Annie Steen is hoping to be the MLA for Nunakput.
With a background in shipping, logistics and freight forwarding, Steen told Cabin Radio her focus if elected will be on economic development and infrastructure. This includes bringing the fibre line and a port or dock facility to Tuktoyaktuk, the latter to facilitate shipping to the district's remote communities, as well as Elders' facilities and cultural centres for tourism and practising culture.
In building the economy, Steen said there is a need not to lose sight of the social issues in the district, chief among them housing, food insecurity, wellness, and education.
Protecting Nunakput's communities from climate change looms large above all of Steen's priorities. Tuktoyaktuk, with shoreline erosion, and all of the district's communities are in an "urgent crisis" and the money is not flowing fast enough, Steen said.
"If we don't protect our community from falling into the sea, then all our efforts in economic development, all our efforts in social community wellbeing for residents, are going to be wasted," she said.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 20, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Emelie Peacock: I want to start with having you tell us a bit about yourself and why you decided to step into the race for MLA for Nunakput this year.
Annie Steen: OK, my name is Annie Steen. My father is John Steen, and mother Olga Carpenter. And my father was one of the very first MLAs elected in 1975. Back then people were appointed as a member of the legislature. As well my uncle Vince was MLA for Nunakput for two terms. So I have a long history, family history of running in politics. But that is not why I joined.
The reason, one I was working in the community after returning from 27 years away, of living outside of Tuktoyaktuk, in 2016. What I noticed was the lack of support systems in place at the community level in all communities in our riding. That the government needed to improve services to our communities so that we could thrive or at least have a better living quality of our residents. I have 15 years of experience working in the transportation industry, I was working 12 years for NTCL out of Hay River. Those 12 years of the 27 I was away, I was in southern NWT. As well I worked for Canadian North, the airline, out of the Yellowknife office for two years where I was the accountant. When Norterra first purchased Canadian North. I also worked in another subsidy owned by the Inuvialuit out of Edmonton where I was in logistics, freight forwarding and logistics, moving freight throughout the Northwest Territories and Inuvik.
I have history working in unique northern environments on freight and how important getting supplies to our remote communities is. And in my role as the EDO in Tuktoyaktuk, I believe I was instrumental in getting some tourism capacity and spurring economic development for local people who wanted to take advantage of the opportunities as a result of the opening of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway. That's basically my history and who I am. I also worked for the federal government in Yellowknife, I was the head of accounting. So my background is in finance.
I'd like to speak about your platform. You've got quite a few items on your platform, could you outline what some of your priorities would be if you are elected?
My platform is strongly based on economic development and infrastructure, however, there are a lot of social issues in the communities, such as health and well being and medical transport and housing and food insecurity in our communities.
So my platform really is based on trying to spur economic development through infrastructure or creating employment at any type or level in our community. Because we are aware that the further you go in the smaller communities, the lack of well-paying jobs is very few and far between. At the same time, we have no economy in the Beaufort Delta so it is very, very important that we have some sort of economic development in our region.
Because if you look at it, in my opinion we could have the best medical services, the most efficient housing and the most food. But if people don't have anything to do, the health and wellbeing of a community is not…it's not enough to just have good housing, good services like medical and social service programs in our communities.
We're fairly underrepresented because we're the northernmost community in the NWT. Travel and transportation costs are evident and our youth miss opportunities to be able to participate in our southern environments through travel or sport. So those are the things that are really important that we need to try to take advantage of. I also see an opportunity for our youth to take advantage of the knowledge economy. When we talk about the knowledge economy, it's information technology and the big worldwide web.
We have lots of connectivity up here. I was in two communities so far, and I'm traveling to another where we're talking 3G connection, not high speed, it was almost like a dial-up service. So it takes forever for businesses to connect and download documents as well as hamlets and housing associations, local governments that need to be able to respond quickly.
My experience in private industry, time is money. And connection is so important to be able to have reliable services for our community so that we could take advantage of the opportunity that comes through the knowledge economy.
