanni Butte to keep the bison out, to funding in Wrigley to prepare locals for work on the Mackenzie Valley Highway project.
At the territorial level, Thompson wants funding for education examined, an updated medical travel policy, and to find clean-energy solutions for small communities.
Thompson wants to push for government money to stay in the territory. “We need to be working with our industry to make sure they’re working,” he said, believing the government must do more to support local businesses and prepare them to acquire and deliver contracts. “It’s just not about the bottom line, it’s about the social economic impact this project will have on the community.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Thompson’s interview air date is September 10.
More information: Shane Thompson’s Facebook campaign page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on August 28, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: Why don’t we start off by reviewing what’s been happening the past four years: what have you done for your riding?
Shane Thompson: For the riding? It’s going to be very specific to each community. First and foremost, I dealt with 780 constituent issues, not counting stuff that we dealt with on the floor.
If you look at Wrigley to Mount Gaudet, that road there is 15 kilometres that has been worked on the Mackenzie Valley Highway. It’s a positive step, moving forward, because my understanding from the very beginning was they were going to start from the north and work their way down south, but we were able to achieve that for the community.
Nahanni Butte: it’s about the medical travel we were dealing with, and the community ended up with two teachers instead of just one, and then work on the access road they were able to achieve there.
For Sambaa K’e it’s the health centre and the renovations to the school that we able to achieve, and then work on the winter road.
Fort Simpson is the start of the long-term care unit. A 48-bed unit is supposed to be built, that there’s happening. The LNG plant in Fort Simpson, work on Highway 1, and the access road which is from the ferry to the town.
Jean Marie [River] is the access road and working with housing to get a couple more units in there that the Band will own eventually. And then the teachers as well.
Fort Liard is we’ve now worked with government, health and social services, to allow patients in Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte to go down to Fort Nelson, should they have the facilities and the programs or services that they need there. As well, we’ve come up with a potential solution to the taxation issue, which will then help a number of people who have taxation arrears. So we are able to succeed with that.
The territorial level from being an MLA was 23 bills that we dealt with. The cannabis one was a big one, as well as the Corrections Act, that was a real big one. Lots of collaboration with the department to fix the bill and make it more palatable. I want to thank both the department and our staff that worked with us on this, as well as the post-secondary one. Just to name a few of those.
You listed the highlights for each community and it sounds like some of those things are still ongoing. If you were elected again, what other things would you like to see happen in your region?
They’re specific to each community. And again, it’s not what I want to see, it’s what the communities want to achieve.
Like when we look at Wrigley, we’re looking at training and accessing training dollars to help them be part of the building of the Mackenzie Valley Highway. We’re also working on band land and housing issues that started back in 1965, we’re trying to address that.
Jean Marie, we’re looking at getting the access road; employment, and housing issues that need to be addressed.
In Sambaa K’e, it’s the access road and a pilot project for the housing corporation to work with the community to do maintenance on Elders’ homes so that the homes are well-maintained and prepared, especially with the plumbing and the furnaces. So we’re working on those.
As well in Fort Liard, we did some work on Highway 7 and the access road and we’re still continuing to work on that.
Ford Simpson, we’re hearing about the bridge: we need to look at the bridge because of climate change and how it’s had an impact on the water. We’ve started that process but now we need to really actually engage further and start looking at it. There’s some been some plans out there, but we need to consult with the communities and work on that.
We talked about Nutrition North as an opportunity. Because of the changes that we’re seeing, our communities in this riding need to be able to access this program. So that’s some work that needs to be done with the federal government.
As well, Indigenous housing needs to be addressed. Right now, we’ve seen some of the other regional organizations access Indigenous housing funding from the feds, so we need to look at doing that as well.
Sambaa K’e is the winter road and working on that to make it safer, working with the community contractor to do that. We’re also looking in Sambaa K’e to move the power plant to a different location, which would make it safer for the community.
Nahnni Butte is the airport, building a fence around for the buffalo issue.
Same with Fort Liard, to make the airport safer, so again that’s working with the government on that.
I think I’ve hit every community and if I didn’t I apologize. But I do have a list from the communities that will be on the brochures that identifies each and every one, and what we’re going to be working on for the next four years if I get re-elected.
So it sounds like a lot of infrastructure projects. Are there any other major issues in the communities that they would like to see addressed? Things like education or healthcare, or climate change?
With education, I’ve got a commitment from the present minister to really look at the funding and how it’s allocated. Instead of quality, we’re looking for equity. It’s about making sure – maybe I got those two words mixed up – we have the basis for funding. We’re seeing our enrollment go down and we’ve lost $4 million over the last 10 or 11 years for the divisional education council, but we still have nine schools and eight communities, and we still need to provide services. So we’ve got a commitment from minister to look at that – that’s something that needs to be addressed moving on.
We’ve also looked at health and social services: the opportunity of medical travel, how that needs to be looked at. RIight now, we’re still dealing with a policy that’s 10 to 15 years old that we need to fix. There have been minor amendments to it but medical travel has to be addressed.
It’s about making sure we build capacity within the region.
