Three of the NWT’s five federal election candidates appeared in a final broadcast forum on Friday evening ahead of polling day on Monday, September 20.
Liberal Michael McLeod, New Democrat Kelvin Kotchilea, and independent Jane Groenewegen took part in CBC North’s forum. Conservative Lea Mollison, who has declined all interview requests, was not present. Green candidate Roland Laufer was ill, the broadcaster said.
Below, find short summaries of the three attending candidates’ answers to the night’s questions.
Why vote for you?
Jane Groenewegen listed her 47 years’ residency in Hay River, her political experience as a former NWT minister MLA, and council member, and added she “felt that northerners needed an additional option from which to choose.”
Kelvin Kotchilea said he brings “a lot of life experience, of knowing what it was to become a worker at a young age, to going back to post-secondary as a young adult and with a young family.” He said he would work to adapt mining to a greener-energy environment.
Michael McLeod said he was proud of the Liberal government’s work and wanted to build on that. “The Northwest Territories has been through a lot since 2019 and I think we need an experienced voice in Ottawa,” he said.
What’s your position on mandatory vaccination for the public service?
Kelvin Kotchilea expressed support for mandatory vaccination at the federal level. “It’s a choice as an individual but people have to realize that employers have a duty to accommodate other employees that feel they’re at risk,” he said.
Michael McLeod said: “Vaccines are way out of the pandemic. That’s why we will require approved vaccination for commercial flights and in the federal public service.” The Liberals will fund proof-of-vaccination initiatives across the country, he added.
Jane Groenewegen said: “I do not, at this time, support the concept of a universal kind of mandatory vaccination,” calling the concept “uncharted territory when it comes to the Constitution.”
How will you ensure a vaccine passport does not restrict services in the NWT?
Michael McLeod said “allowances would have to be made to ensure that anybody that can’t get the vaccine can still travel.” He said a Liberal government would have to “look at the options” for people who refuse to obtain a vaccine passport.
Jane Groenewegen suggested the territory and its MP would have little control over other jurisdictions’ plans. She said vaccine passports would be particularly important in Alberta, given the territory’s close relationship with the province.
Kelvin Kotchilea said the New Democrats would ensure vaccine passports “don’t infringe on any rights” regarding travel. “You definitely have to discuss it with residents and the territorial government,” he said.
How do you solve the healthcare worker shortage?
Kelvin Kotchilea promoted more training for community members to deliver services where they live, and criticized the Liberal government for instead spending $600 million on this election.
Michael McLeod said his government had created the Safe Restart agreement to give the NWT funding, among other initiatives. “For every $10 that was spent in the Northwest Territories, $8 of that was provided by the federal government,” he said.
Jane Groenewegen said a national initiative was required. “I don’t care if it is finding seats in post-secondary education. I don’t care if it’s paying for people to take education. We have to get ahead.”
Jane, would you be limited or liberated as an independent in Ottawa?
Jane Groenewegen said polls suggested another minority government on the way, meaning an independent’s support could be “highly sought-after” on Parliament Hill. She added she could work across party lines. “I know the North, and I would represent the North first and foremost.”
How would you persuade people who aren’t vaccinated to get it? Is that your role?
Kelvin Kotchilea said Indigenous people have historic distrust of the federal government. He said he urged people to treat vaccination as they would a doctor’s diagnosis, which people ordinarily do not question.
Michael McLeod said vaccination protects those who can’t be vaccinated. He said “a lot of confusion” remained regarding vaccines and more education was needed.
Jane Groenewegen agreed education “is a very big part of it.” She described the evolution of Covid-19 as a “moving target” that required “giving people everything they need to make an informed decision.”
How will you help to reduce the cost of living and house prices?
Jane Groenewegen said many problems, like lumber costs, are beyond local control, but more attention should be paid to energy efficiency and similar cost-saving measures.
Michael McLeod blamed the prior Conservative government for the country’s housing shortage. He said the Liberals had already done a lot to address that and would now introduce a rent-to-own program. “Our focus is to invest in three areas: affordable housing, Indigenous housing, and homelessness.”
Kelvin Kotchilea said a northern housing policy is required. He said he felt bad for first-time buyers as the housing market remains stable even though the mining industry is no longer thriving.
How will you address Ottawa’s failed promise of affordable First Nations housing?
Michael McLeod said $100 million had been committed to NWT Indigenous governments in the past year. “In the next while, we’re going to see a lot of activity in the area of housing for Indigenous people, managed by Indigenous people.”
Kelvin Kotchilea promised an “Indigenous-led strategy” to tackle the housing crisis in smaller NWT communities. He said money alone was not the answer, highlighting issues with land surveying and shifting land as the climate changes.
