New Democratic Party candidate Mary Beckett hopes to become the Northwest Territories' next MP on federal election day, October 21.
A resident of Inuvik for the past 35 years, Beckett was acclaimed as the NDP candidate on September 11. She says she was attracted to the party because of its spirit of taking care of one another and looking out for your neighbours.
After a slow start to the election season, the NDP, led by Jagmeet Singh, is climbing in national polls.
The party's platform is based on expanding medicare, easing the housing crisis, taxing the ultra-rich, implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, fighting climate change, and lowering cellphone, internet, and childcare costs.
Beckett operates multiple small businesses. She spent time on the Aurora College board of governors and as former NWT MP Dennis Bevington's constituency assistant.
In her interview she focused on affordability, climate change, and expanding medicare.
"Affordability breaks down to quite a few different things when you start to pull it apart, because it talks about housing and food security and the economy and being able to get good jobs that give you an opportunity for your family to do well," she said.
"It talks about opportunities for kids and education ... But at the root of it all is the idea that our government needs to do more to make things better for people."
Tackling climate change has been a major concern for constituents in this election, said Beckett, noting northerners are well-positioned to lead the country in energy-saving strategies and green solutions.
"I feel like there is a real opportunity for us as northerners to export our expertise and knowledge about energy saving," she continued, suggesting reversing the trend of importing people from the south to work in the NWT.
As for medicare, the NDP wants to see the program expanded to include pharmacare, dental, vision, hearing, and mental health. The party says the program will save families $900 per year. Beckett added healthcare needs to take place close to home, and the federal government needs to work with Indigenous governments to ensure health services are available in their regions.
Beckett touched on regulating the telecommunications industry to combat Canadians' expensive phone and internet bills, which are among the highest in the world.
She said the NDP would write the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law.
"We would work with Indigenous governments to make sure that the policies and programs are suitable and appropriate for the communities they're aimed at, and not just something that comes down from on high," she explained. "We've had too many years where Ottawa makes all the decisions then just passes everything out.
"We're moving to a much more collaborative government style in Canada and that means including the Indigenous governments as we make choices so that they are part of the decision-making process, and not just informed of the decisions as they're made."
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio's Lunchtime News podcast. Beckett's interview air date is October 17, 2019.
More information: Mary Beckett's Facebook campaign page
This interview was recorded on October 10, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: Mary, I'll get you to start by introducing yourself to everyone.
Mary Beckett: I'm Mary Beckett. I'm from Inuvik, and I've been living up there since 1984, so that's 35 years. I am a small business owner and a mother of four, who are all grown up now doing their own thing, and also a grandmother or four.
So it has been interesting over the last little while to get a chance to go and meet everybody over the campaign, because there's lots of old friends that have been in Inuvik in the past and have now split off and moved to other locations, and so I keep running up against people I've met before. And then of course, meeting a whole bunch of new people as well.
And why did you decide to put your name forward to run as the NDP candidate in the federal election this year?
Well, I've always been interested in politics. I am a very community service-oriented kind of person. I think that it's a role of anybody in the community to try to make the lives of those around them better; I think the federal parliament is just sort of the ultimate level of that service and I was excited when I was asked if I would put my name forward. It seems the New Democratic Party has always been my party, and it seemed a perfect fit for me.
And why would you say it's always been your party?
I grew up in Saskatchewan, so I grew up under a New Democratic government. My father was a farmer, and farm people tend to work in groups. Social cooperatives came out of the prairies. And that way of taking care of one another and watching out for your neighbours and so on, that's part of the New Democratic spirit. And that really appeals to me as a political party.
Now, quickly, can you just review some of the key parts of your party's platform?
This year, it seems that the things that people are most concerned about are a combination of affordable living and the environment. And depending on which doorstep you're standing on at the present moment, some people will say the one is more important than the other, but pretty much everybody agrees that those are the two top things.
And affordability breaks down to quite a few different things when you start to pull it apart, because it talks about housing and food security and the economy and being able to get good jobs that give you an opportunity for your family to do well. It talks about opportunities for kids and education. It just keeps going on and on. But at the root of it all is the idea that our government needs to do more to make things better for people.
And as far as the environment goes, of course, climate change in the North has been much more magnified. We have three times the effects in the Arctic than we do in southern Canada. And so we have not only become great believers in climate change, but we're great believers that we have to do something to slow it down and to put aside some of the effects that we're starting to see, because sustainability of things like our hunting and trapping lifestyles is going to be really affected if the climate doesn't slow down and start recovering a little bit.
Anything else in your platform you'd like to point out right now? When I was on your website earlier there were the six to eight key points.
