Randy Sibbeston is campaigning to become Nahendeh’s next MLA.
Sibbeston focuses his platform on infrastructure projects for Fort Simpson, saying the improvements would benefit the whole region.
He says he’ll advocate for a bridge across the Liard River and a hospital for Fort Simpson, as well as a secure storage facility. (Sibbeston was at the centre of an apparent discovery of health documents at the village’s dump last year.)
Sibbeston, expressing interest in becoming the minister of environment or education, said the NWT’s education system needs to focus more heavily on the trades and the arts, and the region needs to capitalize on timber production so residents can build their own houses.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Sibbeston’s interview air date is September 24.
More information: Randy Sibbeston’s Facebook campaign 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: Tell us a little about yourself and your experience.
Randy Sibbeston: I’m from Fort Simpson. I’m 49 years old, raising a family of seven at home, and politically active in the community. I’ve been involved in the Fort Simpson Justice Committee and the Fort Simpson Métis as well, I was the president for a while. And I was on the executive committee for the Dehcho First Nations. And I’ve been working as a real estate developer in Fort Simpson and as a farmer.
What’s on your platform for this election?
Well, I’m interested in bridging the Liard River and advocating for a hospital in Fort Simpson in order to be able to provide emergency services for people in our region.
The education system is really lacking. Shop class, where young people can learn to work on engines and build things with their hands and work with their hands, that’s very important. And also art and music are important as well. Those are some of the things that are almost considered extras now in school in Fort Simpson and in some parts of the Territories. And I think that from a holistic point of view, they’re really essential.
You’ve got some infrastructure projects, you’ve got education, anything else?
Housing is failing in many communities due to poor design. I see houses that are not really designed to last very long and so they fall apart quickly. Through better design, and using modern building materials, we can easily overcome those problems.
And another thing is, too, we’ve got a lot of resources in our region. Nahendeh is very, very rich in timber. We can use some of that to build cabins and build homes out of timber. The last time that was really looked at was quite a while ago, and a lot has happened in the construction industry and products have been improved. It would be a good time to look at that again because it’s a local resource, and we’ve got it.
In a way, we’re just letting these forests burn down. Really, we should be using them. I think it would be a lot better for our economy if we were to make use of those resources.
So as an MLA, what’s your role in getting timber production started?
Well, licensing and legislation are preventing that from happening. So I think that modernizing our legislation to help us to reach parity with some of the other provinces that are neighbouring us would be very helpful.
Which legislation is preventing this?
The forestry legislation.
But here, we really can use a little bit of economic development in our region. We’ve got great tourist potential and great forestry potential and great agricultural potential. We’ve got all of this great potential and we’re not getting the benefit of it. And the reason is because of legislation, and that’s why this job is relevant to me, because this is where legislation is influenced and affected. So that’s why I’m running for MLA.
Tourism is something that has come up again and again as a way to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. What needs to be done in Nahendeh to encourage the tourism industry to really take off?
Well, here in Nahendeh, there are some challenges to accessing the Japanese and some of the big, high-volume markets, because we just have small airplane service to the community. So they generally like to fly into areas where they can all just get off the plane, and they don’t like getting on regional flights. So that’s a limiting factor for us.
But, however, what we’ve got, it’s a little bit harder to access, is Nahanni, but the cost is worth it. It’s really a beautiful area, a spectacular part of the country. I think that the tourism here has so much potential, and it needs to be really promoted. And that’s a lot of it right, is promotion and advertising and getting people to come over. And that’s something that maybe hasn’t been addressed properly. We need to advertise more and get more people traveling to our region.
You said the education system is lacking and course offerings aren’t what they used to be. What can we do to change that and improve that?
Well, one thing that I’m very interested in addressing is the accuracy of information being provided regarding First Nations history. I’ve found out quite a bit. I’ve been scouring the scientific literature available on the subject of history in our area, and what I found out is it’s not the same as what’s being taught in school. History needs to be taught accurately and taught well.
And then the other thing is a lot of people really like to work with their hands. And you know, going into trades, you work with your hands. And so I think that, at a younger age, getting young people to do more with their hands, like the more the hands-on stuff, like art and shop… you know, those are transferable skills. People think that maybe those are not as important as the reading and writing and arithmetic. But really, those hands-on skills are essential.
And the other thing I’ve done is I’ve looked into the education system in Finland, where they have some of the highest rates of literacy and numeracy in the modern world. There, they have completely revamped their education system just in the last few years, and what they’re doing now is they’re teaching kids to work and solve problems in small groups. And this is something as well that really caught my interest because it occurred to me that most workplaces are interactive environments with other people, and that type of education could go a long way in better preparing our children for the future. So that’s really important.
I’d like to try to get that information exchange happening. That is the place to do it, at the Legislative Assembly level and at the territorial level – to be doing that kind of international outreach and research on improving what is currently available here.
As you said, a lot of the things that you’re proposing would require legislative change. Are you interested in a position on cabinet?
