NWT Election 2019: Wally Schumann’s Hay River South interview
Incumbent Wally Schumann is campaigning for re-election in Hay River South.
If re-elected, Schumann wants to focus on connecting with outlying communities and helping them build capacity.
In Hay River, he says he’s already working with the mayor to determine what support the town will need from the territorial government should its population explode as recently predicted. He’s also focusing on helping the Pine Point Mine project to get off the ground.
He believes the NWT needs to look at technologies like telehealth and teleeducation, while also stressing these issues need to be addressed and supported by the communities as well.
Schumann avoided saying if he is interested in becoming the next premier. “I’d have to sit down and have a look at who all 19 members are and see what their priorities are, and see if that is something that I could consider doing,” he said.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Schumann’s interview air date is September 12.
More information: Wally Schumann’s Facebook campaign 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.
Sarah Pruys: What have you accomplished in your last term, both as a minister and as an MLA for Hay River?
Wally Schumann: First of all, I was elected as an MLA in Hay River, then I was fortunate enough to get on the executive council.
For the first eight months I was the Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. Eight months in, the premier did a cabinet shuffle and I became the Minister of Transportation, Public Works, and ITI (Industry, Tourism, and Investment). And then through the amalgamation, I was the first Minister of Infrastructure in the Northwest Territories.
So once we had those two amalgamated, and along with ITI, that’s a very large portfolio. There are 230-some commitments we made, and a lot of them fell under those two portfolios of mine. And when you started looking back at what we’ve done on our mandate commitments, we accomplished just about all of them, if not the majority of them anyway.
So if we want to get into right into the specifics of what we accomplished, as the minister, we got the funding for the Slave Geological Province, the Whatì Road, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, and we signed our billion-dollar bilateral with the federal government that’s going to allow us to move on our climate change plan going forward.
Each chunk of that money is through the lens of climate change at the federal government and $300 million of that is directed towards energy projects across the Northwest Territories.
And then when you start looking at all the strategies that I had put together, myself and the departments, around agriculture, manufacturing, and fishing, these are strategies are going to help us diversify our economy moving forward and gives us a template of where we want to go, along with input from the residents of Northwest Territories and the people that support those strategies. And we will continue to move on them and adjust them as they need to be adjusted going forward.
There are a couple of things I think we need to highlight that were very important that were outside of our mandates, and one of them was the money we received for the Taltson project. That’s going to be very important for the territory going forward. The federal government has given us $18 million over the next three years to support the Taltson hydro expansion and how to work with Indigenous governments.
How are we going to lower energy costs going forward and come up with the plan on the financing and how to make that whole thing work? I think that’s a significant piece outside of our mandate that needs to be talked about.
We’re going to use that project going forward to not only help stabilize the north and south grids, to avoid all the lower water issues that happened in particular, but also to help industry move forward and expand into the Slave Geological Province, and possibly even up to the Whatì corridor as well, to mine the green minerals in the future that we need to use. So that’s the broad scope of what we accomplished.
You wanted to know about Hay River at a local level: we finally got our fish plant on the books, it’s out for tender. So that’s something that’s been talked about for a number of years in Hay River, and we finally got the federal government to come forward with some of their dollars and our dollars to help support us to build the fish plant in Hay River.
We announced in the budget a 48-bed long-term care facility which will lead to 60 new jobs in Hay River and help us address the impacts of the aging population across the Northwest Territories, even though 48 beds in Hay River is only part of the solution.
It’s supportive of what Hay River needs to move our economy along. The fish plant was roughly 24 part-time jobs and full-time jobs.
Lately, we’ve just awarded the new office complex to get the remaining people out of the old hospital. There’s a new office complex that’s going to be built in Hay River going forward.
And the other one that we didn’t talk about, that I think is very important to all residents of the Northwest Territories, was the purchase of Marine Transportation Services from bankruptcy. That doesn’t just impact Hay River. It’s a big, big plus for Hay River, but it also helps us support our residents up and down the Mackenzie Valley and the Arctic coast communities, so that’s a very important piece of the puzzle going forward.
You mentioned a lot of infrastructure projects. Do you think the NWT is on the right track with all of these? And what are the next steps?
I believe we’re on the right track. There was a mandate put together by all 19 members in the Legislative Assembly. The government was given the task of being able to accomplish that and I think our assembly, as much as people like to focus on the bickering that happened in the 18th Legislative Assembly, we’ve still managed to get a good chunk of the work done that we needed to for residents of the Northwest Territories.
What is important for all residents, for us moving forward, is to try to find ways to bring opportunities to all regions in the Northwest Territories, and to help stabilize the cost of living and that’s primarily what we’re supposed to do. And I think we accomplished that.
Now Hay River: the announcements that have been made there recently are all about the new jobs that are going be brought to the community. The town recently put forward its community plan for the next five years, projecting a population boom up to 5,000 or 6,000 people up from 3,500 people that you have right now. What would be your role, as an MLA, to support the community through a period of potential growth here?
Well, the biggest thing that I’ve already done is I sat down with the mayor had a discussion about a number of initiatives that they’re concerned with going forward, and agreed to work closely with her and town council going forward, on addressing the situation that they need addressed.
They can’t do it on their own. How do they figure out how to finance more lots in Hay River? It’s a big initiative that they need to figure out. If we’re going to have that growth which they’re projecting, where do you put all these people? There’s not that many pieces of property for sale in Hay River so we’re going to have to sit down and work something out with the Town of Hay River and figure out a plan going forward on doing that.
