NWT Election 2019: Julie Green’s Yellowknife Centre interview
Julie Green hopes to remain the MLA for Yellowknife Centre.
Launching her re-election campaign, Green said her priorities include “fighting government fee and rate increases,” making clean energy investments more affordable, and increasing investment in tourism, fisheries, agriculture, manufacturing, and construction.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Green said a range of investments in Yellowknife’s downtown had helped but she acknowledged some people had the impression things are getting worse, not better. She said finalizing a good-neighbour agreement should be an immediate priority.
While hoping the Taltson hydro expansion and Slave Geological Province road go ahead, Green also wants to see more investment in tourism infrastructure and a new visitors’ centre for Yellowknife. “They pay for other visitors’ centres, and so they should pay for one here,” she said of the NWT government.
Above all, Green said she wanted to make sure the territory begins to provide “a range of housing options for seniors that doesn’t exist today,” with more units, smaller waiting lists, better access to home care, and “a fully functioning adult day program.”
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Green’s interview air date is September 11.
More information: Julie Green’s campaign website
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 9, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What would be your priorities for the next four years, if re-elected?
Julie Green: I would like to continue work on some priorities that were started in the last term. There has been some attention paid to economic diversification but not enough. That is an area that could be greatly expanded, especially in tourism and in clean energy and retrofits, that segment of the economy. I am also very interested in having a better look at how to reduce the cost of living. I hear it at the doors all the time: people are hurting with the cost of home heating fuel, in particular, and power second to that.
I’m interested in continuing work on affordable housing and services for seniors. We have a very large seniors population in Yellowknife Centre and we have very long waiting lists for housing. And we have people who need home care and a day program and those things are not in place to the extent that they need to be, given our growing population.
And of course, I’m a big fan of the polytechnic university. I think it’s a good idea. I think we need it here in Yellowknife. And I think the sooner the better.
Are the Taltson hydro expansion and the Slave Geological Province road good ideas as well?
They are. They should be put into environmental assessment as soon as they have their feasibility and engineering work done, and see whether they can negotiate with the parties who would be at the table on those developments and come to some kind of agreement. They both have a lot of potential in our economic circumstances as they stand now.
Also in your platform when we look at the economy, you’re asking for investment in business development and training. Now, beyond what we already have, what do you envisage?
I don’t recall having that in my platform, I’m sorry,
Front page of your website: “Diversifying the economy with investments in business development and training.”
Oh. OK. Well, small business is the engine of our economy and I know that training programs in our family business were very important to helping it start up and stay going. I know other businesses have used those programs as well, but they don’t seem to be as well-known as they should be. The SEED money runs out very quickly every year, so I think more support for small business would be a good strengthener for the economy as well.
Off the top of this interview you mentioned tourism. Now, obviously, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to increase tourism. Is there something that the territory is missing out on?
Yeah, I think they need to invest more in tourism infrastructure. We have some wonderful parks but, often, they’re not big enough for all the road traffic that comes our way in the summer. And they are not necessarily accessible to Great Slave Lake except in Hay River. So I feel like an investment in parks all throughout the Territories but including the North Slave would be very useful.
And I do think we need a visitors’ centre. I’ve never been in a capital city without a visitors’ centre. And so while the GNWT, I think, is hoping that the City is going to take this on… they pay for other visitors’ centres, and so they should pay for one here, too.
Lowering the cost of living – you’re right, we hear it all the time – you’ve mentioned one item, “cheaper childcare.” You didn’t use the phrase “universal daycare.” Why not?
Well, cheaper childcare and universal childcare are not mutually exclusive of one another. And it’s worth mentioning too that childcare is a great economic generator. It’s a high staff-to-client ratio so it creates a lot of jobs. What I think is that families with small children are finding this is their second-largest bill and it’s a reason for women to leave the workforce – usually women, sometimes men – and it’s a reason for people to leave the NWT. Not only is it very expensive at about $1,000 per child, it’s very inaccessible, because there are waiting lists at all the childcare providers in Yellowknife and many communities in the NWT don’t have any childcare at all. So if we really want to get our economy up and running, we need more childcare, and it can be universal. That’d be great.
With the money, the spaces, the staff that we have available, and the remote communities that you just alluded to, what’s achievable?