One of the biggest concerns for us, with global warming and climate change, Tuktoyaktuk is the most affected from any other community with losing our shoreline. So it is very, very important that we protect our communities, not just Tuktoyaktuk but Ulukhaktok, Sachs and Paulatuk. Ad we've got to be able to adapt. If we don't protect our community from falling into the sea, then all our efforts in economic development, all our efforts in social community wellbeing for residents are going to be wasted.
Those are the underpinning reasons why we really, really need help. And not delayed. It's taking forever to be able to access the money to protect our communities and we are in an urgent crisis. And we need to work together with all levels of government, both federal and territorial. And each community needs to work together and we need to work together with the Beaufort Delta and further up into the Northwest Territories legislature. And that is my slogan, we are strongest when we work together…I'm trying to find a better way to deliver services for our communities and help make the Beaufort Delta stronger, Nunakput stronger and so we make the Northwest Territories stronger.
Let's touch on what you called a crisis in Tuk and in the northern regions on climate change. It's a big topic, where do you think that the territorial level can play a role in combating and mitigating climate change effects?
The territorial government can play a great role with us in helping us bring us the expertise so that we can apply for the funding from the federal government. Certainly, at our community levels, we don't have the capacity with putting in those applications. What are the words that we need to hint so that we can access that money? What are the points that we can make stronger to convince the federal government to help be a partner? As well as, the hamlets and community organization and the territorial government.
We don't have that capacity, not like Yellowknife, we don't have any engineers living and staying in our communities. So it is very important that the government take the lead and help us through this process.
You highlighted infrastructure as one of the major focus areas for you. You've talked about connectivity to the internet, what are some other infrastructure projects that you'd want to see happen for Nunakput if you're elected?
With the highway completion in 2017, we don't have the high fibre cable from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk. So we need to get on that to make us more connected to the world as well as to attract investment for any company that wants to come to the community. So high fibre cable is very important for us to attract government or private industry to the communities.
We certainly need some sort of port or dock facility to make the transportation more reliable, to get freight to our coastal communities of Paulatuk, Sachs and Holman. Having to wait and wonder about the water levels down the Mackenzie River and being able to transport back down all the way to Tuktoyaktuk where the timeline is 10 days it can take from shipping from Hay River all the way to Tuk. We need a facility there that can be a supply facility to those coastal communities as well as if there is a deep sea port somewhere created in the ocean. We know that our ocean is too shallow in Tuktoyaktuk but not too far away there's an opportunity somewhere in the western Arctic that we need to create a deep sea port so that we can attract international investments. Connect Europe and China together, there are opportunities there that we need to start paying attention to. Not for us in the short term, but for the long term.
Also all our communities, it's very important that we take advantage of the tourism industry and showcase our unique environment and unique people that we get some sort of heritage centre in one of our communities, because that's what tourists are coming for. I worked in the industry up here for four years and I know that the tourists that are coming, they want to learn about Indigenous people. And for me, it was more important, for us to learn and to be proud of ourselves. So I worked on a project that I was lead on, where we were able to get a business plan and feasibility study for a Centre for the Arts in Tuktoyaktuk so that we can showcase and preserve and protect our culture and our language. So I think that we need to push that.
Also in our communities, our Elders are always overlooked. We say we respect our Elders and there's no Eldercare facilities in any the communities. These are the Elders concerns I was hearing on my two trips to Sachs and Paulatuk. Elders facilities are lacking and Elders don't want to go away to Inuvik or furthermore to Yellowknife or to Hay River. They really need some sort of support where they can stay at home and be more healthy, and hopefully increase the longevity of their lives. So those are the really important things that make a community, that build a community. And that is where I really want to try to make a difference for my community and each community in the Nunakput riding.
Housing is another perennial issue across the NWT and Nunakput as well. A lot of people are on housing waitlists for a long time. What are you seeing on the housing issue in your district and do you have any ideas for solutions? Or how this can be moved along?
