Rommel Silverio hopes to become the next MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake.
Silverio, a registered nurse and city councillor, said he was first inspired to run for MLA while watching the events that almost led to a strike at the territorial government in February.
Focusing on improving the quality of healthcare, Silverio wants additional payments to attract more staff to the NWT.
He also argues he will be well-equipped to help the City of Yellowknife conquer existing issues, such as a lack of land, as a territorial politician.
Acknowledging he is one of Yellowknife's quieter city councillors, as English is not his first language, Silverio noted he finds his voice on important or controversial issues. "We need a leader, and a leader that listens with the heart," he said.
Below, find a transcript of the full interview.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News podcast. Silverio's interview air date is September 25.
More information: Rommel Silverio's campaign Facebook page
More interviews: Browse our 2019 NWT election coverage so far
This interview was recorded on September 19, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What made you want to run for MLA?
Rommel Silverio: That's a good question, Ollie. You know what, I'm going to give you a bit of a history of my decision to run for MLA. But before we go further, I would like to thank you, and then the listeners, too. So it started, my interest started, when we had this issue about the strike from February, then when they decided to go for a strike, and that same year, this year, the MLAs increase their pay. And they took that, and they forgot the employees. So that was the one that ignited me.
And then some city stuff like the funding gap, land transfers, and all those. Because the level of government that Canadians are really closest to is the local government. That's where you have your core services, and we try our best in the city to provide all the services, but we struggle sometimes because of the lack of funding. And we don't always want to go back to people and increase their taxes. You know? That will be the last thing I want to hear, is to increase the tax for your neighbours. If we get that underfunding close, that would be big money that can provide services for the people of Yellowknife.
Second is access to land. We want to do business but our hands are tied, because we cannot give anything to developers when they come. And that's also part of some sort of housing projects too, for the City. It's hard because there's no land that we can offer.
Finally, I'll go back to my work as a registered nurse: I'm not against infrastructure, I'm really happy that we have a new hospital, a big one. But the only thing that we forget is to include the human factor. The secret is open, we heard about all this, this is something to do with short staffing and the level of services. So if you're short staffed, you cannot provide the services that you could. Sometimes you end up closing units, or sometimes there's a delay in the delivery of the services.
So when you put all those together, it just makes sense to me that I put my name in, because I want to be a part of the change I want to see. I want to help unlocking those doors so that when all this funding can come to our city, then you can serve the people, who feel much better. So this is why, you know, at the last minute I threw my name in for being MLA,
You have front-line healthcare experience working here in the Northwest Territories. You've mentioned there is a staffing crisis. What do you believe the solution to that is?
OK, that's a good question, Ollie. I would like to just get into my career. Earlier this year, we [nurses] wanted to amend the nursing act so that we can include licensed practical nurses and registered nurses as well. So when the 19th Assembly will be formed, I would like to see that they will prioritize this one to amend because I don't think there's a lot of complication with this one, we did our research.
Secondly, I believe that they need to have a working task force with representation for the HR and the hospital, because the problem sometimes is that when they hire a nurse, it takes six months to actually get them here. So that's too long. So we need to have this task force together so that when there's an applicant, they're able to interview right away, and at least a maximum of two weeks, they should be able to bring this nurse here to work.
I would probably say we need to observe all the Aurora grads that this college can produce. I noticed a lot of the students, when they are done, they leave the territory. So what I'm thinking is they use a bursary where they need to sign a return-of-service, at least two or three years, so that we can use them here as well, as our nurses. There are a lot of immigrants here that have medical backgrounds. I think that we need to help them cross the barrier, let them be able to upgrade themselves here. The NWT should be able to help them with this, because they're already here. And then, you know, they said we can look outside the territory. But again, it's a nationwide problem.
And then I would suggest to go international, you know, because we also have this immigration and nominee program that, through the employer, they can help professional skilled workers. So there's a lot of options here. And in this way, we can grow our population here in the Northwest Territories, and we grow our tax base in Yellowknife. So those are my propositions, if I'll be elected.
Looking at healthcare, your platform calls it wellness and safety. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how safety is involved in that and how you want to address that?
I know that we're there for the patient, and we try to make sure that they're safe. And if you're under-staffed, you know, you're not providing the maximum care. And not just the workforce. I am also probably going to advocate treatment centres, like the medical detox centre, you know, we should have the infrastructure as well as trained staff.
We need to have a managed alcohol program in the territory because sometimes, when we care for them in the hospital, and then if we end up discharging them after they're OK, they go back to the streets. There's no follow up. So that's the wellness and safety in there. And then, of course, when you send them south, when they come back, they go back to the streets. So there's no follow-up, they should have follow-up treatment.