Well, like I said, there's pharmacare, which is part of that affordability thing. Originally, when medicare was started, it wasn't intended that pharmacare would ever be left out. But you know, Canadians like to phase stuff in, and we don't want to get in too much of a hurry. But we've had medicare for a really long time, more than 50 years, I think it's time that we add the pharmacare piece to it. It will help support people who have families in Canada – we figure out it'll save about $900 a year for families. People talk about how it's going to cost money to institute pharmacare but, if we start buying our medicines as a big buying concern instead of as individuals, we'll be able to save money on what we're spending on pharmaceuticals anyway, because with the larger buying power of the government we'll be able to get better deals. So I think it's something that's gone past the time.
Dental care is another one that is big for the NDP, we'd like to phase that in with families that earn $70,000 or less being covered initially. A lot of people don't realize how dental care can affect your other health. There's cardiac issues, and all kinds of things that can come in if you don't have good dental care. And for people who are in the lower income bracket, quite often going to a dentist once every 10 or 20 years is all they can manage. And usually by that point, their problems are so severe that they're losing teeth instead of maintaining them. So that's really got to be something that we have to be concerned about.
Vision care and hearing care are other pieces of that pie. Plus mental health is another thing that we haven't really, totally got in our healthcare bundle yet. And so we need to sort-of look at the head-to-toe version of healthcare, in order to really see the vision that Tommy Douglas started with when he made the move toward healthcare for Canada.
Now, in the CBC debate, you said the current government is failing on housing in the NWT. What do you mean by that? And what would you do differently?
Well, right now, the federal government's support of housing compared to the last 10 years is 19 percent lower – as a percentage of GDP – than it has been. So clearly, their advertised intent to improve our housing situation is failing. And some of that comes from just the agreements that they signed with provinces and territories where they didn't require the same level of matching that had gone on in the past. And so even though they're putting money in, it isn't necessarily all ending up in the same percentages as we would have hoped, because they didn't require that matching portion to come from the other parties.
The other thing is a lot of the money that gets earmarked for the North gets spread out over long periods of time and across quite a wide area. So even though it sounds like a lot when they rhyme off the numbers in a hurry the way Michael [McLeod] did [in the CBC debate], the reality of it is that in the small communities, they're not seeing new housing starts anywhere near the rate that they need to in order to get families who are living two or three families to a house into individual homes the way we would prefer. And the problem with that is that when people are overcrowded, we have issues with our justice system, education, health, you name it – it all ends up having additional costs that we could save if we spent a little bit more on housing.
Regarding the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, you said that a New Democratic government would make sure we're making programs and policies and not forget these things and leave them on the shelf. It's very easy to say we need programs and policies, so what specific programs and policies?
Well, what I was referring to is that quite often the government will sign on to something – they sponsor the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and all of those calls to action get put out and they said, look at this wonderful stuff we just did – and then the actual action that goes with the calls to action is slow to move and not necessarily well-funded. Some of it is more in the line of salute-to-the-flag as opposed to writing a cheque. And so what the New Democratic Party would do is make that UN declaration a part of our law, so that it's an actual enforceable thing instead of just something that's nice.
What I was referring to is making reconciliation part of everything: we would look at every department, every program and so on, as we are enacting policies and programs. We would work with Indigenous governments to make sure that the policies and programs are suitable and appropriate for the communities they're aimed at, and not just something that comes down from on high.
We've had too many years where Ottawa makes all the decisions then just passes everything out. We're moving to a much more collaborative government style in Canada and that means including the Indigenous governments as we make choices so that they are part of the decision-making process, and not just informed of the decisions as they're made.
One of the NDP New Deals is to lower internet and cellphone bills. Especially in the North, we know that they're far too high. With Northwestel's announcement that it's looking at adding a second line and creating a package without a limit, people may be nervous that rates are going to continue to go up. How are you going to lower those bills?
So right now, the big telecoms are posting record profits: 40 percent or better profit margins, which is huge. So we think it's appropriate that the government take some action to ensure that there are price caps on cellphone and internet, so that our Canadian consumers are not paying above the global average for comparable services.
A friend of mine told me one day they had gotten a new set-up in Tuk, and they didn't realize quite how it was built and they got a $900 bill because they went and watched all these movies and did all these things. And all of a sudden they couldn't afford anything for the next month, and basically had to go without internet for quite a while. Those kinds of surprise bills can really make a huge problem for a family that's on a restricted income. So we want to make sure that there are basic packages that come with fixed rates so that people know what they're getting, and also that there are packages available for people that are using high-end stuff: the unlimited packages that are priced based on what is available around the globe, not just based on Canadian rates, which are way higher than the average elsewhere.
So looking at regulating that industry a little more than it has been so that people know what they're getting?
Yeah, I think part of it is that we haven't yet taken that step of saying that cellphones and internet is a public utility, and that it is something that everybody needs. And because of that it needs to have some regulation so that it's available to everybody equally.
