NWT Election 2019: Katrina Nokleby’s Great Slave interview

Katrina Nokleby hopes to become the next MLA for Great Slave.

Announcing her campaign, the engineer said she would bring a “diverse voice and unique skill set” to the legislature, adding she wants to grow the NWT’s economy while ensuring sustainability and environmental protection are maintained to a “high standard.”

Nokleby told Cabin Radio scientists bring critical thinking and evaluative skills to government, alongside a desire to get things done in the most efficient way possible.


Exciting things are happening in Canada’s North but “it feels like the Northwest Territories is not a strong participant in it,” said Nokleby, listing the territory’s economy as her number-one priority and urging the continued building of all-season roads. Nokleby wants tourism efforts in the NWT to focus more heavily on the domestic market, bringing Canadians up to visit but also encouraging them to stay.

Arguing the territory can make considerable efficiencies to liberate funding for other programs, Nokleby set out a vision for the new university as both a world-class driver of northern research and a means of providing students for “lower-skilled jobs” that Yellowknife employers often struggle to fill.

She concluded with a plea for the next government to be more collaborative than the last, saying it falls primarily on the premier to ensure “it isn’t going to be an us-versus-them mentality again.”

Below, find a transcript of the full interview.

Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Nokleby’s interview air date is September 13.


More information: Katrina Nokleby’s campaign Facebook page

More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far

This interview was recorded on September 13, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ollie Williams: What made you decide to run for MLA?


Katrina Nokleby: I’m an engineer here in Yellowknife. I’ve been in the North almost 13 years. One of the main reasons I decided to run is that I believe we need to have more science-based people representing us in the government. I think when you’re in sciences, you tend to learn skills such as critical thinking, evaluation of data and metrics, collecting data and metrics to evaluate your programs and see if they’re working. We’re always about efficiencies and trying to get things done in the best manner possible, sort-of with the least amount of money and effort. So I feel like those are all skills that would actually lend really well to governing in the Northwest Territories.

In brief, give me a sense of what your key priorities are for the next four years.

My first priority mainly is the economy. And I believe that’s because if we don’t have a robust economy, we aren’t going to have money to spend for anything else that we would love to do in the North. Right now, after reading the Conference Board of Canada economic forecast for the three territories, the Northwest Territories is the only territory that’s in decline. Both Nunavut and the Yukon are starting to boom – Nunavut is, you know, building roads, they’re exploring, there’s mining operations going on, Iqaluit is set to double in population, I think within the next 10 years. Yukon as well is taking off, they’ve got Yukon College transitioning to a university, they’re becoming a hotspot for permafrost research.

All of this is exciting stuff that’s happening in the North, and it feels like the Northwest Territories is not a strong participant in it. And I think we need to change that.

You are a supporter of the Taltson hydro expansion, you want to see more hybrid energy systems across NWT communities. Tell us more.

One thing we’ve learned in the North is that the southern solution or the one solution does not fit all in the North. Everything in the North is very diverse, each community is quite different. So I believe we need to go in and evaluate each community and determine what sort of green energy options would be feasible in that community. So whether that be pellet, or wind, or solar, even something like installing these high-efficiency batteries that the NWT Power Corporation has been doing lately, so that we can get some communities off diesel for even part of the day. So each community is going to have to be looked at within its own merits and its own unique sort of circumstances, before we can decide that.

You also want the territory to carry on building all-season roads. Now many candidates coming in here have not seen that through the lens of environmental benefits. But you do.

I do. I mean, there’s a few reasons I want that. Some of it was just purely as a project manager, I ended up with a drill rig in Tulita this year, in the spring. We had to truncate our program so that we could get the drill rig out on the winter road before it thawed – it was two weeks early this year. So that was an issue and a concern. So I definitely think that within the communities as well, too, there’s a need and a want to have that connectedness – that’s a word – with the south.

You know, it’s $2,000 to fly out of Tulita. So you know, if they have a road, they feel like they have the opportunity to control when they can leave and when they can’t. So I think that’s really important.

I also think the reason that the roads are important is because we need to be able to bolster our economy and offer better infrastructure to mining companies, to exploration companies. Not quite on the environmental side of things for these roads but what I’m seeing is we can’t be reliant any longer on the ice road system. It’s not going to be there, I don’t believe, for the next bit. Even from an economic standpoint, if you build that southern half of the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road, which is what the Slave Geological road is, we can then expand the length of the time that that road is open. So that means that we have… right now, it’s about six weeks that they can get all these materials up to the mine. Well, maybe that could be open for eight weeks or longer. It may allow allow the mine to expand the life of the mine longer.

I’m not sure if Jay Pipe is still being considered or not at Ekati but, you know obviously if they’re not spending $3 million to $4 million on a road they only have for six weeks – maybe it’s only $2 million – they might have some money to invest elsewhere and keep the life of those mines going.

Now you, like many candidates, have also expressed a desire to see things like tourism receive more funding, more creative input, if you like. What can the NWT government be doing with that sector that it isn’t already?