And then one thing that I also want to see is… the disease, because it's growing, is the mental health issues among adolescents, you know? I'm seeing a lot more admissions in the hospital, you know, kids that are 14, 15, sometimes as young as nine years old, and we don't have a proper program for these kids. And we don't have a child psychiatrist here, we need to have that, so that when you care for this population, we can get the best of what we could give them.
You mentioned earlier on that you want to see the funding gap closed for communities. I'm sure the GNWT, if they had a representative in here, would say, "Look, if we had the money, we would do that already." Where will you find the money?
Well, that's a good question. What I'm trying to propose is that, of course, I need to see the budget as well, territory-wide. You know, I'm suggesting that we probably start in incremental increases, like probably can start about $3 million to $5 million, and then progressively every year we give more to the community. We need to push the growth, population growth. So when we get more people here, we get more money from the federal government. So that is one. I know,
How do we push population growth?
That's a good question, Ollie. One thing is that we need to incentivize people. When you invite nurses to work in the North, we need to have some sort of bonus, you know, like a signup bonus that would entice them. So that way, you can incentivize them, help them with the housing as well. So that when they come here, they're able to stay longer. I would like to see more push in the immigration and nominee program.
The Minister of Immigration was here, not too long ago, maybe a couple months now. He had mentioned that the NWT doesn't maximize the seats that they have here. So that is a way of inviting people to stay in Yellowknife. I know that a lot of people here came from a different place: I would probably use my country in the Philippines. Most of them come here as contract workers. We need to help them to reunite with their family, so that they're able to come here – they can bring more people. And then that means more workforce, more dollars for us. So that's that's one of those ideas for population growth.
In your platform, you say you want the Northwest Territories to be self-sustaining economically, I'm sure that's part of it. What else do you see as solutions economically for the NWT?
Well, we need to push the polytechnic university. We need to make sure that the brick and mortar campus of this university will be located in Yellowknife so that we can attract more international students because, I mean, compared to all the population in the NWT, Yellowknife is the biggest. So I think it's just ideal to bring it here.
But that alone won't attract international students, just being in Yellowknife. What do you see as the bigger vision for that university that will attract international students?
Well, you know, we already have our environment here. If you're a nature person, that's one enticement for them. They can also work here, if they're an international student, they can also work here if they want. We have a lot of needs here in terms of work. I think that's good.
Back to the economy. You're saying we should look at ways to make the NWT self-sustaining. Self-sustaining is a big thing because, at the moment, we're looking at about $1.4 billion a year in federal support. How do we get better than that, other than the university, other than more people. What else can we do?
Well, there's also the prospect about the Slave Geological Province road. We can make that through the help of the federal government as well. So they can make the road and then we can start exploring more minerals. And hopefully, we can attract more investors. I know that the 18th Legislative Assembly passed a mining incentive policy, that's up to $1 million. We need to double that. That will entice them to come here and start all this. So when you have that road, there's a lot of exploration going on, then we can push the Taltson hydroelectric expansion, there will be a need for those mines. And then whatever access for that hydroelectric power can be used to other communities as well.
You're in a district with six candidates. How are you going about the process of making yourself stand out?
That's a good question. I mean, most people know me because I've been a second-term city councillor. I knocked on all the same doors last year. So I have a lot of people I know there. I have the immigrant people, I have my co-workers there. And then longtime northerners as well, through my position in the city, I've known a lot of people. They know how I work. Even just being a nurse in the hospital, I have patients and they know how I work, you know? We need a leader, and a leader that listens with the heart. I hope that they can see that.
In City Hall, when we're in city council meetings, some people see you as quite a quiet councillor. I wondered how you would describe your approach to politics and how you operate?
That's a good question. English is not my first language, so I need to be very careful when I bring out some words, because I don't want to be misquoted, especially by the media.
We would never do such a thing.
I always hope that I could say the right words. When I speak, I speak when there's really a big or very controversial issue, Then I say my piece. I think it's just my nature. But with the important stuff, like, you know, when we have discussions on the taxation, I'm going to make sure that I also say my piece, especially when there's an increase in tax, then I would probably need to see line by line. I always talk on those things. Not so often though in other meetings.
What do you see as your first priority if you're elected?
I would like to see some changes in the healthcare system. Because to me, this is the most that people will be affected, no just in Yellowknife but across the NWT. We want to make sure that there's enough staff to run the unit. So I would like to see some changes there, especially in staffing level, and the qualified staff. That will be my first one to go.