NWT Election 2019: Cory Vanthuyne’s Yellowknife North interview
Cory Vanthuyne hopes to remain the MLA for Yellowknife North.
Making his initial pitch for re-election, Vanthuyne told residents he is “working to stay focused on the long-term benefits for our territory and not be swayed by the reactions of the moment.”
Speaking to Cabin Radio, he described being “upset” at increases to taxes and fees introduced by the territorial government over the past four years.
Vanthuyne says his bid to house a new Yellowknife university campus in the existing Centre Square Mall is an example of the “creative thinking” needed to elevate education in the Northwest Territories.
He believes residents see him as “the voice of reason and balance” in the legislature, a supporter of mining and mineral exploration, and a champion of the small business community.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Vanthuyne’s interview airdate is September 9.
More information: Cory Vanthuyne’s campaign website
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 5, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What would your priorities be for the next four years?
Cory Vanthuyne: Well, I think that there are obviously a number of priorities that a number of folks have. And I think that, you know, there’s a little bit of uncertainty with regard to the economy. And people want to understand what the future might hold after diamond mine closures, because that’s inevitable, let’s say within the next 10 to 15 years. So certainly, I think economy rises as one of those top priorities that we want to be focusing on as a government.
We certainly want to take this opportunity to diversify the economy as well. I think we’ve done some really good things in that area in recent years, we’ve developed some pretty strong strategies along the lines of diversifying the economy. Tourism is doing spectacular right now and there’s still a lot of opportunity there.
Climate change is at the forefront of everybody’s mind, especially up here in the North, where we’re affected by it more than most other regions of the world. And so, you know, doing what we can to meet our national and territorial targets to mitigate the impacts of climate change is certainly going to be a priority that I’m going to focus on.
I want to continue to make sure that we’re strengthening our education system. I’ve talked about building an education system that trajects people into those things that we value as a society and making sure that at every stage, from early childhood through to adult education, we’re linking that trajectory up to make sure that people are best-equipped to contribute to society, when it’s time for them to do that.
Cost of living is something that I fought really hard for over the last four years. There have been a number of factors involved in the cost of living but I was a little bit upset with the government being one of those factors, fees and taxes and increases are some of the things that actually went toward increasing our cost of living over the last four years. And so I was a little bit upset by that, I think there were other ways and means in which we could have gotten around some of those things, especially at a time when people are a little bit hard up in the pocketbook a little bit these days. When you do have a little bit of uncertainty about the economy and the future, well, then you have got to make sure that people can maintain their quality of life and standard of living that they want.
If we take that as a thematic overview, if you like, are there specific actions in the next four years – specific projects that maybe didn’t get done in the past four years or that you’d like to bring forward now – that you want to see achieved?
Well, one of the things you’ve got to look at is the territory as a whole if you want to be a member of the Legislative Assembly, because you’ve got to work collaboratively with a lot of people from outside of Yellowknife. And we have to appreciate that while Yellowknife is doing fairly well as it relates to our standards of living, our quality of life, those outside of Yellowknife, especially in the more remote, smaller communities, have a lot of big challenges. Either they’re not connected by some form of affordable transportation like a road system or what have you, they don’t have access to good-quality, healthy foods, they have often unemployment rates that are 20 to 40 percent unemployed.
So all these things talk to the things that we need to work on, and that is investing in critical infrastructure. I’ve been and continue to be a supporter of the road to Whatì as well as the Mackenzie Valley highway. We’re going to have to continue to invest in community gardens and traditional harvesting, fishing and the like, and continuing to find ways and means to make life a little bit more affordable for those in the remote communities.
Yellowknife? It’s really about us making sure that we’re making smart decisions that aren’t going to increase these costs of living. Housing, affordable and adequate housing, is something that I say we’ve got to look at in the entire context. How are we going to build smartly to meet market demands? But then, at the same time, what are we doing in terms of meeting the needs for those that are a little bit less fortunate, and the homeless, and really still trying to achieve the goals that Housing First really set out for us?
