Mike Drake hopes to become Nahendeh’s next MLA.
Calling Nahendeh the “have-not” region, Drake’s campaign is centred around getting more money to repair the constituency’s basic infrastructure. “Our campground is basically empty all year round. Nobody will come here because the roads are so bad,” he said.
Drake said proper management of healthcare dollars to ensure continuity in doctors is also key, as is reforming the education system.
Noting the constituency hasn’t has a Nahendeh minister for over 15 years, Drake volunteered himself for the job and said: “I’m fully prepared and qualified … I would take on the hardest of the bunch, if it was available. Health and Social Services wouldn’t be a problem at all.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Drake’s interview air date is September 24.
More information: Mike Drake’s LinkedIn page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 11, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: Give us a sense of who you are as a person and what your experience is.
Mike Drake: I’ve been in the Nahendeh electoral region for 38 years. I’ve been a social worker for a long time in the region, more than 10 years out of Fort Liard covering several communities. And then I was the mayor of Fort Liard for a term, which was a really good experience and got me involved in the political kind of stuff. It was a few years back and it just got me interested in it. And then I got a job with MACA [the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs], a transfer assignment out of social services to MACA, which was a governance advisor position with the department, which was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed that position. And fortunately for me, they seemed to like me and had me apply on the regional superintendent job here in Fort Simpson. I’ve been here now for just over 10 years doing this job, which is a really, really good job, I’ve really enjoyed my time here. And now, I’ve decided to take the next step.
So I was doing the social work thing and helping families for years, and now I’ve been helping communities for many, many years. I thought the next step would be sort-of obvious, and that’s to help at the territorial level and see if I can help get things going a little better there.
What would you like to do for your communities over the next four years?
When you’re talking about a platform, there’s just so many things that person could have on their platform in this region. I’ve got a couple of obvious things on mine, for example, like healthcare.
We haven’t had physician continuity, like the same doctor. You can go there three times in a month and have three or four different doctors. It’s really awkward, it’s really not good for healthcare, it’s not going to help anybody, that’s for sure. That’s just one of them.
But the regional infrastructure is also a big problem, our highways are in desperate need of repair out here. And I know it’s not to do with any of the local workers, these guys are working like dogs trying to get this stuff fixed up. But they don’t have the funding, we’re not getting the money. They need major overhauls at this point. We need to get it fixed up. And there’s just nothing happening in that area at all.
And then there’s another infrastructure thing that I’ve heard other people talk about, and I agree totally, we need to get a bridge talked about here. It’s a real long shot, and it costs a small fortune to do those kind of things, but we’ve really got to start talking about it anyways, and start getting a plan in place.
We need a bridge across the Liard River. We have a ferry getting into Fort Simpson here now, so access to this end of the region is really through that ferry or ice bridge in the wintertime. And there’s times of the year where you just can’t get in or out of the town. It becomes really awkward and there are safety issues, all kinds of things can happen with that. But anyways, the bridge is a long-term plan, obviously, they’re a very expensive thing to look at. But it’s something we should be looking at.
Education, there’s lots of problems with education. You’ve heard lots of things in the news lately where we’re just not meeting the bar when it comes to education. Our kids aren’t graduating with a proper education. So there’s very few that are actually meeting the bar at all. But then when they do meet the bar, they have to go to post-secondary education and the funding levels are not very good. In fact, some of the courses they don’t even cover here, we don’t pay for it out there, which is really odd in my view, we should be covering what we can.
And I understand that there’s an issue with money, there’s not a lot of money to go around these days. But I think that we need to prioritize some things that are more important than others, obviously. And I think those are a couple of them.
And then the last thing I put on my platform, one of the biggest issues in this region, is there’s just been sort-of a general lack of major spending. I don’t mean spending generally, just major spending is what I’m talking about. In this region, we haven’t seen any infrastructure projects within the description for some time now. There’s been a few that were on the books that fell off the books, like the hospital we’re supposed to get or the health centre they were going to build. A few things like that have fallen by the wayside and… we’re just waiting for and we need to get those things started faster, to get things happening.
We’ve seen infrastructure spending in other regions like the Tuk highway and the Taltson hydro expansion. What should your region be getting? You mentioned the bridge into Simpson and the hospital, and updating the infrastructure that’s already in place like your roads. Anything else that you would like to see money put toward?
