Four of the five candidates hoping to become the NWT’s next MP answered questions on a range of issues facing the territory in Cabin Radio’s live online forum on Thursday.
Missing from the 90-minute forum – which touched on social issues, infrastructure, Covid-19, and the environment –was Conservative candidate Lea Mollison of Thunder Bay.
While some parties are still finalizing their platforms, moderator Ollie Williams asked the candidates who did attend to each highlight a specific promise they or their party has made for the North.
Roland Laufer, the Green candidate, said “the very high importance of art in the North” had been overlooked. Laufer, treasurer of the Yellowknife Artists Co-operative, said the federal government needs to finance more art because “it’s so important for the healing process.”
Kelvin Kotchilea, running for the NDP, said his party will invest in people first.
“It’s going to come down to making sure there’s adequate childcare, so that people can get into their workforce having meaningful employment,” he said, noting employment ultimately helps to address housing and addictions as people can own homes and have purpose in life if they have a good job.
“When you look at investing in people, that will give you the most ripple-effect outcome,” he said.
Jane Groenewegen, a former NWT MLA running as an independent candidate, said she believes she can encourage Ottawa to look at “programs, and services, and funding through the lens of how unique things are in the Northwest Territories.”
“We cannot be treated in the same way as other places,” she said.
Liberal candidate Michael McLeod, the incumbent, said his government aims to present a national action plan to fight systemic racism and discrimination by 2022.
McLeod said that plan will combat hate crimes, provide training and tools for public safety, invest in digital literacy, “and build on the progress that we’ve made over the last six years.”
Read what candidates had to say on:
Housing and homelessness
Housing has long been one of the most pressing issues in the NWT.
Kotchilea said he believed the NDP was promising $200 million for housing in the NWT over the next 10 years.
“We want to build capacity at a community level,” he said, explaining that people certified in the trades will be able to maintain homes.
McLeod said the Liberals planned to take on housing across three areas: affordability, homelessness, and Indigenous housing. He made no new promises but highlighted his government has committed more than $500 million to housing in the NWT since 2015.
Laufer said he wants to see a feasibility study for buildings in the NWT, and Groenewegen said she wanted “to see more people get involved in the development and provision of housing.”
The candidates also discussed homelessness and related issues like mental health, addictions, and trauma.
Groenewegen said she’d work with the government in power to direct more resources toward the issue and Laufer said he would encourage a deeper look at rehabilitation programs, social programs, and mental health and healing programs.
McLeod said the trauma behind homelessness needs to be addressed through mental health supports, shelters, and treatment centres, while Kotchilea cited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action for the federal government to provide sustainable funding for Indigenous healing centres to address harms caused by the residential school system.
Education and daycare spaces
Looking at the NDP’s campaign pledge to introduce more post-secondary financial assistance for Indigenous students, Williams asked candidates how they will ensure NWT students are not left behind and are ready for post-secondary education.
Groenewegen said she understood the NWT already has a strong grant and loan program for post-secondary students, while Laufer said it’s time to establish guaranteed basic income and abolish tuition fees.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about how we can start to make sure that we have a full, wraparound education process,” said McLeod, explaining it’s important to give children support from the start to ensure the best outcomes – making sure they are born healthy, eat properly, and have the opportunity to attend early childhood education programs, which he’d like to expand. At the other end of the education spectrum, McLeod wants to ensure students entering post-secondary have good support networks and mentors.
Kotchilea said it’s important there is childcare for people who are in school so they can graduate, and jobs in communities for them to come home to.
On the issue of daycare spaces, which are lacking in many communities, Kotchilea said more funding is needed for families who require childcare and more training is needed for childcare providers.
“The Liberal Party is the only party that has a platform that has a very ambitious national childcare plan, which will see us reduce fees for childcare by 50 percent within a year, then $10 [a day] within five years,” said McLeod. “And based on an independent analysis in Yellowknife, our $10 childcare plan will result in savings of over $9,500 for parents.”
McLeod said the Northwest Territories hasn’t yet signed an agreement for $10-per-day daycare with Ottawa because he wants to advocate for more daycare infrastructure before signing on.
“We would love to have $10-a-day daycare if we had daycares,” said Groenewegen, noting daycare is a territorial jurisdiction. She said money from Ottawa should go toward building more daycares in small communities.
Laufer advocated for daycare centres in office buildings. “Why can it not be done that actually, businesses and government offices have to supply daycare to their employees as a standard [as] in many other countries in this world?”
The pandemic response
With the world now a year and a half into the Covid-19 pandemic, Williams wanted to know what each candidate would do to get more money into the NWT’s economy aside from growing the public service.
“I think that we need to look at all aspects of resource development, which has to be done in conjunction with sustainable and good practices,” said Groenewegen. She said the NWT’s labour market needs to be built up through education and skills training, so people are prepared to work.
“The availability of a labour market that’s ready and trained to go to work is the biggest impediment to economic development in Northwest Territories right now,” she said.
Kotchilea said the best way to get money into communities is to settle land claims.
“Settling land claims is going to create lots of employment, especially in the Dehcho and Akaitcho, because that builds up the community, that gives people meaningful employment,” he said.
“You need more people to have more money to spend – so money-multiplier effect. And it’s once you settle Indigenous governments, you can give them the autonomy to govern and be on their own and give them the respect that they’re asking for.”
McLeod spoke about funding the Liberals had already injected into the economy, while Laufer said the student emergency benefit should be increased, eviction notices for people who have lost their jobs must be stopped, and more education is needed to control the spread of Covid-19.
On Covid-19, candidates agreed more education was needed to combat misinformation, but had varying responses when asked if they support mandatory vaccination.
Kotchilea, Groenewegen, and Laufer all said people have the right to choose if they want to be vaccinated, while McLeod avoided directly answering the question and said vaccines are the way out of the pandemic.
Kotchilea said employers have a duty to provide safe workplace conditions, and unvaccinated people pose a risk to their coworkers. He added the NDP supports mandatory vaccination for the public sector.
Energy and infrastructure
To address the NWT’s high energy costs to people – and the cost to the climate – Kotchilea advocated for increasing the territorial government’s borrowing limit so more money is available to invest in green infrastructure and get communities off diesel. He said the NDP would fund studies to see what type of renewable energy would be best for each community.
Laufer suggested biodiesel, pellet stoves, and production facilities for new energies in the North. Groenewegen advocated for the Taltson hydro expansion and said that while many projects and plans are being pursued, more are needed.
McLeod said the Liberals have “Canada on a path to net-zero-emitting electricity by 2035 and total net-zero by 2050.”
“That will require ambitious investments to build on our clean energy record in the Northwest Territories,” he said, giving examples of green energy and climate adaptation funding his government has announced in recent years.
Williams asked each candidate what their top infrastructure priority is for the NWT.
Laufer said he wanted greenhouses built in every community, saying they would be “places where people here in the Northwest Territories can actually have food that is not shipped up from the south, which incurs huge costs.”
Groenewegen said she would push for the Mackenzie Valley Highway to be built.
“It will take in resources, it will take in communities. Being isolated in communities where there’s no road access, it is a detriment to the people, they’re isolated and that has social impacts as well,” she said.
Kotchilea said investment in internet infrastructure will lead to more employment opportunities in smaller communities, as it will allow people to work remotely. That work, he said, will put money in people’s pockets so they can better afford things like housing.
McLeod listed existing infrastructure funds that local governments, businesses, and organizations can access. He listed a section of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Inuvik Airport upgrades, and the Bear River Bridge as projects advanced by the Liberal government.