Jane Groenewegen said: “You can’t even hire a contractor to build a house in Hay River. So capacity is going to be huge.” She stressed training for northerners and worried about the lack of titled land in smaller communities.
How will you help residential school survivors heal?
Kelvin Kotchilea said Indigenous governments must be empowered to create land-based, culture-based healing programs, and there must be proper funding to address the NWT’s social issues.
Michael McLeod advocated for continuing and expanding the search for unmarked graves. He promised money to fund “distinctions-based mental health and wellness strategies” and a focus on Indigenous early learning supports.
Jane Groenewegen said: “As much as possible, we should facilitate responses coming from Indigenous people and survivors themselves.” She described the TRC’s calls to actions as important to work on so people can “carry on as full participants.”
How does Canada deliver justice to these children and their families?
Michael McLeod said: “if we’re going to forgive, as Indigenous people, we need the Government of Canada to make it easy enough for us to forgive.” He said the people involved in residential and day schools must be brought to justice, and churches “need to step up and provide apologies.”
Jane Groenewegen referred to comments from new Governor General Mary Simon about mutual respect and living together in the North. “We can actually live out reconciliation in many ways,” she said of the NWT.
Kelvin Kotchilea said: “Healing is correlated with forgiveness … but people want justice.” He described that justice as”recognizing what they have done, what they have caused.”
What will you do to fight for treaty rights?
Michael McLeod said the Liberals had made “good progress” on nation-to-nation relationships. He mentioned advancing self-determination, land claims, and self-government, as well as full jurisdiction over childcare and education where requested.
Jane Groenewegen said an MP can’t be at the table between nations but has a role in ensuring people at that table are not “putting up roadblocks and are negotiating in good faith.” She said identifying obstacles in those relationships would be her first priority.
Kelvin Kotchilea provided the example of Dettah still waiting for its land claim in order to take on more responsibilities for Yellowknives Dene First Nation members. “There’s a lot of things that the government is neglecting,” he said, promising to stand with First Nations.
How will you bring investment, jobs, and families to the NWT?
Jane Groenewegen said: “We can work harder to prepare our own northern workforce to meet demand.” She contemplated a return to the NWT’s Come Make Your Mark immigration initiative, and said housing and the cost of living must be addressed.
Kelvin Kotchilea urged investment in renewable energy, such as a shift to more hydro and removing diesel from small communities, saying that offered long-term employment and would build capacity.
Michael McLeod said the Liberals had a national commitment to spend $100 billion over three years on economic recovery. He highlighted investments in northern infrastructure projects and more money for rapid housing.
How will you protect NWT communities and land users from climate change?
Kelvin Kotchilea stressed the need for global solutions and to lower emissions. He said Aurora College’s transition to a university opened up possibilities for green-energy programs. He asked for more baseline studies across the North.
Michael McLeod described his government’s creation of marine and Indigenous protected areas, its legislation moving Canada toward net-zero emissions by 2050, and increased carbon pricing.
Jane Groenewegen said the NWT had a duty to meet emissions reduction targets. Pointing to this year’s Fort Simpson flooding, she said: “We also need to be there to respond to the emergencies that affect our people.”
Michael, how do you justify your party calling this election in a pandemic?
Michael McLeod said the Liberals had tried to amend voting rules to allow more options but the Conservatives had delayed that bill. “It left us in a situation without any measures,” he said, accusing Conservatives of potentially suppressing the vote.
Kelvin, you’re a newcomer, how are you ready to go to Ottawa?
Kelvin Kotchilea said he had an accounting background that would help with funding, and was a young, Indigenous person with life experience. “I am a planner, I do think about the future. And right now, when I look at the territory, it’s not the future that I thought would be my reality.”
Jane, has your personal perspective on same-sex parenting changed?
Jane Groenewegen, who walked out as an MLA on the day legislation allowing same-sex adoption passed in 2002, said: “If I offended someone by that position, I ask them to give me the opportunity to say that times have changed … I do believe people should be able to live their lives within the law, free of discrimination, and enjoy the rights they’re entitled to.”
Why can people trust you?
Kelvin Kotchilea: “I have something to prove to everyone. Trust is going to be the most important thing when it comes to working for all people across the Northwest Territories.”
Jane Groenewegen: “I’m very transparent. I’m going to be very attentive. I get a lot of inspiration from hearing other people’s ideas.”
Michael McLeod: “I’m a team player. I’m very good at building alliances and it doesn’t matter which party a person belongs to … I’m a problem solver.”