NWT Election 2019: Jan Vallillee’s Yellowknife North interview
Jan Vallillee hopes to become the next MLA for Yellowknife North.
With a background in medical IT services, Vallillee said three decades’ experience in the public service gives her a “proven track record.”
She told Cabin Radio she wants to drive better recruitment and retention of medical staff with a series of additional incentives, arguing to do so would “save a lot of money in the long run.”
Though supportive of the NWT government’s recent desire to pursue major infrastructure projects, Vallillee believes “marginally” scaling back such spending will allow significant investment in other programs.
Saying she is a “great team player” with a decades-long record of community-building, Vallillee concluded: ” I’m not in this for a career. I’ve had a career. This is because I have an innate desire and need to serve our public.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Vallillee’s interview airdate is September 16.
More information: Jan Vallillee’s campaign Facebook page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 6, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: Give us an opening sense of your priorities for Yellowknife North and the NWT.
Jan Vallillee: Well, good day, Oliver. Let me start off by saying a couple of my priorities for the North and for Yellowknife. I mean, we’ve got to recognize that Yellowknife is a part of the entire North and we can’t just focus on one community, we really should be collectively working together to improve everywhere in the North, not just Yellowknife. And I’ve been door-to-door knocking, hit up easily over 100 homes, and have made sure I’ve expressed that opinion, and the residents’ feedback is they agree.
So my main priorities are the health and social wellbeing of all northerners, in addition to our economy. Those are the two main items but I have more ideas than I can place in a platform. I have listed sort-of 10 ideas which I feel we really need to address, but I do want to focus really on the top two, not suggesting that the remainder aren’t equally important.
Working in a healthcare environment… granted, I’m in the IT sector but, when you work in the hospital, you see what happens in the hospital. You know, I seldom come downtown because I see what’s happening downtown. So the social wellbeing of our community is really equally important. But that doesn’t just rest in Yellowknife, that’s happening in all communities in the North. So I’m trying to offer some solutions to help rectify that and help our people move forward.
What are the solutions?
For health, in particular, we’re having a heck of a time retaining and recruiting nurses and physicians. It’s most notable in the nursing sector. I see the strain on the nurses’ faces every day, I see how much overtime they have to work just to ensure we can offer good care to the citizens. And we serve all residents of the Northwest Territories. Again, it’s not just a Yellowknife thing. And I do fully appreciate this is a Canada-wide issue. So the North has to step up its recruitment and retention game, and we can do that.
For example, Ollie, one nurse, five overtime shifts, that’s probably $3,000 to $4,000. If we offer some retention incentives: you know, you come for a year, we’ll offer you $3,000, $4,000. I’m just throwing some figures out here figuratively, if you will. Do that every year, for three years, that’s going to save us a lot of money in the long run, because it’s a one-time expenditure rather than every single month for multiple nurses, if you know what I mean.
The social wellbeing? I think we really need to focus on some on-the-land programs. I just saw an article about Cambridge Bay. They have a fantastic on-the-land program they’re trying to implement and it’s working for their community, we can bring that here. So small ideas can lead to big solutions and have real significant positive impacts for our community.
Your platform in several places mentions the potential for incentives: retention of staff and recruitment of staff in healthcare, people entering the trades, more rebates for renewable energy. They all sound great. How will we pay for them?
That is a very challenging question. So right now we have a heavy focus on infrastructure, which is very much needed. But if we scale back our infrastructure investment, marginally, we can pay for a lot of these programs.
The other thing is we have several organisations within the community already offering some of these services. And there’s such a gamut. People don’t know, in detail, who does what, where are there some overlaps. So I personally would like to see all of these wonderful NGOs come to the table, tell us what they do, look where the duplication of services is, and try to streamline that. Then we are spending our money much more efficiently and really helping the people.
And plus, it’s such a convoluted system when you have so many organizations offering so many solutions. Where do we go? Where do we send them? It’s not clear, it’s not concise, we need to really get that all detailed down on paper so everybody’s working on the same page. Right now, the system is very fragmented.
One way of getting more money to the NWT is to have more people here in federal transfer payments. You’ve suggested you want to encourage immigration to Yellowknife and the North. What is within a territorial government’s power to do there?
The territorial government itself is not responsible for immigration, but I have just recently read that there is an immigration strategy for the Northwest Territories. And I’d like to explore that a little further. Full disclosure, I’m not overly familiar with it. Like I say, I have been responding to constituents, they have been first and foremost my priority, getting some great feedback with respect to that.
So there are some options I see we can use going forward. There is a great model in Winnipeg, for example, there is a dedicated immigration centre. And this is for all new immigrants and refugees coming into the country, to point them into the right direction, and how to get started with a job, how to get all the necessary documentation in place. So I would really like to see something at a much smaller scale offered in Yellowknife.
Now, from what I understand of your platform, you are broadly supportive of things like the Slave Geological Province access road, the Taltson hydro expansion. There is a line in your platform that says, “We need to be more diligent with our science and researchers to ensure any major investments do not become a boondoggle.” What examples are there where we weren’t diligent?
The Inuvik to Tuk highway, for example. Portions of that highway were built directly over permafrost, because the proper people were not engaged in the process.
Well, you surely can’t build it on anything other than permafrost up there.
From what I understand, and this is talking to experts in the field, they’ve indicated they could have taken a different direction on sections of the road that likely would have allowed it to last a heck of a lot longer. So portions of that highway are going to have to be rebuilt, no matter what, which is going to cost one heck of a lot of money.
