NWT Election 2019: Thom Jarvis’ Yellowknife Centre interview

Last modified: September 9, 2019 at 12:22pm


Thom Jarvis hopes to be the next MLA for Yellowknife Centre.

Jarvis, who works at the NWT Métis-Dene Development Fund and has previously run for Yellowknife city council, says “creative thinking” is needed in the city’s downtown.


In his Cabin Radio interview, Jarvis said he would help Yellowknife Centre residents who feel they haven’t been listened to, and would provide an “approachable” contrast to what he called the “rancour” of the past four years in the legislature.

Jarvis called for a “change in tone” toward the mineral extraction industry, saying, “until you have confident investors, you don’t have investors.” He believes the Slave Geological Province access road is a prospective “game changer.”

Addressing downtown Yellowknife’s issues, Jarvis said basing a new polytechnic university campus in the district would “do nothing but good,” helping businesses to thrive. He wants to see “new, culturally appropriate” partners brought in to address downtown homelessness, addictions, and violence.

Below, find a transcript of the full interview.

Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Jarvis’ interview airdate is September 11.


More information: Thom Jarvis’ campaign Facebook page

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 are your concerns as a candidate?


Thom Jarvis: Well, first and foremost, it’s basically the condition of the riding itself and the overall outlook for the territorial economy.

There’s a lot of red flags coming our way over the next 10 years and in the 18th legislature, it seemed to be all over the map. People were not really focusing on what was coming. There seemed to be a lot of rancour and sort of, you know, kvetching with each other.

That was noticed by the public, noticed by me. I’m not a political person by any stretch of the imagination, and quite a few people that I know in the riding, that I chum around with and whatnot… it would be a frequent topic of conversation.

The funny thing is: every single one of that 18th legislature, when they come in here, I guarantee you they’ll tell me, “Yeah, we need to do better working together. And I tried, believe me, I tried.” What do you think happens once people get into the assembly? And what do you think would make you different?

Well, you know, 100 percent I agree with you. This is almost rote, it’s going to be coming from everybody.

You know, a lot of times it literally comes down to personality. Some people just naturally work better with others. It’s just human nature. Some people want to be the smartest person in the room, no matter what the subject is. Some people are better at listening, some people don’t want to listen, they just want to talk. There’s quite a few variables that I’m sure are going through all the different personalities that were in the 18th.

Myself, I do get along extremely well with others, I work well with others. And I’ve had to professionally, working with various organisations, groups and companies, trying to bring together people on mutual understandings, deals that are acceptable. It’s just sort-of second nature for me.

What are the deals that you would want to see done, first of all, if you get into the territorial government? Where are your priorities lying?

A few of them tie back to an underlying theme, which is the economy going forward. As you know, most people who have taken a look at the 10-year forecast, things are looking less than rosy. Now is the time to sort-of get in there and start changing course.

You know, an economy is very much like a ship, it doesn’t turn on a dime. You have to start putting in the measures that are going to yield results, even if the results are not there for 10 years. We’ve got to get out of this mindset of, “I need something that’s going to get me elected for four years and it has to be 100 percent there.” I don’t think that’s the correct way to look at things, I think we’ve got to look at a longer game.

Because people live here, people have kids that are growing up here, people have kids who are going to school down south and not returning because of diminished opportunities, which is something very unusual for Yellowknife. We’ve always been a very prosperous kind of a place. Almost everybody in this town is from someplace, people come from far and wide across the country. And then over the last number of years, we’ve seen an awful lot of people coming here from around the world. There’s an appeal and it’s appeal that can be maintained if we don’t take our eyes off the ball, get comfortable when things are comfortable and, you know, keep our eyes open for things that are coming down the pipe.

Let’s start territorially first of all. When you talk about steering the ship and it taking a long period of time, are there any specific measures you think we could be putting into place now, or in the next year or two, that would help to steer that ship?

Well, there’s a couple of things. Basically, paying more attention and sounding a more positive tone towards our mineral extraction industry is huge.

Tone counts. You know, sometimes people don’t think it does so much. But what it does is it does help to instil confidence in investors. And until you have confident investors, you don’t have investors. And so there’s a number of issues that have been going on over the last couple of years. And of course, they’re tied, and these are not simple things or it would have already been done. But it’s just a matter of having the will to sort-of march towards those goals.