Well, you bet I am. Most of the action is taking place at the cabinet level, that’s where the decisions are made, and everybody else is just working to try to influence those ministers. So that’s absolutely the place to be.
Any particular position that you’re more interested in?
You know, education, culture, and employment, and natural resources are interesting to me. Our area has so many natural resources and we’ve really been lagging behind. And, you know, you look at any other jurisdiction, like Alberta or BC, and you can see a clear path to success if you look at their history, and how the legislatures in Alberta and British Columbia were able to manage their jurisdictions to a successful conclusion.
And I don’t see why it’s that hard for the GNWT to take some of that history and apply it to our area, in order to solve our basic meat-and-potato problems, which were actually solved a long time ago by those other jurisdictions. I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel. But let’s look at some success stories and see what they did right and then build on that and incorporate that in our legislative material.
Now, you found medical records at the Fort Simpson dump last November, and you had them for a few weeks before you told anyone. I’d imagine this would make your community have a harder time trusting you. What would you say to that?
Well, I’ve lived in Fort Simpson for a long time and I’ve never hurt anybody and I don’t owe anybody any money. I’ve just been a productive member of the community my whole life.
I can understand why people who are trying to deflect the attention from themselves to somebody else would say that. You know, I’d say the guilty parties and people who are probably acting irresponsibly, or whatever, would probably be the type of people to say those things. People with a clear mind and who are in positions of knowledge know me very well.
And, you know, like, for instance, during all that whole thing, it was just an exercise in media distortion, really, because it was kind of inaccurate in a lot of ways. So that issue to me is just sort-of a moot point.
How was it inaccurate?
Apparently, everything’s worked out really well for those people who were affected.
On that note, what I would like to say is that I would like to be a guy who’s promoting a secure data storage facility in Fort Simpson. And actively and absolutely one of the politically motivating factors was the discovery that those types of records were being thrown out at the dump: knowing that that is where things are at with the government has spurred me to action. And basically, I’m going to take a very hard stand on waste management and on record and privacy management.
You know, secure storage facilities, for data and for files and for everything else, are just an essential part of government. And they’re not optional. They’re necessary, if you want to have a government, you have to have the facilities in order to do it. And that’s part of it. If you want to protect people’s privacy, well, you need a security area where those records are held, and preferably all in one place. And that’s the way they do it down in Alberta. Like I was saying, why are we having a hard time reinventing the wheel? Why don’t we just look at those other jurisdictions that are successful and then apply their experience?
When you say records storage, that’s not just for health records, but for all records, right?
Yeah, for all private records. That’s right. Anything that might be sensitive is kept in a secure data storage facility. There are First Nations in Alberta that own them and then lease the data storage to health and social services and to the federal government. And they are like a windowless warehouse but it’s not. You know, there are hundreds and hundreds of mainframe computers working in there day and night. And there are sensitive records being carefully stored there with strict management practices in place. And that’s the way that it’s supposed to be done.
So I don’t know what’s going on here in Fort Simpson with boxes of paper getting thrown out at the dump and stuff but it seems like it’s happening all over the NWT. It seems to me it’s because the government of the Northwest Territories just hasn’t wanted to really adopt the more successful practices from other regions in the legislature. And you’ve really got the option to pick and choose what those successful articles are and to implement them in our area. So it’s really not that hard. I don’t see what the problem is for them to get up to speed on it.
So bridging the Liard River, building a hospital in Fort Simpson, putting in a storage facility – those are some pretty major projects which would cost a lot of money. What would be your pitch to the other MLAs in the legislature to get the money for your riding?
Well, I talked to an Elder from Fort Liard and they told me the story of having to get into a taxi in Liard, drive all the way to Fort Simpson, which is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, and then wait for the helicopter to take them across the river because the ice was freezing up. And then they get to the heliport, they get into another taxi, and then they go downtown to the hospital. It’s not a hospital, it’s a healthcare centre. And they gave a blood sample. And then they got back in the taxi, back to the helicopter, back to the other side where the taxi was waiting for them, which took them all the way back to Fort Liard.
So that is an Elder who has had to hold their pee and had to get in the vehicle and had to be in there because there’s no restroom facility at the ferry crossing. There’s no restroom facility along the way. And it’s just basic human dignity that I’m asking for with the hospital in Fort Simpson.
And here’s another thing that I just found, a report, it’s called 139 Years of Doctors in Fort Simpson. And it is a report that was done to highlight the fact that doctor recruitment was never a problem in Fort Simpson. Doctors liked living here. And so using basically an argument of facts I think I can make a strong case for for health services in this region.
If you ask people in Liard, you know, what does our region need? They don’t start telling you about what Fort Liard needs and this and that. No, no, no, they say there should be a bridge and there should be a hospital because it’s an ongoing struggle for those people in outlying communities.
A final question, what’s your pitch? Why should people vote for you?
Vote Randy Sibbeston and unite Nahendeh.