So is that good fiscal spending for the territory, if our operation and maintenance over the next 15 to 20 years is going to end up costing what the actual cost of the road was? Personally, I don’t think it is.
If we are to entertain those colossal, much-needed projects, i.e. the Slave Geological Province corridor, then we have to make sure we have the right people doing the design work. And that means we’re going to have to, you know, expand beyond your basic road engineers, we’re gonna have to bring more experts into question.
Would you have not built the Inuvik to Tuk highway?
Well, I wouldn’t say I would not have. Um… yeah, no, I wouldn’t say I would not have, Ollie, I just would have made sure the right people, like I say, were engaged. And if they came back to us and said, “There’s no way we can get around building over permafrost,” for example, then I probably would have said no to that project.
OK. Looking at what happens once a road is in place: when it comes to exploration and mining, you said you want to see the process streamlined and there are bottlenecks. What are the bottlenecks?
Excellent question. This is what I would propose we do: I would like to see a lean exercise done on the whole exploration, development, and mining process.
So day one, your application goes in, it gets sent to place A, it takes X amount of time to get to place B for review, literally. A lean process does allow you to take a single-source process from beginning to end and fragment it out into the timelines with the partners engaged and then see, “OK, well look, why is this taking three months to get from C to D? Are there factors in there that we can implement to help reduce that timeframe?”
So it just needs to be scrutinized, in depth, from A to Z. And I think if we do that exercise we’ll be able to come up with some solutions to help streamline it.
OK. Aside from mining and that side of the economy, also tourism: you spend a bit of time on that in your platform. One area that that caught my eye: new campgrounds in the Yellowknife area, in partnership with the Yellowknives Dene. Now what have they said about that?
I have actually not spoken to the Yellowknives Dene yet. I’m hoping to engage in a meeting with them… not next week, my slate is pretty full, but the week after.
I think if we engage with the Yellowknives Dene, we can form a partnership to start opening up some new campgrounds. Not only in the Yellowknife area, I should be a little more specific, but also the North Slave area. Like we have the the North Slave Park, why can’t we add some campgrounds there in conjunction with some of our First Nations people in the Behchokǫ̀ region? There’s so much potential for campgrounds in the North and they’re being well-utilized so I think we should jump on that bandwagon.
Lots of Canadians want staycations in their own country and people are curious about the North. We’re seeing more exposure of the entire Northwest Territories on various TV programs. We’ve got to capitalize on that and showcase the amazing communities we have here and our amazing culture.
And the one thing I would like to see: all campgrounds have one lot dedicated to the cultural aspect of the First Nations which the campground is on. You know, if we can also educate while allowing people to enjoy our incredible Northwest Territories, I think we should.
On a related subject of land use, particularly in the district that you’re looking to represent, Yellowknife North: the Ingraham trail and leases. You have a lot to say on this in your platform. Tell us more.
At present, leases make it really prohibitive for individuals who want to purchase property from other individuals: they need to put down a 20 or 25 percent deposit to get any financing, because of they are leased lots, they are not titled. So for some of these 99-year leases, you know, why can’t we just convert these to titled lots and allow others to be able to enjoy the beauty of living off the grid, and it makes it a little more affordable. It doesn’t put extra stressors on people.
Say we’re ageing, it’s getting a little bit harder to go out and harvest wood and to check all our systems daily, so we want to move into town. It’s really hard for them to sell their property because people have to put significant downpayments, right? So I just like to see that structure changed a little bit so more people can enjoy the area.
We’ve only got a few minutes left, I want to ask a little bit about how you would foresee your role within the 19 members of the legislature. How closely did you pay attention to the 18th Assembly and what did you learn from that about how you might want to be an MLA?
I learned that there’s a whole lot of disconnect with MLAs. Many of them are just not working very well together and they don’t collaborate well together. There’s a real cabinet versus regular MLAs mentality which is an awful way to govern the North, it’s really ineffective. It creates a lot of anxiety and anger and discontent and it makes our political system look pretty silly.
So I’m really hoping… me? I’m a really great team player. I build teams, I’ve worked with teams my entire life, and anybody who has worked with me will tell you, “Yes, Jan’s a good collaborator.” So I’m gonna bring that to the table. I work well with people I’m, you know, maybe not really fond of, but we’ve got to get a job done so let’s work together, and let’s do it well, and let’s be respectful of one another. I think that is key.
How do you see the difference between you and the other candidates in Yellowknife North?
My drive, my energy, and my passion is strong. I’m not in this for a career. I’ve already had over 30 years in the public service, I’ve had a career. This is because I have an innate desire and need to serve our public.
I’ve been a huge, huge community partner. I’ve fundraised a whole lot of money for NGOs, and TSOs, in the community and the North, and I have volunteered extensively: well over 10,000 hours. So people know that I am committed to this community.
And I am committed to so many issues that I really, really believe in. I think I can bring to the table great collaboration, great drive, great desire. I know so many people in the community that are experts in their field, that I will have an endless source of reliable information that I can also bring to the table.
And just lastly, should you become an MLA, what kind of premier would you hope the Northwest Territories to have for the next four years?
I would hope we have a very progressive female premier for the next four years. Doesn’t necessarily have to be female but, you know, I was working with government when Nellie Cournoyea was premier, and I’m telling you she could kick butt. She got things done because she worked with people and she respected others. Her drive and energy was also there.
So I think we need a premier that does have that. It doesn’t necessarily have to be female, obviously, but boy, it would sure be a nice change. Women have a tendency to bring a different discussion to the table.