We’ve got a few big things coming our way that I think could be real game changers. One is the proposed highway through the Slave Geological Province. That’s huge, that can be a massive game changer, very serious investment in infrastructure that can be utilized for industry. And I mean, these are the kind of things that draw. We need to have a positive attitude, a positive tone, start working on our deficit infrastructure, because we really, really do.

Unlike a lot of mature provinces and other jurisdictions, the NWT is really still in a state of creation. We don’t even have road access to all our communities yet. There’s so many things that are, you know, essentially taken for granted in the southern provinces, and even next door in Yukon. The Yukon setup is… they’re decades ahead of us when you really look at it from that perspective. It’s one of the reasons why their mineral extraction industry is doing well. And it matters a lot.

You know, a lot of people think there’s just a number of fellows up there working, different people heading up to the mines, to the camps. But the spin-off is huge, particularly exploration. That keeps our small air companies going, it keeps transportation companies going, it generates a lot of spin-off dollars. So there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to look at, beyond the actual projects themselves. The residual echo effect is massive.

Now, looking at Yellowknife Centre in particular, what is your message to residents and voters in Yellowknife Centre about how you’ll represent them and their concerns?

Well, for starters, I’m going to actually listen to them.

Cindy and I, we’ve been living in Northern Heights for the last five years, and prior to that we were just down the street, an inch over the line into Glen Abernethy’s old riding. So basically, our working and living is right in the epicentre of downtown. And a lot of people, well, they’re just very concerned, they don’t feel as though they’ve been listened to. They feel that things have been sort-of imposed upon them, and then they were informed of these things after the fact. And they’re not particularly happy.

I can tell you, even walking through my building, I literally got all my nomination signatures within one building. And this was something that I heard from just-about every single person, maybe with the exception of three. So you know, there’s a common theme. People want somebody there that is going to be there.

You are running against candidates who probably have a more developed reputation than you for the social envelope in terms of Julie Green and Arlene Hache, people who have crafted reputations of working to try to solve issues like homelessness, issues, like violence downtown, issues like addictions, for some time. How will you convince voters in Yellowknife Centre that you are equally as adept as they are, that you have the knowledge that they have to be able to effectively address some of these big issues?

Realistically, some of the nuances of workings between departments, I’m not going to have that same level of knowledge that Julie has, because I’ve not worked in that industry.

But I do have eyes. And I do have ears and I’ve spoken with people and I can very-much see that what we’re doing right now is not working.

If you’re living in my building and you’re trying to watch TV, all you have to do is open your ears and occasionally look out the window and you can see that what has been attempted thus far is not working. Things are actually worse than they were before.

Now, not that I’m disparaging efforts to do… not by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, we’ve made some serious progress, the street outreach vans? Brilliant, that is a fantastic idea and it works, and I can see it, and I can hear it. Like I mean literally hear it, because when we had the sobering centre directly across the street from the building, we would literally have ambulances coming almost every hour on the hour. They’d be starting about 7am, before they even opened. And they’d be going on till, you know, well after midnight. That has been greatly reduced. Still far too much of it, but greatly reduced.

And I’m sure that has really helped the folks out at the hospital because, you know, an awful lot of times people were ending up in the emergency room that really weren’t in medical distress, they were just in the state of affairs that they couldn’t be left on the street. And nobody wants that, you know? Nobody wants that sort of thing.

So it’s a matter of picking up where we are at this point of time, moving forward, bringing in some new ideas. And I do think we need some new partners, some culturally appropriate partners would be ideal. William Greenland is working on a program that I think might be a nice fit. There’s different things that we could team up with different people in programs that we can actually reach out to, because what we have been doing, although a step forward, we need to go forward farther.

One of the things that you want is you know where the goal is, and we may not get a touchdown, but if we can keep getting first downs, we’re going the right way.

How will you represent the business clients of Yellowknife Centre? What do you believe the key issues are for them, and what can you deliver for them as an MLA?

First and foremost, if you speak with almost any of them… there may be a few outliers here and there but, generally, the consensus seems to be, and the number one concern is, basically just the condition. You know, unfortunately, with public drunkenness, and now what’s been really ramping up to a new level of violence, which has been slowly brewing and getting ever more so over the last two, three years, it’s really coming up and it’s hurting them. It’s hurting clients, their own staff in many places, this has now become a concern. And it wasn’t that many years ago in Yellowknife, having staff concerned about coming to work downtown? I mean, that didn’t even exist. That wasn’t even a thing.