Well, there’s just so many things. I think this has been the have-not region for some time. I think I’ve heard it described that way. There’s just so many things, it’s hard to pinpoint any one at this point. We’ve done a few just now, but there’s an endless list of things that we could actually improve on.
And I’m not saying it’s all bad, don’t take that the wrong way, I actually think the government’s doing a commendable job where they can. It’s just a funding issue. There’s not enough money happening in this end of the territory, and we need to make sure that’s changed as well.
How do you propose changing that?
I think one of the key things a person could do if elected is to get on cabinet and try to channel some funding into this end of the territory for sure. And if not, as a regular MLA, you do what you can and try your best to influence and convince and do some collaboration to get people interested in spending some time and effort in this end of the territory.
We’re falling behind everybody else at this point, I think, and it’s time to pick up the pace. There’s another thing too that I would point out: there hasn’t been a cabinet member from this region in over 15 years. It’s time and I’m fully prepared and qualified. So I’m looking at that pretty seriously.
Any cabinet positions in particular that you would like to take on?
You know, I’m a pretty versatile fellow. I think they’re all manageable, to be honest with you. I would take on the hardest of the bunch, if it was available. Health and Social Services wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’d entertain that for sure. It would depend on what my colleagues felt.
You mentioned the need for physicians is a major issue in your region. Of course, not just there, but across the NWT and all across Canada. Do you have any ideas on what we can do to improve that situation?
The physicians in particular, I think it’s a matter of focusing the funding in a different way. We have doctors here regularly, it’s not that we don’t have doctors. It’s obviously costing us a small fortune for locums to come in and out on a rotational basis. Weekly, sometimes, it seems. I’m just thinking that it’s a matter of coordinating properly, and there may be a need for additional funding, but I’m thinking there’s probably enough funding in the pot already. Now, I’m just not fully informed, obviously, but it is something we should be looking at closely. I think we could do a better job with what we’ve got.
So reshuffling that money? Into what areas?
Like I said, I think it costs a lot of money to have doctors coming and going on a regular basis. I think you could channel that money that you’re spending on all that transportation and everything else that you’re spending on those doctors, and focus on something a little more permanent.
I understand the likelihood of getting a doctor full-time is slim to none, but we should at least be looking at some kind of monthly or bi-monthly rotational thing with the same doctor coming and going. I’m kind of shooting in the dark a little bit because I’m not in that loop right now. But I certainly would like to know more and certainly would like to be able to improve that, because I hear that complaint on a regular basis in this region. It’s just a real problem, especially in small communities, they get it even worse than we get here in Simpson.
The current education minister said that a reform of the education system is needed. Where should we start?
I think you’ve got to start the grassroots, at the bottom level. I agree with the minister for sure, we need to do a complete overhaul of the system, we need to look at it from the bottom up. It’s failing everybody, the kids coming out of school aren’t able to read and write properly, and that’s just not acceptable. And even in a trades position, you need to be able to read and write, it’s just part of how it works. You have to be able to do math, you have to do these things.
And we’re currently not necessarily equipping our kids to do those things properly and I think it’s a failure on all of our parts. And it’s going to cost money to fix, there’s no question. You can do the evaluation of what’s on the ground now but I think at the end of the day, you’re going to find that we’ve done so many cuts and so many different things to this education system over the years that it’s going to cost a little bit to fix it up at this point.
Even if a review was done, it could take years for that review to be completed and talked about and implemented. Is there anything you think could be done in the short term to improve education in the territory?
Short-term is tough, because it’s going to take some money. In order to have a proper education system, you need people to deliver the system and I don’t think there’s enough people in place to deliver the system properly at this point. They’ve cut all kinds of positions in this community, special needs assistants and stuff, they’ve cut the most needed positions I believe.
And now they’re scrambling to try to figure out a way to fix that. It’s not a good approach to do it that way, I don’t agree with short-term solutions like that necessarily, unless absolutely you’ve got no choice. But I think we could look at a little longer future than what you’re thinking of. We should go long-term and figure this properly. I agree with the minister on the idea of doing a complete overhaul and having a good look at it.
Now you admitted that all of these things are going to cost a lot of money and we need to figure out where we most need to channel that money. What kinds of things would you like to take that money away from in order to fund things like healthcare and education and infrastructure?
