Caitlin Cleveland hopes to become the next MLA for Yellowknife’s Kam Lake.
“As a photographer I have spent the last 15 years connecting with northerners about what matters to us: our people, our land, and our future,” she wrote as she announced her candidacy.
Cleveland told Cabin Radio she wants to represent the hard-working twin communities of small business and the public sector, drawing on her experience of both.
She wants to address “insecurities” in NWT infrastructure and food production while providing new incentives for businesses, plus an innovative approach to extracting more waste from the territory – for example by filling empty sealifts with packaging from small communities for the return journey.
Addressing issues in downtown Yellowknife, Cleveland said “helping our schools” should be the first step, ensuring educators and facilities are equipped with the resources to help children and families in a range of areas.
Warning that the North is “hollowing out” its middle class, Cleveland suggested the new polytechnic university’s programming should be designed to support and feed the business sector.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. Cleveland’s interview air date is September 25.
More information: Caitlin Cleveland’s campaign website
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.
Ollie Williams: Why do you think you would make a good MLA for Kam Lake?
Caitlin Cleveland: I was raised in Yellowknife. I currently live in the Kam Lake riding with my husband and our three kids. I’ve run a business in town now for 15 years. I’ve got six years of experience as a public servant, both as a policy analyst and a communications advisor. I’d say my strengths would lie in my ability to kind-of marry those two work experiences together and have a good perspective to represent a really diverse riding like Kam Lake.
Why Kam Lake?
I live there. I wouldn’t run anywhere else.
When you think of Kam Lake, who do you think of as the people you’re representing?
I’m an NWT candidate, because Kam Lake isn’t just business, it isn’t just public servants. It isn’t just young families, and it isn’t just people who are living in the North ready to retire. It’s the entire gamut. You’ve got young families that are entering into their first homes with their child, you’ve got people who are just freshly back from university, you’ve got people who have spent their entire careers here that are now wanting to retire and afford to live here to watch their grandchildren grow.
Interesting that you chose to call yourself an NWT candidate, not a Yellowknife candidate. Do you believe there’s a distinction there?
I do, because I think as a representative of the Legislative Assembly, you’re not only looking out for one person, you have to think of it as all of us together, or no one will succeed. If we all can’t thrive together, we all won’t get there.
You have a very detailed platform that’s available on your website. One of the first lines in that platform is a demand that the basic needs of northerners are met – you’re referring to affordable housing, food security, health, and jobs. That’s a very easy line to write. How on earth do we get to a point where the NWT can meet those basic needs for everybody?
I think when we start talking about diversifying our economy, and looking at our cost of living, I find that you can accommodate both of those two birds, one stone, when you start looking at our infrastructure insecurities. And I’m not just talking about roads, I’m not just talking about the cost of energy. I’m also talking about our food insecurity with agriculture. I’m also talking about our education insecurities with our ability to train our local people to do the jobs we want them to do.
There is obviously a lot that’s going to have to change, though. Let’s take housing as an example. What actions do you believe the territory could take, that it hasn’t taken already, that would start to address what is clearly a significant deficit in housing?
I think we need to work with the federal government for funding that is available. I think we also need to address some things in that funding that’s available, where some of it has a caveat in that the housing can only be occupied by Indigenous people. And we do not live a segregated life up here. We all live together happily. And so we need to be able to build high-density housing that everyone is welcome in, that’s accessible, and that’s multigenerational.
And the same question for food security as well. Is that a case of going back to the federal government again, and saying that we need more?
No, I think that I look to Inuvik – they were able to take an old arena and retrofit it into a massive greenhouse. And I think that if we are able to look at different opportunities around our towns like that, that we can create jobs, we can get healthier food in the process, and we can reduce our carbon footprint because we’re not having food shipped from California.
You also mention affordable childcare. Money is one barrier to that, but so are staff and facilities for that to happen in. What approach would you like to see the government take to that?
I’d like to see us look into any new schools, incorporating childcare infrastructure within them, and also look at being able to offer, in all of our communities, early childhood training of some sort – so that we’re empowering our own people within our communities to care for our future needs for childcare.
