Liberal Party candidate Michael McLeod hopes to remain the Northwest Territories’ MP on federal election day, October 21.
McLeod, first elected in 2015, has focused his campaign on various major investments made in the NWT by the most recent Liberal government. He says there is “more work to do” – and more money to come – if the Liberals remain in power.
Despite leader Justin Trudeau’s well-documented struggles this year, ranging from the loss of one of the Liberals’ highest-profile Indigenous politicians through to a blackface and brownface scandal, McLeod stands by his party leader and says he remains the best choice for the Northwest Territories.
“I’m still convinced that this prime minister has shown and continues to show the most interest in the Northwest Territories,” McLeod told Cabin Radio. “He’s well-versed in what we’re up against here in the North, he’s familiar with the North, and I’m convinced that we’re going to do a lot more in the next four years.”
McLeod says his party will, as a priority, implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples if re-elected. He advocates for the diversion of federal funding to Indigenous governments where possible.
Asked if he believes the Liberal carbon tax is the right solution for the Northwest Territories – despite only reluctant acquiescence from the NWT government under his brother, Bob McLeod – Michael McLeod said it should not be “seen in isolation” but as part of a broader package.
Listen to the full interview by downloading or streaming Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast. McLeod’s interview air date is October 18, 2019.
More information: Michael McLeod’s Facebook campaign page
This interview was recorded on October 10, 2019. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What are you offering NWT residents if they return you to office for a second term?
Michael McLeod: I’m seeking a second term because I want to build on the progress that we made over the last four years here in the Northwest Territories, with our Liberal government we’ve made quite significant investments in many areas – in infrastructure in our communities, for roads, for airports, green energy, and housing. And we’ve done a lot of work in the area of Indigenous governance to advance negotiations on reconciliation. We’ve also helped address affordability by lowering taxes to the middle class and enhancing the northern residents’ deduction – we want to do more there – and also creating the Canada Child Benefit. So I’m asking for support so I can continue to advocate for investments and attention in the Northwest Territories.
Where do you think you’ve made the biggest difference as an MP for the NWT over the last four years?
Well, I think we’ve seen more progress and more investment in the last four years than we’ve seen in probably the previous 15, 20 years. We made quite a bit of investment in the Northwest Territories, we’ve invested in economic development, invested in housing, and climate change – so many, many areas. I think we probably put in over $2 billion on top of the territorial formula financing agreement, and that doesn’t include investments in Indigenous governments. So significant investments in many areas.
There are a lot of people who feel as though the Northwest Territories is struggling, that its economy is flatlining a little bit, that we have a lot of health issues, a lot of education issues. What can you point to and say that, all this money that you say the federal government’s putting in… where is it making a difference? Where are we seeing quality of life genuinely improve?
I think we could point to many different fronts. I think, on the economy side, we’ve heard over and over again, that if we’re going to see the economy flourish we need to lower the cost of business in the Northwest Territories. That means more roads, better roads. We need better airports and longer runways in a lot of our communities. And we also need to work with the Indigenous governments so that they are partners of decision-making. That means settling land claims, that means settling self-governance, and people want to know that the environment is well taken care of, and the water is going to continue to be pure. I hear that lots as I travel to different communities.
And if we want to do all these things, we need to work on improving our education system. We need to improve our health system, healthcare, make sure it’s there for everyone. There’s lots of work to be done yet. The biggest issue that comes up as I travel around, of course, is housing. We’ve put a lot of money into housing. I don’t think we’re done yet. There are still areas that we have to continue to discuss and that Indigenous housing and seniors’ housing. And I think we’re seeing many, many big-ticket items come on the agenda. We’ve seen money going towards Inuvik Airport and there’s still more investment to be considered for the Slave Geological Province, Taltson hydro, and we probably have about 25 kilometres now done on the Tłı̨chǫ all-season road. So a lot of investments have been made. I think it’s going to help us move forward.
I’m going to come back to climate in a moment. Let’s talk about housing first of all. If a Liberal government is put back into power, will we see federal funding that starts to add housing units in the Northwest Territories, rather than just sort-of refurbishing and replacing ones that we’re losing?