Absolutely. By far it is the most requested improved service that we need to do in our communities. If you don't have a secure home over your head, then how can you worry about trying to do anything else? It's such an important issue, the lack of number of houses that we have in our communities as well as the programming and the policies and the way it is designed.
How they calculate the rent or the tenants. One of the fears that I'm hearing is people are afraid to work because the rent is assessed by their tax year and then they pay that for the whole year. They're scared to take seasonal work because they're going to find out the following year, when they might not be employed, they're afraid they might get evicted. So it really discourages people from taking employment and it's hindering economic development and employment in that community. So that policy definitely needs to be reviewed. There has got to be a better solution….That is not an effective way to try to solve the problem and it's actually hindering employment.
Another thing that I see and hear is a lot of waste of money, contractors coming into the communities. A lot of them trying to build capacity of the local housing association. I think that we need to run…I mean we need business in the regional centre but at the community level, we need to build capacity and start doing more apprentices. Taking the money, letting the housing associations have the money, as opposed to giving it to regional contractors. Letting them come in, they have to stay in hotels or bed and breakfasts and they have to travel to the community. If you take that money from travel and pay the position, build the capacity, I think that would be much better than the way they're doing it. I'm not saying that they have to do it all, but we have to start by looking at solutions like that.
Another item on your platform is food security, as well. It impacts the entire NWT but as you move further north and to Nunakput, the northernmost region, you can see it so much more pronounced. What do you want to see on food security?
I would like to see a better way. The trouble is, OK, so a lot of people, because we have no economy up here, they're on a limited income. And the cost of food is increased because of transportation. Then let's look at a model for instance, like the Northwest Territories, who wants the communities to run the housing associations and municipal buildings. Let's look at, OK, instead of trying to charge the regular rate since they're bringing it there and it's a government responsibility or the government needs to assist the hamlet finding a solution. So then let's look at a reduced rate in shipping if that's the most cost associated with the transportation of our food. There's also, with the new Nutrition North program, the federal government initiative. I'm not saying the Northwest Territories should take it. I think we need to talk to the federal government for helping us, giving us a reduced rate, a next-to-nothing rate to come especially to the coastal communities. They don't have barge, they don't have airplanes daily, they rely on shipment of barge for the whole year. So we should look at opportunities there. With the Nutrition North program, they have a new harvesters programs that we're going to implement and I think that we need to action that as soon as possible so that communities that rely primarily on subsistence living, hunting of animals. We need to implement that as soon as we can and I think the government can help advocates and find a way to help expedite that.
So we're coming up towards the end of the interview, this will be my last question. In your campaign, you have said that you want to be "accessible, responsible, accountable and respectful to our history and traditions." Could you tell us more about this and tell the voters why they should vote for you on October 1.
Why should they vote for me? In all honesty, in all my life, what I've done in the different jobs that I had in private industry as well as public, I have done everything I can to help the people. It's never about just myself. I never took a job just to save myself. I took jobs to help people excel in any way they can - whether it through peer development, or whether it was through employment or whether it was through business development. I'm here to help our people thrive.
I'm very responsible, ensured by my track record. I've had an employer for 15 years I didn't leave because I got great joy in trying to help develop our communities in Nunakput but throughout the north as well.
And I find that the only way that you could really help people is if you understand them. You live amongst the people and you listen to them and hear them and you've got to be reachable and approachable. So I know how important it is for people to feel comfortable telling some of the problems that they're having. They don't want a lot of people to know.
Usually, when a constituent goes to their MLA it's usually because the government programs and policies have failed them. So once something comes across your desk as the MLA, it's usually an urgent or emergency situation that you have to try to help me deal with. And that can't be ignored. So I think it is very important for me to be accessible, and I think that's the only way that you can contribute to making a difference in the communities. And through my networks and through my career I've made a lot of contacts and had good relationships and I hope to use those to help bridge more programs and opportunities to communities.