And then climate change. It’s about geothermal for the community of Fort Liard, because there’s a good location, that there is an opportunity. We also could run a greenhouse, which means we’re able to provide food grown within the community, but it also puts people to work. Then solar energy in some of the other smaller communities.
We need to make more communities more green. SSI Energy, which is a company out of Yellowknife, has some really amazing energy ideas. And I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Philipp and talking to him numerous times. There’s an opportunity to make our energy plants more efficient and then utilize the waste heat so our costs go down. So those are some of the things that we’re trying to work on moving forward and some of the things that the communities are asking for.
When you announced on June 6 that you were intending to seek re-election, you’d said in the legislature you wanted to help fix the government that “always gets caught up in an endless cycle of studying a problem, but never getting around to fixing it.” What are your plans to fix the system at the territorial level?
It’s about working with all 19 MLAs, and then giving direction to the bureaucracy and how things need to be done. It’s working with the ministers or becoming a minister to address those issues, and working with the bureaucracy to streamline things, because every time we seem to be doing a study, a study, and a study, but the problem is still there.
So again, it’s how can we look at the problem? How can we fix it? And what are some of the options? I had the pleasure of meeting with one of the ministers and we were talking about an issue and I said it’s not about what the challenges are. What options or programs are available that can help this constituent? And that’s how I would be trying to get the government to look at it in the future: we all have challenges and the other $1.1 billion debt, but how are we strategically spending their money to have the biggest impact on the residents?
We cannot just give them anything, but we need to work with the communities to enhance what they’re trying to do. And so again, it’s making sure that the voices are heard. Do things differently when policies are being developed. Work with committees before it actually comes to them and say OK, now you guys have to work on it, a legislative proposal or bill. It’s working together at the very beginning, true consensus government. And then when it’s done, at the end of the day, the departments come back and develop what you have to do. We may not always agree, but if we start implementation and the discussion working together at the very beginning, it makes the process that much better.
Looking to the economy in your riding: we’re always looking at how to bring more jobs in and how to increase tourism and opportunities. What would you like to see happen in terms of job creation and stimulating the economy?
First and foremost, government needs to be keeping the money in the Northwest Territories. I look at a highway project was in the Nahendeh riding that was just over $14 million, but it went to a southern company. So that southern company took $12 million or whatever profit and left the Northwest Territories. We need to be working with our industry to make sure they’re working. And I don’t know if you want to call it a negotiated contract, but working with them to make things feasible so that when we see a project, that it’s just not about the bottom line, it’s about the social economic impact this project will have on the community. Because if you have a highway project, you’re putting people’s equipment to work, you’re putting people to work, they’re going to have jobs, and they’re going to be able to help provide food so they’re off income support.
But again, it’s about being creative and it’s working with the industry. If it’s tourism, work with industries out here now, see how we can enhance it. It’s working with people in Yellowknife. It’s about working together and listening to people. People on the ground level have really good ideas and if given the opportunities, they can create positions.
It’s also about the small community employment fund that went from $1.2 million to $5 million now. And again, that money there is helpful in creating positions and jobs for people. And if we’re able to do that, increase that pot of money, then we’re going to see more people working. And if you’re spending your money locally, then it has a better impact on the region. So again, it’s listening to what the people have. There’s people with different projects out there and all they need is a little bit of help, and government needs to give them that help to move forward.
Right now we’re seeing the mine in Yellowknife get close to its last legs. We had a whole bunch of visions and then we lost one mine. So it’s about forward thinking and looking at how we can have an impact, and how we could do things differently. There’s a number of ideas out there that people have talked to me about. And I think they would be very successful given that opportunity. And the government needs to allow them to listen to the people. And if this thing doesn’t come from them, from the top down, it comes from the bottom up. And so again, it’s how we can be creative and making it work moving forward.
And Shane, just wrapping up here, what would be your two or three-minute pitch on why you’re the best candidate for the position in Nahendeh?
So for me, it’s about my track record. I take being elected as MLA as a job. It’s a job, it’s 24/7. That means you have to be available for people when they need you to be available. I’ve had phone calls at 2am, 4am, 6am in the morning, to deal with difficult and challenging issues, and I’ve been able to address them.
I’ve always made a commitment, every issue is very important to me. It’s not one issue is better than the other one, when somebody comes to me, that’s the issue that you need to work on. You need to work on it on a timely manner and I think I’ve done that.
It’s about working with the other MLAs, and being able to still be true to yourself and true to your beliefs and to what the region wants. But it’s still working with the MLAs to achieve other success stories. And I look at the Corrections Act, the Cannabis Act, the Post-secondary Act – those acts there were difficult, but again it was working with other MLAs and cabinet to make sure we had a good, productive bill at the end of the day.
I look at my attendance there. I know I attended more sessions than I needed to of the other committees, because at the end of the day, it’s just not working on your committee, but it’s working with other committees to understand what they’re trying to do for the residents.
So I stand on my record, like I said, 780 constituent issues. I’m dealing with issues that have been in the hopper for a long time and we’ve seen some good, positive progress. Am I going to be successful in every issue? No, but again, it’s about working for the people. And I think I’ve been able to do that for the last four years.