Well, the challenge has been because of the 10 years of very low housing investment, the housing stock in the Northwest Territories has deteriorated. We are putting in a significant investment: we’ve committed $140 million and signed a deal with the Government of the Northwest Territories. They’ve put a lot of that back into refurbishing their units. And we’ve also put in a co-investment fund that has a number of projects under way. So I think you’re going to start to see a lot of things hitting the ground, a lot of units hitting the ground by next summer. We need to do more, we need to engage Indigenous governments so that they can start providing housing for their membership. We’ve already started discussions with the Tłı̨chǫ and we’ve seen investment with the Inuvialuit. So I think we’ll see those discussions continue. But on other pieces, seniors’ housing there has to be some focus on. I think that’s an area that we haven’t quite concluded those talks on.
Turning to the climate, carbon pricing, of course, was a signature initiative of the Liberal government of the past four years. The NWT government, in meeting its commitment to Ottawa, says essentially – and I’m going to paraphrase slightly – that carbon pricing in the NWT is a terrible idea and should be repealed as soon as Ottawa will let that happen. Other critics say it’ll make no difference, because virtually everything is rebated – to make sure that the cost of living doesn’t go up too much – so there’s no incentive for it to make any environmental difference whatsoever. Do you think carbon pricing is going to work for the NWT?
Well, we tend to look at carbon pricing in isolation. I think carbon pricing is a good incentive to create an awareness of what we’re doing with the fossil fuels. I think we need to look at other initiatives that have to be packaged in to make a significant impact on what’s happening with greenhouse gas emissions. And you know, there have to be more programs that help us – we need to have more energy-efficient housing, we need more trees planted, we need a lot of different investments that we want to see happen. We need to put money toward refurbishing and expanding green energy through supporting wind, solar, hydro, biomass projects, and every part of the Territories has projects that I’d like to see forward. So we dedicated quite a bit of money so far. We’ve put in probably $93 million in the last four years for energy projects and we’re going to start seeing the benefits. We have to look at everything in the package, not just in isolation.
Would it be possible to have a package that doesn’t include carbon pricing?
I think it’d be difficult. I think we all do our part. Carbon pricing is something that creates awareness. We have jurisdictions that are pushing back but our platform includes an ambitious agenda for further actions to reduce emissions. If we get re-elected, we’re committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and introducing other carbon-reducing measures.
Let’s talk a little bit about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Liberal government had four years to make significant and meaningful movement on that; it hasn’t really happened yet. Will it happen in the next four years, for sure?
Absolutely. It’ll be one of the first things we do when we get back into power. We supported Romeo Saganash’s bill on Undrip. Unfortunately, the Conservatives decided to kill it. We were very disappointed. It was a lot of work, a lot of effort put into that. We are planning to bring it back and it will be a government-driven bill this time.
How do you envisage the federal government’s relationship with the Indigenous governments of the North changing over the next four years? What do you think needs to happen?
Well, I think it’s already changed significantly. We have very good communications with all Indigenous governments of the Northwest Territories. I reach out as much as I can. We have ongoing discussions on some of the challenges we’re facing. Some of the areas where we were hoping to get better clarification in terms of rules, and policies, and legislation need to be looked at again, especially the comprehensive claim policy, we feel that whole policy has got to be thrown out the window and be replaced with a recognition of rights policy. That’s going to go a long ways in giving flexibility to Indigenous governments to talk about what they need, what they would like to see. The previous policy was drafted without any input from Indigenous governments and that was really not fair. We’ve done also a lot of work on the self-government policy. We involved the Tłı̨chǫ and Délįne, all the self-governing nations from BC and Yukon, and I think they’re quite happy with the results. We’ve seen some of the agreements that are coming forward and I see a lot of people that are very excited about that whole process.
Of course, there’s more to be done. And we’re planning to really put a lot of emphasis on trying to get some of the resolutions to the claims. We have 14 such discussions going on right now and we had virtually none when I got elected in 2015, everything had come to a standstill, pretty much. It’s good to see that the talks are going. There are still challenges, we still have to work out a number of things, but I’m feeling pretty positive about all of it.