Tourism is the feel-good part of our economy. It’s the reason people want to live in the North. I think it actually could be utilized to attract more people to actually move North. If we sort-of focused more on domestic tourists and you know, bringing people from back east into Yellowknife, we may actually see a bit more of a migration of Canadians moving to the North, which then increases our coffers because we’ll get more transfer payments for those Canadians.

I think that, you know, we are going to see maybe a bit of a global decline in tourism. There is more of a focus recently on the environmental impacts of airplanes and such and this sort of destination tourism, so maybe we can increase promoting people to drive… but then again, that’s another greenhouse gas contributor. But I think if we focus on the domestic market and improving Yellowknife’s access to Canadians, we might actually have sort-of some twofold benefit from that.

Let’s look at the transition of Aurora College to a polytechnic university. You support that, as most people do. Give me a sense of your vision for that institution.

Well, I would really love for it to be an earth sciences-based institution. As I had mentioned, Yukon College is in the process of transitioning to a university as well. I’ve taken some of their permafrost courses on infrastructure impacts and they’re doing well. One thing that the university could do for us is, again, it attracts people to the North, it attracts international people. One of, I believe, Canada’s biggest exports is education: people coming into Canada to get an education. So why not utilize this amazing opportunity we have? We have some of the most amazing world-class permafrost scientists in Yellowknife. We have great engineers. As an engineer, I mean, I’m definitely biased to be speaking towards that. We would be able to do co-op programs, we would be able to do job placement, we would be mentors.

To have an opportunity for northern students to stay in the North, particularly if you’re coming from a community – I don’t know how you come from a small community and try to be an engineer. Well, at least if that university is in Yellowknife, it’s not such a crazy-drastic change for them to come from, say… I keep using Tulita because I worked there a lot last year – Tulita, say, to Calgary or some place where a lot of times those students fall through the cracks. So I see the university as a great bridging opportunity for northern students. I also see it, like I said, as an attractant to southerners to come North and live here.

It also does a bit with our sort-of lower-skilled jobs situation where it’s hard for say, McDonald’s or Tim Hortons to attract employees because they can’t live off that wage. Well, if you have a bunch of students in town, who are just looking for a part-time job to supplement their loans or whatever, then they will take those lower-paid, less-skilled labour jobs so that they can have their pocket change. But then we get a need filled within Yellowknife. So I feel like the university is a win-win. I know there’s controversy about where that location would be and I would definitely just want to be more informed before the headquarters be determined.

Can your vision for that university be achieved through a gradual evolution of our college? Or is it something that needs to start from the ground up?

I would say my experience is that when we evolve things in the North to other styles of doing something, it doesn’t always quite work super well. I feel like there is a case to be made perhaps for having the university be its own separate entity and developed on its own, maybe not necessarily transitioning Aurora College. Again, I wouldn’t say that I have all the data on that. This might surprise people: as an engineer, I don’t want to say I know something when I don’t. So I would definitely want to get more informed as to what would be the best option for that. But I strongly support some sort of a university in the North.

You also, in your platform, would like to see northern-based on-the-land addictions treatment programs introduced. Now, how will we attract and retain the right stuff to make those programs effective?

I mean, that’s a challenge across the Northwest Territories for expertise, we often don’t have the experts that we need. Again, it would be a bigger piece of that whole attracting southerners to come north, which again, you know, like I said, tourism makes everybody feel better. So as long as we keep making the quality of life in Yellowknife better, and having more things to offer to our citizens – and in the territory, I don’t want to be Yellowknife-centric – I think that we could then attract those people. But I think we’re going to have to look at, perhaps with the university, having some of these programs already in the North designed by northerners and taken by northerners.

I know there was a lot of outcry when the social work program was cut from Aurora College. I really struggle with southerners coming north – we see it in the engineering and consulting world – and telling us in the North how it has to be done without understanding that the North is a completely different entity than the south. So I think we would have to grow those experts at home and maybe not have the same level of requirements, necessarily, or restrictions that perhaps may be on an addictions treatment centre in the south.

The issue with addictions is not that we’re not detoxing – we’re getting people off alcohol for the period of time that they go down to these rehab centres. But what’s happening is we’re not actually giving them any aftercare. So they come back into the North… there’s no way, there’s no supports in place to help them deal with the trauma and the situation that caused them to have an addiction in the first place. And until we deal with that root cause of trauma, we will never, ever get rid of our addictions issue. We can send people to Poundmaker, to the south for $26,000 a person as much as we want, but all we’re doing is band-aiding. We’re getting them sober or dry for, you know, maybe that period of time, and then they’re coming back and we’re not setting them up to cope with the situation they’re returning to.

In this conversation, we’ve already alluded several times to the fact that the territory is in a financially tight situation. Your platform advocates for increasing funding to food production housing programs, the NWTSPCA even. Where would you decrease what the government spends in order to fund those?

I feel like the government is not operating in a very efficient manner. When I look in from the outside, or when I’m talking with constituents now at the doors, everyone wants to tell me their story of government inefficiency that they’ve had to deal with. We seem to be operating in a lot of silos within departments. There’s not a lot of cross-communication between departments.