The other thing is that the Liberals have a 10-year plan to make sure that all the rural and remote communities have the high-bandwidth service. And we want to move that forward so that it happens in a much quicker time-frame.
Now, we talked a little bit about the climate change crisis, and the environment has been the key issue with this election. One of the parts of the NDP platform is to create 300,000 clean energy jobs. What portion of those would be in the NWT?
It's always hard to estimate exactly how the NWT is going to participate in something that is a Canada-wide initiative. But we will be working to make sure that a good portion of them are.
One of the big ones that would happen almost right away under an NDP government is we want to look at retrofitting all the government buildings so that they are energy-efficient and moving toward net-zero buildings eventually, and also providing funding so that homeowners can apply for funds to do retrofits for their own homes. They would be loans that would be interest-free and the repayment would be based on the savings that you get from the energy savings that you make with your upgrades. Also, we would be working to make sure that all the social housing stock and so on is also retrofitted.
All of that creates work. And it's the kind of work that people in the NWT are already, for the most part, capable of doing. It's not something that requires people from the south to come up and do for us. So I think that's initially where I see a big chunk of jobs.
But the other thing is that I was talking to somebody the other day and we were talking about the fact that when it comes to energy saving or doing things better, in the North, we're really, really good at finding good alternatives. And things that work up here work everywhere, because the Arctic is so tough on the equipment that we have. And I feel like there is a real opportunity for us as northerners to export our expertise and knowledge about energy savings and so on. And so the NDP is planning to support businesses, especially businesses that are innovative in green technologies. And that kind of thing will, in the long term, help us to diversify our economy, but also help create more jobs in the North too.
So rather than bringing southerners up here to do the work, we might end up sending people from the North south to help them do work down there?
Don't you think that makes sense? I mean, it seems like we would be the experts on how to make our houses warm, without spending more money than you have to.
Now just going back to healthcare briefly, you mentioned pharmacare, and medicare, and dental care, and hearing. I was speaking to dozens of MLA candidates running in the territorial election just a few weeks ago, and one thing that came up again and again was that an addiction centre is needed in the NWT so we're not sending our people south for treatment. What are your thoughts on that?
Oh, I agree. I think that one of the things that I agree with most within the platform is that if you want healthy communities, healthcare, diagnostic services and all that, it has to be available and close to home, so that people can access that that sort of thing near at hand. The NDP wants to work with Indigenous governments to ensure that all these services are available in their regions, so that people don't have to travel great distances in order to be provided with basic healthcare services, which includes addiction services.
You wouldn't expect somebody from Kelowna to travel to Winnipeg to get addiction services, but we're travelling those kinds of distances ourselves all the time. So I think the problem with that is that when you travel really long ways to a place that's quite far away and removed from all your usual haunts, whatever progress you made can be quickly erased when you arrive home and all the standard stuff hits you the way it always has, and your stresses and everything are right back to where they were. So I think all of it would be more effective and probably more cost-effective if we were treating people closer to home.
I don't think we necessarily have the capacity to have an addiction centre or services in every single community. But one thing that would be needed in every community is that after-care piece, so that people are supported when they go back to their communities. What do we do there?
Well, again, I think you work with the Indigenous governments to find out what type of healthcare services and treatments that they envision for their regions and their communities. And I think if we work with the Indigenous governments in supporting their self-government negotiations to include things like that, and in negotiating with the federal government to create programs that suit each community appropriately, I think you'll find that we're able to provide a lot more services than you think close to home, and hopefully, deal with situations before they get really out of hand.
If you have more counselling and support available in your home community, maybe your problems don't expand to the point of addiction and homelessness, you might actually be able to nip problems in the bud a little closer to when they start if we make mental health services a more matter-of-fact thing. If you hurt yourself, or you feel a little bit sick, we automatically go to the doctor. But there's this stigma about mental health, that has been eroded a little bit in the last five or 10 years, but we need to continue to work on that so when people are feeling out of sorts with their mental health, they also consult people so that we take care of all forms of health equally.
We need to wrap up here in a second. I've got one more question. After a bit of a slow start, the NDP is starting to perform a lot more strongly, but it's still a little unlikely that it will form the government. If you were elected in the NWT, what's your plan to make sure that we're still heard and that we're still receiving the federal funding that we need?
First of all, it does seem fairly likely that we may end up in a minority government situation. And in that case, the NDP will be a key player in making sure that legislation that was promised during the election actually comes to fruition. Lots of our platform planks have been borrowed by the Liberals as they are making promises about primary care and so on, so we will be there to make sure that happens.
The other thing is that as a member the opposition, I can stand up and ask tough questions on a regular basis in question period and make sure that the voice of the North is heard, and that the NWT stands out from the rest of the northern territories so that our differences are acknowledged as well as the shared issues that the three northern territories have.