This government, the 18th Legislative Assembly, did put some investment in, helping to offset some of those costs that they’re talking about on a local level. But there are limited resources within the government’s fiscal strategy going forward and that’s something the 19 new members are going to have to sit down and try to figure out: how we’re going to be able to address that.
Healthcare staffing is an issue all across the territory. Hay River has gotten more flak for it than most, lately. Looking at it territory-wide, why is this an issue that we haven’t been able to solve yet?
This isn’t just a territorial issue, this is right across Canada. Attracting people to come north is a little bit tougher than probably any other jurisdiction in Canada just because of the remoteness. But it’s something that we’re going to have to sit down as a 19th Legislative Assembly and work to address this.
Whoever the health minister is, is going to have to have a serious look at how do we attract people to some of these smaller communities? That certainly has been a challenge. The use of locums is very expensive, but it’s certainly helped us meet our day-to-day challenges. But we’re going to have to come up with some ideas going forward and have discussions on how do we get people to come to northern remote communities, and want to be part of the community and stay in for the long-term objective.
Healthcare is an issue right across the country, and it’s certainly something I don’t think we’re going to be able to solve on our own going forward. But we’re going to have a discussion with everybody.
The current education minister said a major reform of education was needed across the territory. What do you think about that?
Minister Cochrane has opened up the can there that needed to be talked about. It wasn’t talked about. You know, education is very important.
For me, if you know my background and my private business side of things, I’ve always been attracted to having younger people work for me. I’ve never had older people work for me, it never really worked out. Most of the people who have worked for me have started in high school.
But education across the Northwest Territories is something where the numbers are not very encouraging. We have to figure things out. And I think this ties to your healthcare question. You heard Minister Cochrane talk about Ulukhaktok and the new grads that they had through the teleeducation system, and telehealth is the same type of thing.
How do we use these new types of technologies to be able to address some of these concerns? When you see those three or four students that came out of Ulukhaktok that went directly into university, it clearly shows that this stuff works. How do we implement it right across the whole Northwest Territories, not just in education, but in health?
So would you say that the 19th assembly should be looking at major reform of the education system?
It’s certainly something we have to pay attention to and Minister Cochrane is raising concerns that our graduation levels aren’t certainly where they need to be. And the other thing about this is… and you’re going to hear me talk about this more and more going forward, particularly if I get re-elected back on the Executive Council, and I’ve said it before when I was Métis president because I was part of the education renewal forum we had through Indigenous governments’ participation: education is not just a government issue, this is a community issue. It needs to be addressed by communities and families and everyone has to take part in it, and they can’t just be blaming the Government of the Northwest Territories. This is an initiative that we all have to get behind to support our kids going forward.
What else would you like to see happen in Hay River over the next term?
I’ve been lucky enough to be on the Executive Council, I got through all 33 communities in the last four years. And there are some disparities between regions and small communities and that’s something that we clearly have to have a serious look at.
I feel, being a member of the Executive Council, some people don’t think their voices are heard. Even as an open and transparent and accessible government, as we are probably the most accessible government in Canada, we need to get out into the regions and, in particular, the small communities to hear the challenges they have and help them address what needs to be addressed.
Capacity is an issue in a lot of communities and what they’re really doing is crying out for some type of support, to be allowed to be able to address this, and we’re going to have to figure out ways to do that. That could be at the education level, where we would identify some students to be a champion for us, to the local person in the constituency who can help assist being a voice for their community. I think there’s a whole bucket of stuff that we need to address a little bit differently going forward.
So in Hay River, when you’re going around trying to get people to vote for you again, what are you saying to them about what you’re going to do for them?
We are a regional centre so things aren’t quite as bad as it could be. We’re very steady, the economy’s been very steady in Hay River, but we’ve got to find ways to grow it.
One of the big things that I’ve been personally working on is the Pine Point Mine, assisting them to try to make their project go from an idea to an actual production facility, and help grow our economy in Hay River, which is going to be very important.
But top-of-mind when you go around to residents of Hay River is a variety of things. It could be from healthcare, to education, to this busing issue that’s come up in the news lately, to healthcare, as I’ve said, and the economy is a big one.
People want to be able to know there’s an economy going forward, and they will keep their kids up here going forward, and continue to grow the territory as a prosperous place to live and somewhere where you want to lay roots and stay. So, you know, that’s a big thing I think for a lot of people across the Northwest Territories and not just in Hay River.
And what’s your pitch? Why should people vote for you? What makes you the best candidate?
Well, I think I proved myself in the last four years. I was lucky enough to win the election. Jane Groenewegen was our representative for 20 years and she did a great job for us and people voted for change. And I was lucky enough to get on the Executive Council and the Premier gave me probably one of the largest portfolios in the Northwest Territories, if not Canada.
I think I’ve done a fairly good job at delivering on the mandate commitments that we all worked on together as members in the assembly. You’ve got to have a steady hand on the wheel going forward and there are some challenging times coming. I certainly think I’m probably one of the better people to represent not just our riding but the residents of the Northwest Territories.
Do you have any interest in becoming the next premier?
I’ve been quoted saying that I’ll cross that bridge when that time comes. The very first thing we need to do is figure out a way to get re-elected and that’s what I’m working on right now.
Alright, so if you were re-elected?
If I was re-elected, to be honest with you, I’d have to sit down and have a look at who all 19 members are and see what their priorities are, and see if leading them is something I could consider doing.