Interestingly, a statement in your platform is to create a fair environment that supports every resident’s ability to thrive – which is not something I’ve seen, in quite that way, in many other platforms. What do you mean by that?
I feel strongly that we’re hollowing out our middle class in the North, that we’re making it harder for people to get ahead because they’re struggling just to pay their bills on a weekly, monthly basis. And so how can we expect people to put aside money for housing downpayments when we’re struggling to pay for our electricity, when we’re struggling to pay for our food, when we’re struggling to pay for childcare? And so I think that we need to look at this from an angle of not just one person’s ability to thrive, or one company’s ability to thrive, but for everyone to be able to get forward together. Because unless we can all support one another and go back to a society of caring, we’re not going to get forward.
What is the government’s role in creating that environment?
It’s not just the government’s role. I think that as a resident of Yellowknife, I have a role in that. I just think that the City of Yellowknife plays a role in that, I think our Indigenous and community governments play a role, and the Government to the Northwest Territories. And I think until we can all sit at the same table and find a way to work forward together in a healthy relationship, that we can’t expect to thrive together.
So it’s on your platform as an MLA. If you were elected, what would your opening actions be to try to help create that environment?
I think I’ve already done it, as a Yellowknifer and as a business owner and as a public servant. And I’m very forthright in my building bridges for relationships in our community. If you’ve lived here for a while, it’s very easy to form new relationships in the North. It’s a very transient place, but it’s also a very kind place. And so I think you just have to continue down the road of respectful, trustworthy relationships.
One item that you’ve mentioned is incentives for businesses and incentives to attract skilled workers as well. Have you given any thought to what those might look like?
Yeah, I mean, first, as far as our SEED funding, SEED funding runs out quite quickly. And I think that looking at doing that on a quarterly basis, where we open up SEED funding, it allows us to make sure that we’re not limiting people to rushing to it just to get money, because sometimes stuff comes up throughout the year that we would really, as a community, like to be able to take advantage of. I think that goes along with training as well. Our training opportunities, as far as business owners, don’t only open up in April. Sometimes you really miss out on what might be more beneficial training for our communities. because if it didn’t open in April…
A tangent to that is a suggestion in your platform that we create a culture shift to become leaders in Arctic energy and climate change action. I wondered if you could talk about what you think the culture is now, if we need a culture shift?
I think that in the North, we haven’t really set ourselves up… especially in some communities, stuff goes into communities but we haven’t created a plan for stuff to come out. And that’s not fair to people that live in communities.
As far as here in Yellowknife, what can we do to change our purchasing and buying habits as communities? Nope, we’re not going to keep the packaging, nope, we’re not going to keep all of the appliances here, especially in our northern communities. Can we look at doing a leasing system so that companies that make appliances have to take them back at the end of the day? Can we look at empty barges that come up with food? Can we immediately unpack them and put that garbage back on the sealift to take it away?
in an environment where the City of Yellowknife can’t even get most of its recycling out of the city and has to put most at the dump right now, how easy do you think it is to going to be to find solutions like that?
Well, first, the sealift is leaving empty. I hope that barge companies would be open to us being able to turn around and put that stuff back on it. And I think that sometimes creating relationships and having the conversation is all that’s needed.
What about here in Yellowknife, though, in terms of how Yellowknife residents can change their habits?
I think that plastics is a big one. We talk about plastics all the time. The south has had really good buy-in to being able to buy bulk and you bring your own packaging. That’s another change in habit that we can easily accommodate. And working alongside Ecology North and the Arctic Energy Alliance as well.
We are already, kind-of by default, leaders in responding to climate change. What do you believe the Northwest Territories’ strategy should look like on climate change?
I think working towards our energy sources and communities is a big one. I look towards the community of Colville Lake that just implemented their solar-powered battery, where they’re able to also, in conjunction with a diesel generator, draw more or less power depending on what the community needs are. And I believe in their first year, they’ve used 30 percent less diesel as a result of that. And I think being able to implement changes like that would be huge.
The polytechnic features on your platform, as it does in just about everybody’s. Describe your vision for that, once it’s fully complete.
