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Politics

‘A big day.’ Father grills son for first time in NWT legislature


As exchanges in the legislature go, it was relatively sedate. The MLA for Hay River South rose and began asking the employment minister questions about apprenticeships.

The difference? The member and the minister are father and son. Rocky Simpson on Tuesday questioned his son, RJ, for the first time since both were elected in October last year.

The two Simpsons serve as Hay River’s two MLAs. Rocky defeated former minister Wally Schumann in Hay River South while RJ, following re-election in Hay River North, was elevated to cabinet and now leads the Department of Education, Culture, and Employment.

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While many observers have since commented on the merits, or otherwise, of a father and son sitting in the same legislature, Tuesday was nonetheless a milestone for both.

“My first set of questions from the member for Hay River South. It’s a big day for me,” RJ Simpson joked as he rose to answer his father’s opening question about apprenticeships.

“It’s a big day for me, too,” Rocky Simpson replied, to laughter from colleagues, before holding his son to account on a budgetary matter.

The substance of Tuesday’s familial Q&A featured the money available in the NWT to help small businesses hire apprentices.

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Subsidies of $8 per hour, up to 1,600 hours, are available to businesses each year. Most subsidies are provided over two-year terms.

Simpson the elder wanted to know how much of the territory’s $1-million budget for the program remained unspent. Simpson the younger said around $400,000 in unspent subsidy cash had been carried over from 2018-19 into the current financial year.

“It’s good to hear that, in a sense, there is extra money in the budget – money that may have not been spent,” Rocky Simpson said.

“Is the minister willing to look at extending the term for third and fourth-year apprenticeships, as well, to add another year on? I would like to see the money be spread out a bit and it will really help small business, as well.”

The minister told his dad: “I know it’s difficult for small businesses across the territory right now, and apprentices and journeypersons are in high demand. It’s difficult to compete with the wages that are being offered by the mines and by government and by big industry, so to have that wage subsidy, it helps.

“I am definitely going to look into this. We’re going back to industry and to small businesses to see how recent changes to the program have rolled out on the ground and we’ll make the decision from there, but I’m definitely going to consider all options, including extending this if those funds are available.”

Both RJ and Rocky Simpson had to deal with questions about the latter’s financial situation immediately following October’s election.

The elder Simpson entered office with his company owing several million dollars to various creditors, including around $2 million to the very government his son now helps to lead.

Rocky Simpson, who blames the Alberta oil slump for his company’s financial woes, has said the issue is “bigger than me” and highlights how communities outside Yellowknife are suffering economically. He has accepted wage garnishment as a means of beginning to pay back the sum owed.

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