That’s obviously a really tough question because I wouldn’t want to pinpoint any one thing off the bat. The house would have to look at it very carefully to decide what they were going to not do. If they were talking about serious cuts in some areas that would be something you’d have to make sure you’re on top of and make sure you have all the answers and all the different ramifications.
Robbing Paul to pay Peter may not be the answer, I don’t know. I think that it may be better to look for funding elsewhere, maybe the feds, find some money there possibly. I’m just shooting in the dark a little bit here. I just don’t know that you want to rob Paul to pay Peter because we’re pretty slim all across the ground now, so I don’t know what you want to stop doing. It’s a really tough question.
People continually reference that the diamond mines are starting to close and new things need to be done to stimulate the economy. What are your thoughts there?
One of the things that we could supplement in my area here, in Nahendeh, would be something along the lines of tourism, something like that. We have significant potential with regards to tourism.
But you can’t come here. No one’s going to bring a trailer here or fifth wheel or any kind of fancy equipment like that down the highway, that’s for sure. It’s just about unpassable for someone bringing a big holiday trailer to our campground. Our campground is basically empty all year round because nobody will come here, the roads are so bad. So that’s really hurting our economy. And even just general business, people are suffering because their vehicles are getting beat up. It’s really a problem, we need to start with the real basics and fix that stuff before we can move on to anything else.
Another major topic this year has been climate change, and what the territory should be doing to address that. Do you have any comment on that?
I understand what they’re talking about with regard to climate change and the permafrost and all that stuff. But from Nahendeh’s perspective, we do have permafrost here, but it’s very sparse. I think it’s like 50 percent or something, it really doesn’t affect a lot in community governments, it’s not really a major concern.
But what is a major concern with regard to climate change is the whole idea of forest fires starting much earlier and being much more intense and lasting much longer than they used to. We now have forests fire starting at the same time we have flood time, when there used to be a gap of about a month or so between our flood period and our forest fire season. Well, there’s no gap anymore, they’re happening at the exact same time, it’s really problematic.
And governments can do stuff about that kind of thing, preventive measures like putting fire guards in place and stuff like that around the communities, and accessing funding. They potentially could have funding should they decide to spend it on that type of thing, but it needs to be prioritized a little more. Because that’s where we’re seeing climate change in this region, more than anything, is actually weather phenomena where the weather is getting warmer quicker and all that stuff.
What exactly are you proposing that we do about that?
Well, I think the community governments need to be more proactive. You know, you can’t fight the weather. What you can do is prevent things from burning down your community when the fires are that much more intense and that much more readily happening. And that’s to do things like building fire guards and stuff like that. And ENR [the Department of Environment and Natural Resources] of course is aware of this, this wouldn’t be news to them at all. They’re fully aware of the fact that now the fire season’s getting worse year by year basically. And their end of the spectrum is just throwing more money, really. What else can you do other than arm our guys with the proper tools to fight fires?
Are there opportunities in your region for investing in clean energy?
Mainly I’ve been seeing a lot of solar stuff going up around and I like that, it’s good and green. Although the turnaround on the investments is considerable and it takes a long time to get your money back on something like that. But at least it’s green, at least it’s an attempt. I’m seeing them coming up all over the place. Arctic Energy Alliance has been pushing that solar stuff for some time. I like it. It’s good news. I’d like to see that continue.
There’s other things around the region here too. There’s the geothermal stuff they were talking about in Fort Liard one time, that’s kind of fallen by the wayside. I don’t know if it’s going to pick up again, I don’t know if there’s any plans at this point. There’s a few things around that we could do. Most of them are involved in solar, I think, at this point in this region.
When you’re going around knocking on doors, what are you telling people? What’s your pitch? Why should they vote for you?
Well, I’m basically telling them it’s time that we start looking at our infrastructure, specifically in this region, and basically letting them know that we need to have more input from the GNWT in this region. It’s just not happening here right now. There hasn’t been anything, like you mentioned earlier, there’s been no major infrastructure projects here for many years now. And it’s not acceptable, you’ve got to do something about that for sure. And that’s what I’ve been telling folks. People are really receptive to that idea for sure.
Even just the general infrastructure of the highway, that type of stuff affects everything, everything revolves around that highway. And those things need to be repaired and people are very receptive to that for sure. But those are just some matter-of-fact things that have to happen in my opinion. I don’t think there’s really rocket science behind any of those things, to be honest with you.