Let’s take a look at the economy. The Arctic policy framework came out not so long ago and a lot of what that has to say relates to the economy. There have been plenty of pronouncements from the likes of Dominic LeBlanc, the northern affairs minister, before as well, promising that Ottawa under a Liberal government would get things done like the Taltson hydro expansion, like the Slave Geological Province road, but there are no timelines on any of these things. And I wondered if your party is prepared to commit to any timelines when it comes to getting this stuff done, in the same way that the Green Party came up here a few months ago and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll pay $2 billion for Taltson, we’ve got it costed out, here’s the independent Parliamentary Budget Office report, it’s going to happen’?
Well, our platform is costed out also, that’s out there in the public.
Has it got $2 billion for Taltson in it?
Our party has put out a platform that is costed out, and we have an Arctic policy framework that we put out fairly recently. It’s a framework that will guide us, it’ll be the document that we’ll start using toward putting together what will be the blueprint for us in the North till 2030. We have a number of major infrastructure priorities that will support resource development: the Slave Geological Province corridor is one, Taltson hydro is another one. You know, we’ve already committed for the Inuvik Airport and the Great Bear River bridge, but at some point we’re going to have to decide which projects will move forward. That is a decision that the new Government of the Northwest Territories will bring forward, I’m sure. So a lot of discussion has to take place. We’ve extended the mineral exploration tax credit for five years already, we’ve opened up a new centre for mining industry training at Aurora College, we’ve done an investment in the Mine Training Society to train over 1,000 people. So there have been significant investments already.
I want to talk about education and healthcare, both of which are very important in the Northwest Territories, both of which have aspects that could be seen to be failing right now. Clearly, there is a lot of territorial jurisdiction over those issues but, as the MP for the NWT, what message would you be taking forward to Ottawa over the next four years?
Well, we’ve had a lot of discussions when it comes to education with the different communities that I visited over the last while. I’ve visited over 20 in the last month. We need to start looking at how do we deal with the challenges in our smaller communities? Most of the regional centres are doing quite well when it comes to education but where we’re challenged is in the smaller communities. We’ve talked lots about providing support so that they can start dealing with education from a young age, from the time children are infants, supporting them through toddler years into early childhood education and onward right to post-secondary. We need to get Indigenous governments involved at the community level and they’re quite willing, they’re quite concerned. Of course, that’s going to require investment. So those types of things are going to be ongoing discussions and I’m quite excited to see that move forward.
Just two more questions for you. The first one is that some people who voted Liberal in 2015 may feel a little disenchanted with the Liberal leader now, particularly after the numerous events and perceived failings of the last year or so – particularly in the Northwest Territories, if they’re watching one of the most visible Indigenous members of the Liberal Party leave cabinet under Justin Trudeau’s watch. What are you saying to people who feel as though they have concerns about the leader of your party?
Well, I have opportunities to have face-to-face discussions with the prime minister and we’ve had several, especially in this last year. I’m still convinced that this prime minister has shown and continues to show the most interest in the Northwest Territories. We’ve seen more attention to the Northwest Territories, more attention to issues, more attention to investment in the North, than we’ve had in a long, long time. We’ve had good discussions on the continuance of investment, continuance of the ability to challenge and deal with some of the issues that we have facing us. He’s well-versed in what we’re up against here in the North, he’s familiar with the North, and I’m convinced that we’re going to do a lot more in the next four years and continue that momentum that we started in the last government.
In the national polling, the Liberal Party and the Conservatives have very little to choose between them right now. It ebbs and flows by the day. The Conservatives are pushing 100-percent resource royalties to be kept in the Northwest Territories among their larger platform for the North. What would you say to voters who maybe voted Liberal four years ago and are now looking at voting elsewhere?
Well, I think the Liberals are the cause of some of our challenges here in the North. We can point fingers. But I was there when we talked about the resource royalty-sharing design – the Conservatives did not want to include Norman Wells oil fields, they did not want to the Beaufort Sea, they did not want to give us more than 50 percent. We always have maintained, as a territory, that we should have 100 percent. I fully support that. I think that we need to look at ways we can provide more of that royalty money to the Indigenous governments. I’m all for keeping 50 percent here for the Government of the Northwest Territories and maybe we should consider giving the other 50 percent, that the federal government holds, to the Indigenous governments.