Listening to you speak, a lot of that sounds like stuff that the territorial government has pursued over the past few years. Broadly speaking, it aligns with the territorial government’s priorities. Is there anything you would do significantly differently to the way that cabinet has led the government over the last four years?
It can be sometimes a bit of a challenge for an individual to say, “I will do this.”
You could say what you would want to do.
Yeah, indeed, I know. But, again, I have always been one of these people that really tries to build upon the collaborative approach to these sorts of things. So, you know, do I have any specific actual items on my agenda, personally, that I think I can bring to my colleagues for consideration? I think so.
I’ve talked about the polytechnic university as being one of those things that I want to see as a facility here in the capital. I’ve talked before about the opportunities that might exist, even across the street here, with the Centre Square Mall, and not having to build a brand-new bricks-and-mortar campus. There are some creative ideas that might be had as it relates to bringing that here and what that could do for revitalizing downtown and stimulating the economy as well as, obviously, you know, bringing post-secondary education for the North to another level.
Do you think the Centre Square Mall plan is realistic? Would you be able to collaborate with enough colleagues to get some real movement on that in the next four years?
If you provide the right vision and communicate effectively, then most members will realize that this is an opportunity for lifting up their communities as well. This is a territory-wide institution but it would have both local and territorial and, in fact, national and international impact. So, you know, I think there is definitely a case to be made for it.
If I think of how some regular MLAs over the past four years have left a mark… Kevin O’Reilly, I think, people would associate with environmental issues more than most. People might associate Kieron Testart with a dissatisfaction about consensus government. What do you think members of the public here associate you most closely with?
I think they clearly see me as the voice of reason and balance, probably someone who’s had a little bit more eye toward economic development opportunities.
Along those lines, I was the chair of the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment, and I think that’s because that tended to be a natural fit for me. I think I’ve been fairly strong over the last four years with regard to our government wanting and needing to reduce its carbon footprint. I’ve been very supportive of initiatives that the government should and could undertake with regard to the climate change strategies, a strategic framework and action plan, the capital asset retrofit program, which is a very excellent program that gets the government to do improvements on its own assets to reduce its use of fossil fuels.
I think people have seen me also as being a fairly good supporter of the mineral and exploration industry. At every step of the way, I’ve been very, very supportive of the processes that our government is moving toward. The evolving piece of devolution, where we’re now starting to develop our own acts and regulations with regard to mineral extraction.
And of course I always have been, and continue to be, a proud supporter of small business. And I’ve enjoyed for many years being a mentor to a number of small business startup owners.
Seeing yourself as a voice of reason, when has that been most critical in the past four years? When have you been able to make the biggest difference by being a voice of reason among two polar opposites in the legislature?
I think that’s why I tend to go toward positions like being the chair of the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment. That was a position that I really enjoyed for the last four years.
I think, when you have differing views of a number of different members sitting on that committee, it takes somebody who has that moderate skill set to be able to make sure that the best interests of the committee and, ultimately, the public at large are being served.
Last year, you seconded a motion seeking the removal of Glen Abernethy as a minister. Had you been the health and social services minister, how would you have approached that job differently?
Well, gosh, you know, I give Glen all the… I commend him to no end, he’s done a very good job. And his legacy will obviously live on for many years.
You tried to remove him!
Oh, yeah, but you know, Glen is a close friend of mine. We’ve grown up here together. My removal of Glen, whether it was Glen or anybody else, or my support for that motion, had to do with the highest level of accountability which is bestowed upon us.
I felt that over the many years of children in our care, seemingly it was getting worse and worse, and ultimately – and the legislation actually says this – the minister shall be responsible. And if I was going to hold our government and that department and the minister to account, then that was the reason why I had taken that position.
Do you think he should have resigned?