My vision for the polytechnic would be… I think I need to take a step back first and say, before we get there, I think as a government we need to sit down with our business community and create a long-term vision for where we want to go. Because I think our polytechnic would be able to serve our business goals by training people to accomplish where we want to go. So if we want to, say, jump into more fisheries within the Northwest Territories, then training people to grade that fish and to market that fish and to be able to sell that fish on the international market, that’d be one thing that you’d want to put in the oolytechnic. So I think we would need to sit down with the business community and our NGOs or Indigenous governments, the City of Yellowknife, and say, “OK, what is our vision?”
Do you believe that vision should be more about fulfilling local economic needs than attracting students from elsewhere?
I think that some of our needs within a polytechnic revolve around some things that are really unique to the North. I think that our arts community, for example, has great economic development potential, and I could see artists coming into the North and doing residencies to learn not only about the traditional knowledge that we have in the North, and which goes hand-in-hand with cultural resurgence, but also about the borders between supporting cultural resurgence and then cultural appropriation, which I know is a dangerous subject to get into. But I think we need to talk about it.
Do you believe that the territorial government should be investing in the polytechnic to the level that it invests in other economic drivers, like mining, for example?
I think it needs to be something that takes on a life of its own in conjunction with the person who, in the end, ends up being the CEO or the president of the polytechnic. I think that sometimes you have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to chopping up the vegetables, for example, but I think when you have an overall plan of what your meal may be, that’s where you want everyone involved. But I think that you need to trust whoever you put in that position to run it properly.
And ultimately, the polytechnic should be entirely separate from the government?
I think it again comes down to partnership and connections and working together.
Speaking of mining, and that side of the economy, how do you believe the NWT should develop or breathe new life into its mining and exploration economy?
I say it comes down to two things, which is making the NWT an attractive place to do business. So that includes working with our regulatory boards to figure out the “not if but how.” And then second, I would say, is working on our infrastructure insecurities.
Talk to me a little bit more about “not if but how.” What do you mean by that?
So, in my discussions with the business community, a lot of feedback I’ve been receiving is about needing a clear path through our processes to make it easy for industry to know what we’re asking as a government, and what is required for them to be able to gain the proper permitting to move forward.
One thing we haven’t touched on yet, but most MLAs in Yellowknife will be expected to have a view on it, is how the city – with the territory’s help – can go about addressing some of its downtown issues. And I wondered what thought you’d given to that?
Yeah, no, I’d say that every single person who is running for MLA within the city of Yellowknife has given that a lot of thought. And I mean, I’ve listened to your interviews, and definitely agree that we need to work with the City of Yellowknife in order to move that forward, but I think that before that we need to present… and when I say “before that,” I mean earlier on in someone’s life… we need to look into helping our schools.
We’ve got teachers who are not only expected to make sure that our kids are ready for university or college or trades apprenticeships, but that are also expected to, in many cases, feed, clothe, and care for our children in the Northwest Territories. And I think that we as a government, we need to find ways to further support our education system. And I think that comes down to being able to provide an individual with a GNWT toolkit, in schools, who can help keep families connected and help them move forward from where they are.
I think we need to provide housing supports and access to housing support to families within schools, we need to look at being able to provide families with an opportunity to find out about income and education opportunities and how to make that happen as young families or potentially single parenting families. And I think we need to help people find access to childcare and after-school care. Those are things that really prohibit families from being able to move forward.
Just a couple of minutes left to touch on an issue that affects Kam Lake. Would one of your first actions as an MLA, if elected, be to support handing over all of the land inside the municipality of Yellowknife to the City?
Because it’s impossible for the City to do any kind of long-term city planning without knowing what they’re going to get and when. I see this government as having that as a top priority. Everyone has been talking about it. And so I couldn’t see how this would not land as a top priority for this next government.
And just lastly, because we are almost out of time, you’re in a field of six candidates. What do you believe is your unique selling point among them?
I think as a longtime Yellowknifer I have a good ear to the ground. I also have very strong relationships with many people in this community. And I think that I have a good ability to marry the business perspective along with the public servant perspective. I mean, our business community works incredibly hard and our public servants work incredibly hard. And I think that we need to keep that in mind as we move forward.