I think that one of the real stumbling blocks at this point is infrastructure. The standard of construction for daycares is very high, more like a hospital than a house, and most nonprofits that run childcare facilities can’t afford to invest that kind of money in buildings. It would be very useful if new school planning and and school retrofits could include childcare spaces. It especially makes sense in a small community where there are a limited number of institutions in the first place. So I think there needs to be a real assist on that front.
And the other front, of course, is attracting qualified staff there. It is possible to do training in the NWT for early childhood development. I know ECE currently tops up the wages for childcare workers, but there still seems to be a shortage of qualified workers. So it’s kind-of a two-prong approach of making sure that they are paid well enough to pay their own bills, as childcare workers, and providing facilities for them to work in.
Helping Yellowknife’s downtown and the people in it is, of course, central to the job of anyone representing Yellowknife Centre. You’ve defended the political leadership relating to downtown Yellowknife over the past four years. What improvements will you point to?
We didn’t have a day shelter and sobering centre when I began this job, and the government has invested $3 million a year in operating it and millions of dollars to renovate the building that it’s currently in. They’ve also pledged money to build a purpose-built building for the vulnerable population downtown in the next three years. They’ve contributed to city services like the safe ride program and the street patrol.
So there are a number of services in place that weren’t in place at the beginning. And what we know is that having those services in place has been useful for the population that uses them. There’s a high rate of take-up in those services at the day shelter and sobering centre, and there has also been a lift off of other services that all of us use, like the hospital, and the ambulance, and the RCMP.
But I think there’s a real misunderstanding about what the sobering centre is about. It is a place for people to sober up who are already drunk, it is a place for people to have a shower, do their laundry, use the bathroom. It’s supposed to be a place that is a navigating place for services. So if you do want to sober up, they can point you in the right direction. If you need counselling, they can point you in the right direction. But it’s not in and of itself a place that people go to receive treatment, to become sober. That’s not part of its mandate at all.
There are many residents who, for all the improvements, feel that things are going badly wrong downtown. Do they have a point?
They do. The thing that I find most compelling is that people don’t feel safe. And, you know, efforts to explain that this is violence among a set group of people, and not random violence, don’t allay people’s fears at all. They feel that the violence there has the potential to be dangerous to them and their children and their families. And so, you know, we as leaders have not been able to adequately reassure the population who live and work downtown that they are safe.
What do we do about that?
Well, that’s really a good question. The RCMP are an autonomous organization, they decide on their own policing priorities. And while they have stepped up patrols downtown – they’ve poured out more liquor, they’ve been very present there – the net result doesn’t seem to be a decrease in violence, or an increase in people feeling safe. The street patrol program has been very effective but, unless somebody is standing, looking at the street at all times, it’s very difficult to catch every unsafe or regrettable action as it’s happening.
So my understanding is that prior to the attack last week, the street patrol had just come into the building. And as soon as they heard there was a man down, they came out of the building and attended to him. I don’t know how we can provide the level of services that would ensure that everybody involved is safe all the time.
And to be perfectly honest, Ollie, we can’t do that anywhere in the city or in the territory. There are 11 communities without any policing in the Northwest Territories. At the bottom of it all, I think we have to realize we have a drinking problem as a population. All kinds of studies point to that. And what we have downtown is a collection of people who are chronic alcoholics. They are palliative in their addictions. What we’re trying to do is keep them safe the way that we would with any person who has a chronic health issue. And we’re not always succeeding, that’s for sure.
Your platform calls for “strengthened programming” downtown. Like what?
Well, one of the things that the evaluation called for was better access to mental health services, for example. That’s obviously a key feature. I don’t know if it’s possible to have a counsellor on-site in the sobering centre but that would obviously be a terrific idea. People would have immediate access, they wouldn’t have to walk to the clinic, they wouldn’t have to make an appointment. That could be extremely useful.
I really am in favour of the good-neighbour agreement. I think there needs to be a codified way of neighbours understanding what their role is, what the territorial government’s role is, and how they can talk constructively together. That agreement has eluded the parties at this point, but they need to get back to the table and work on that.
Two of your rival candidates portray you as somebody who didn’t listen to residents over the past four years. How do you respond to that?