That’s a different question altogether. I think resignations often come as a personal thing and so I don’t necessarily think that he should have. I think that the process was there for us to be effective in utilizing it. Obviously, the position that I took wasn’t the end result. And, you know, we live with the outcomes.
So coming back to the question, how would you approach the job differently, to have avoided being in the situation that he and his department found themselves in?
Ultimately, I think it came down to making sure that the frontline service providers were actually getting hands-on time with the children and the family. That was the critical piece. What we did was, we might have hired more, but we put so much administrative burden on them, from what I can determine through the Auditor General’s report, that they just could not get out into the field and get their hands and their time on with the children. There’s where the neglect came from.
What do you think the next step should be with healthcare in the North? Obviously, a lot of people worry about staffing. How do we address an issue like that?
It’s prevention. You know, we’re building all these amazing new health facilities and what have you, and that’s fine. Health facilities do have a very short lifespan. They’re extremely expensive to build but, because healthcare changes so rapidly, health facilities outdate themselves in a very short shelf life. I’ve lived in Yellowknife for my whole entire life and this is my third hospital that I’ve seen in Yellowknife. But what we need to do is invest in education, communication, and prevention in the communities. That’s where we’re going to make the difference so that we can start with healthier living, which goes well beyond just planting community gardens and that sort of thing.
This really goes back to us building healthy communities. We didn’t treat people fairly way back in the day and we’re suffering from systemic issues to this day with regard to that. And that’s going to take some commitment and some time to turn that around. We’ve got to make sure that we’re putting the right resources towards this. And it’s going to be a generational thing but, over time, we are going to start to build healthier communities. People will make smarter decisions for themselves. And eventually, we hopefully will not be in a situation where we’re spending $455 million a year – that’s over a million dollars a day – towards reacting to the illnesses and the unhealthy communities.
You’re hoping to carry on representing a district where there’s a lot of interest in land claims. As an MLA, if you went back into government, where do we go with that? What do you think a new government can do differently, or more effectively, to finally reach some resolution with Indigenous partners?
I’m going to note this as being one of my top priorities going into the next assembly. I’ve been one of the Yellowknife MLAs that has spoken often on this issue and tried to hold our government to account on it. I am proud to have a lot of strong, positive relationships with a number of Indigenous communities and leaders up and down the entire valley.
And so it’s a very important issue for all of us in order to build certainty. And really there is no magic wand or silver bullet for these. These are negotiating tables, we have 14 of them, and they’re all active at any point in time. And, you know, we did have a couple of boxes that we could check off in the last assembly. The Deline Got’ine government came through, that’s excellent. Tulita, I believe is coming along progressively. The new Inuvialuit self-government file is coming along. But I think the key ones are the Akaitcho, the Dehcho, and the Métis. Those are the three big ones, if I could refer to them as that, that people want to see move along progressively. The Akaitcho and the Dehcho, Dehcho in particular, take up the whole bottom half of our territory.
If they could get their land rights settled and then work towards self-government agreements, that would bring a whole lot of certainty to us as a territory, bring a lot of more confidence to investors, and I think you would begin to see generational changes in opportunity. And it would be probably the most amazing impact that we could possibly have on our territory.
Just lastly, because we are running out of time, obviously voters in Yellowknife North have a choice. Incumbents always talk about experience when it comes to re-election. Beyond that, what separates you from the other two candidates declared so far?
I have to say it, and this is going to be my slogan and my motto during the election, I do have that experience to count on, that people can rely on.
But I think what else separates me is that I’m somebody that considers themselves a very critical thinker. And someone that uses what I call triple-bottom-line principles when it comes to making decisions. I make sure that I’m very aware of our environmental, our social, and our financial or economic responsibilities as I’m making my decisions.
And then lastly, I think I bring very strong relationships that I’ve built with individuals, with communities, with businesses and industry, and a lot of our excellent NGOs. You know, those relationships have been very positive, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I do on behalf of residents.