Again, the mental health or the work with children is an example of that. You know, you’ll have them see one person and then they go on to see the next person – say they’re in a situation where they’ve been abused or something. I’ve got a friend that’s been really informing me on all of this: they’ll see one expert, then they’re on to the next expert, then on to the next. And each time they’re having to tell the story again of what’s happened to them. And we’re retraumatizing them through each of those processes. So why don’t we have a wrap program? Why don’t we have a situation where a child comes into the system with a group of people around them that are all working collaboratively together to solve the issues for that child, and what’s best for that child? And not be so much about, “This is my role, then this is this person’s role, and then this is this person’s role.”

I think if we can get a lot more connectedness between our departments of the GNWT, we can actually reduce some of these overhead costs that we’re dealing with.

OK so, essentially, internal cost savings will be able to fund a lot of that stuff around food production and housing?

I would hope so, yes. I mean, I’m a first-time person at this, I have never worked for the GNWT. And actually, I would like to say, I think that’s actually maybe one of my assets in running, is I hope to bring a fresh set of eyes. And then I want to apply my critical thought and skills that have come from being an engineer, and a project manager, and a consultant, and basically use that to look at the government and evaluate programs and see where things are working.

And when I do this, or when we come in to do this evaluation, I would really want and hope that there would be a really open dialogue with the end users, with the experts. So if we’re going to talk about mental health, let’s talk to the people that are on the front lines dealing with counselling and addictions and all this. It’s my understanding that that dialogue is not happening a lot. I know, within the engineering world, again, we’ve started to have discussions with procurement shared services as consultants in what we see are the issues with the procurement process. So I feel like that feedback loop from the end users and the people working in those fields isn’t happening quite as much as it needs to be. I don’t know why we wouldn’t because, as a government, we should be making the most informed decision we can.

And I know someone can sit in an office and say, “This is how the program should be run.” But if they’ve never run a program, then how can they be making those decisions? It’s not informed. And I think that may be also why we’re seeing such cost inefficiencies within the government.

We’ve got time for just a few more questions. Residents of Great Slave will be well acquainted with the problems that downtown Yellowknife is facing. What model of territorial intervention do you think is best suited to addressing those problems?

Oh, that’s a big question. I do feel, again, that the issues around having the sobering centre and such in the downtown core, next to the liquor store, is not maybe necessarily the best idea. I don’t think also having sort-of a multi-use building where you’re throwing every sort of social issue into one building is smart, either. I just came from chatting with the Yellowknife Women’s Society and one of the things that they were told was, “We could have this one-stop shop.” And they were like, “Well, we’re not going to be putting women next to people that are obviously struggling with addiction, when for these women, that’s a lot of times the reason and the cause of why they’ve left the situation that they were in.”

I’m not going to profess to have the answers to how we will deal with the homeless situation. I definitely know what I would look to do is go and talk with experts in that field. I think we do need to maybe look at some issues with alcohol consumption, safe consumption sites. Allowing people to have a place to go to consume alcohol so that they’re not sitting on the street, you know, affecting our society on a daily basis, and then allowing them to feel more secure, may help to deal with and get them actually off their dependencies.

Your platform urges the GNWT to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Which ones should we be addressing first?

That I won’t, I won’t profess to be able to prioritize. I definitely am not the expert in what’s happening with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I just know that when I speak with constituents and others that this is an area that they really would like to see from the GNWT, and it is something I do need to get more informed about. But I know that I, personally, within my family have members that have been impacted by residential schools. I know that it’s an area where, you know, we need to be more respectful, I feel, in dealing with Indigenous people and the socio-economic issues that have led them to where we are now.

I just feel that this is an issue that’s been long-overlooked by many levels of our government. And I know that one of the first things I had when I came to Yellowknife was a fellow telling me about his experiences waiting to get my passport. He was there waiting to get a settlement cheque. And we chatted about his residential school experience. One of the biggest things for him, he said, at the time, was that they just won’t say they’re sorry. And so I know when Harper finally did say he was sorry, and I’m not going to profess to know how genuine that apology was, that was a moment of just acknowledgement and respect.

I think that’s the key: by implementing some of these recommendations, we can show that we have good faith, that we have respect for the Indigenous people and what what has happened here.

And you touch, in that answer, on how models of leadership should look. I wondered what you thought the next Premier of the NWT should do differently compared to the last one?

I really see the premier’s role to be a bridge builder and to lead the group together.

When I looked back at the last assembly, it was pretty apparent from the outside that there was a lot of bickering and fighting within the government. There was a lot of us-versus-them with the cabinet and the regular MLAs. I see the the premier’s role to bridge that, to ensure that this infighting ceases, that people remain respectful to each other, and to lead by example in showing that they’re willing to listen to everybody.

I mean, I hope that when we come in with 19 MLAs, it isn’t going to be an us-versus-them mentality again, and that we will truly be able to speak our minds and work together as a team to come up with the best solution for everyone. Not just, OK, cabinet goes away and they make these decisions and it’s in this vacuum and black hole that nobody seems to know what’s going on. I hope that changes.