I had constituency meetings that were well-attended. I dealt with hundreds of constituency issues that were brought to my attention by individuals and I was able to resolve them satisfactorily in most cases. I consulted people about issues that were being debated in the Legislative Assembly. So I feel that I did listen to people and I did provide them with good service as an MLA.
Do you feel that it might be a function of the fact that it feels, to many people, that the downtown isn’t changing, no matter how much people point to the issues?
Yeah… I know that there is a perception that things are worse. I don’t think the numbers bear that out. I think there are more assaults outside of downtown than there are downtown, according to RCMP records.
Not necessarily anything to write home about, that.
No, but what I’m what I’m trying to say is that while the problem is very visible downtown, the problem exists throughout the city, throughout the territory.
The other thing is that I live downtown and I always have in the years that I’ve lived in Yellowknife. I know some of the other candidates don’t. And I live near Sunridge, and that’s a building that has a fair level of violence happening within it. And so it has impacted my life. I’ve been to court. I’ve been outside with band-aids. I’ve called the safe ride program. I’ve called the cops.
I understand that it is a challenging place to live but, for me, the balance is that I have great neighbours, I have easy access to downtown, and I have the pleasure of watching the kids slide down the sledding hill every winter. And so, you know, it’s a balance and I think the good is outweighing the bad, but I can understand that people who drop into downtown find what they see there shocking. I totally get that.
Of the things that you’ve done in the legislature in the past four years, which do you take the most pride in?
Twenty-two women on the ballot. I was the driver of that, it was my motion that kicked things off. I chaired the committee, we went to 10 communities, I met many of the women who are now running. I then, as a citizen, provided Women on the Ballot training for six weeks, and many of the women who came to that training are now candidates.
So I feel that trying to correct the balance of men to women in the Legislative Assembly has really been successful in terms of the number of women on the ballot. And I’m very hopeful that a number of them succeed and the total number elected will go up.
Do you agree with Caroline Cochrane that it’s time for the next premier to be female?
I would be delighted to see a female premier. And we have a very strong field of women candidates, women with lots of accomplishments to their names, Indigenous women, professional women, community women, and so I think there may be some good choices in that group for a woman as premier.
You spent the four last years as a regular MLA. Should you be re-elected, are you comfortable in that role or do you feel it’s time that you got a crack at a ministerial position?
There are some great things about being a regular MLA. You certainly have a lot of freedom to talk about anything and everything, ask a lot of questions, really shape the budget, the legislation. So there are some good things about that. I understand you’d have more power and authority as a cabinet minister. I think that I need to see who gets elected because, in the past, Yellowknife has had women MLAs but there are communities that have never had women MLAs. And so maybe we need to look and see if some of those women may be more qualified. So that’s kind-of an open question for me at this point.
Just a couple of minutes left, I want to look through some more of the achievements that you listed. One is “forcing the debate on averting a public sector strike.” Tell us more.
That’s obviously about the possibility that there would be a strike in February. Ollie, when I worked for the CBC, I was locked out by the CBC a number of times. It was a complete disaster in terms of morale and productivity and engendered a lot of very, very bitter feelings. And as the only MLA there who seemed to have ever had that experience, I was very motivated to try to avoid that experience at all costs for the whole public sector. And so I introduced that motion. I got a lot of blowback. A lot of people wanted me not to do that. But I felt it was really important that we have a public debate about where we stood. So that was my role.
Do you believe that that motion had an impact on the outcome?
I do. I do. I mean, they went into binding arbitration a couple of days later, and you could say, “Well, they would have done anyway.” But I don’t think there’s any way, really, of knowing that.
Do you believe that we’re now in a position where something like that will be averted in future?
Oh, I don’t know about that. It depends so much on the personalities who are at the table negotiating and whether the cost of living here goes up or down, and layoffs, and so many variables. I can’t say whether it would come to that again. But my hope is that it doesn’t, because I don’t think it does any of the parties any good to be pushed right to the wall.
If we reconvene in four years’ time and you have been re-elected, what do you believe is the one thing you want to be able to sit at this table and say you helped the next government achieve?
I want to say that there is a range of housing options for seniors that doesn’t exist today, with many more units and smaller waiting lists. There’s greater access to home care for people who are trying to live independently, and there is a fully functioning adult day program that helps people who are both with cognitive disabilities and frailty to live fulfilled and productive lives. If I could say that in four years, I would be very happy.