But it is now, and we don’t need that. We don’t want that. It’s something that we’ve got to push back and kind-of reclaim Yellowknife for Yellowknifers. The downtown people should be able to walk around freely.

We’re into our last five minutes so excuse me if I hop through a few topics. Let’s talk about the polytechnic university and how that affects Yellowknife. Where do you see the grand plan for that? Appreciating that it’s more than a four-year project, it’ll extend out of the life of the 19th Assembly, how would you help to guide that?

I’m gonna have to sit down and really go through what they have already. Conceptually, though, I mean, I think it’s an idea whose time is almost long overdue. It’s a brilliant idea. And I would definitely advocate and, if I am elected, work towards making sure that it is a reality.

And as importantly, I want to make sure it’s a reality and ends up in Yellowknife Centre. You know, it’s a little local, but that’s what I’m being elected to do. I would like to have that right in the heart of the city, it would do nothing but good. It would revitalize. You would have an awful lot of students going about, it would help the businesses, it would change the flavour and dynamic of the street life in Yellowknife in the evening, and I think there’s nothing but good there.

And as well, capacity. One of the things that has always been an issue here, going way back to the 1980s when I was first living here, is retention of medical staff and other specialties. It has always been an issue. There’s always going to be a certain number of people that will come here and take it like ducks to water and love it. There’s also always going to be professionals coming up that are not going to like it for whatever reason. Sometimes if only that it’s too far from their families down south. So they tend to transition in and out.

If we start developing and training our own staff here… I’m thinking diagnostics, things like this that are hard to maintain, you know? Peopleqre always coming and going, trust me. My wife goes for different tests and, you know, she has to wait for the doctor from Edmonton who makes it up a couple times a year, right? But if we had people who were being trained from here, the likelihood of them remaining here is far, far greater. And I think that serves the territory overall very well in years to come,

Returning to your hope that the tone changes when it comes to attracting investment economically in the NWT, how do you change that tone without concerning some people that maybe that’s going to come at the expense of preserving the environment and adequately addressing climate change?

Balance. It’s all about balance, you know, and this is something that people speak to me about. Modern mining, of course, is nothing like the the Wild West bad old days, there’s no appetite for it. There’s no appetite for it in the industry itself. There’s definitely not an appetite for it with the public at large. And groups don’t want that either.

Let’s say we put the Slave Geological Province access corridor in. It goes straight through the grounds of a caribou herd that’s only got 10,000 left where it had 500,000 left 30 years ago. There are people who worry the road is a death knell for that herd. How do you balance that?

The route itself has not been 100-percent established, it’s more the concept of where they would like it to end up. So there’s time to really go through this and do it in such a way that it’s not going to be impacting migrating herds. You know, it’s not the kind of thing that we want off the table.

In fact, going back many, many, many years, and some new Yellowknifers are probably not aware of this, the Ingraham Trail was originally going to be a road all the way up to Coppermine or somewhere thereabouts. And then, when Diefenbaker lost the election the road just basically stopped where it is now. You’re going, going, going, and then, you know, just drive off into a river. So this is not something that’s brand-new out of the box. When you think about it, it is something that was started at one point of time, and I think it’s something whose time has come again.

It could also turn Yellowknife into a real transportation hub, much like Hay River was at one point of time, but for shipping things to Nunavut. You know, you think we’ve got infrastructure troubles, I mean Nunavut, everything is fly-in or barge-in. This could create another entire industry here in Yellowknife and really ramp up, perhaps, even warehousing.

Lastly, sum up for people what kind of MLA you would be for them. What kind of personality do you expect to be in the legislature?

Somebody who actually listens. You know, I don’t know it all. And I know this! Trust me, I’ve been married for 31 years, I’m reminded about this on a semi-daily basis, right? So it’s a personalities approach. I’m going to be very approachable with other MLAs should I end up in the legislature and, for the people in the riding, I’m an approachable guy. I’m not overly standoffish or anything like that.

Everybody has got something to bring to the table. If we keep things balanced, we don’t want to be tipping too far one way or too far the other way, there’s always a commonality that can be found with just-about anybody if you take the time to listen and open your eyes to see.