Natasha Kulikowski says "economy, economy, economy" will be what you'll hear most from her campaign to become Inuvik's next mayor.
The current town councillor is running against Vince Sharpe, who has been a town councillor on and off for the past couple of decades.
If elected, Kulikowski plans to focus on supporting small business, diversifying the economy, and addressing the high cost of living.
She works in finance at Inuvik's hospital and dedicates much of her free time to volunteering in different capacities throughout her community.
Inuvik's eight town council nominees will all be acclaimed, so residents will be marking just one "X" to select their mayor during the October 15 election.
Sarah Pruys: Why don’t you tell me me a little bit about yourself first?
Natasha Kulikowski: So I was born in Inuvik but raised in Edmonton and came back 17 years ago. I’ve been on council now for three-and-a-half years; I was appointed previous to the last election after a councillor had passed away and they needed to make sure they had quorum. I had the next most votes in the previous election so council made a decision to ask me to join council at that time.
I have been thinking about being mayor for about three years already, I kind of had it in my head that it’s something I’d like to do one day. And so now my opportunity is here and so that’s what I’m doing.
The number one thing you’re going to hear from me is economy, economy, economy. Inuvik’s really in kind of a downturn right now with no real industry going on. Thankfully, we’ve had some big government projects happening around us that have helped to keep people busy, but we’re still seeing a real downturn in what’s happening.
When I say 'economy' I don’t just mean one industry; I think we need to be diverse in what we’re doing, and I think we need to support small local business as well, as part of that plan.
I think the second part of my platform, or what people are really facing right now, is cost of our living. Right now, especially, our energy is what’s sucking up everyone’s money. The price of heating fuel and power are huge. I think there are solutions, although they’re not really simple, and I don’t think they’re really cheap. So I think we have to keep looking for ways to either combine with other levels of government, and also to find ways for homeowners themselves to save money on energy cost solutions outside of just big government grants that would then lower the big energy prices. Things like making it more affordable to bring conservation into your home, as well as actually touting conservation itself, turning lights off and that kind of thing.
I think that by diversifying our economy we’re able to create jobs in town and then retain the workforce we already have here. I think having a working community leads to healthier lives, healthier lifestyles, and a healthy community overall.
Also, I think our predecessors have done a great job building Inuvik and giving us what we do have, but I think it’s really important that we maintain the current infrastructures so we can continue to have this quality of life. Things like the rec centre are amazing buildings for a community of our size. We have great roads, we have a paved airstrip, and the Utilidor system itself was unique to the world – and as other systems have come on around the world similar to ours, ours has been the design that was followed.
Let's talk a little bit more about the economy, since you said that's what we’ll be hearing most from you about. I guess there’s two parts to that: supporting the local businesses and encouraging other, more diverse business in town. What are some ways in which you will first, support local businesses, and second, diversify the economy?
As for local businesses, there are opportunities for people to start businesses, and I know that through different levels of government there is support to do that. One example currently that’s happening in Inuvik is the new music school that’s opened up. It’s something that we didn’t have, something that maybe isn’t needed but definitely offers a positive to the community. Other suggestions I’ve heard are things like of course like more restaurants – more options for the people who live here to go and eat as well as for people who are visiting. Even things like a laundromat are small business ideas that mostly would be supported by the community itself, but then would also have additional support from visitors to our community.
How would town council encourage those businesses to start up, or support the businesses that are already running in town?
I think a lot of the current administration that we have in place is very helpful and knowledgeable. They’re very helpful in helping people get going, and I think that as councillors and as mayor, making sure we have strong administration and that we know the policies of things as well, so that we can direct people to the right people to speak to. And simply saying out loud, in the public forum that we hold, that we support small business - I think is very important.
And on the other side of things, diversifying the economy and encouraging larger businesses to also invest in the community - what are your plans for going about that?
I think on this last council that we’re on, we had a recent opportunity to speak to members of the senate about the future of our area and the things that we’re facing right now. I think to continue those types of conversations with members of the federal government is very important to keep those communication lines strong.
As for exploration itself - things like oil and gas exploration - currently there is a moratorium on the offshore, but the onshore there is not. The economy of our country right now, and the price of doing business in the North is basically making those companies not interested in coming here right now. So of course we’ll support and we’ll do whatever we can to get industry up here, but it’s going to take much more than just one person in a mayoral role to get them here. But to be an advocate for Inuvik to get those people to come here is an eventual part of the economy shift.
With all of the talk about Aurora College right now, I was wondering if you could speak to what the general feeling in town is and what you’ll do to reassure people that the Aurora Research Institute and the College are an important part of Inuvik?
To be honest I don’t have a real feel for how people feel about the review that came out. The few people I have talked to feel of course we shouldn’t just centralize everything in one location.
We’re serving seven communities right here in the Delta, and I think that’s very important to be able to get a college education this close to home and not have to travel to the major city centres like Yellowknife to do that, or on to the provinces. I’ll advocate as much as I can to the powers that be that it’s important to have the college here and it’s very important to have the research centre here. The amount of different types of research that go on in the Delta are amazing - what the yearly snowfall is, the sloping of the permafrost - and then you get into the technological fields and we have the satellite station here. All of the information that can come through there and through the college as well I think are very, very important for us to advocate to keep those programs and those offices here.
You talked about how Inuvik is in a downturn right now. Where would you like to see Inuvik in three years? If you were to become mayor, at the end of your term, looking back, what would you like to have accomplished and where would you want the community to be?
I think I’d like to see some new small businesses open as well as not losing any more small businesses as we have in the last few years. I’d like programs that we used to have, such as Inuvik Works, which offers people who are maybe less employable a chance to get out and do work in the community; it would be very nice to see come back. That again is going to take liaison or communication with both other levels of government - it’s not something that the town itself can afford or can offer the personnel to run perfectly.
I’d also like to see young people coming back when they’re done school and I think we need to have an economy and jobs here for them in order to do that. I understand that people probably won’t be here through their 20s, because that’s when they’re away at school, unless of course they go to college here. But I think after you’re done school, maybe you come home and see that you can buy a house here and have a job here. That’s really what I’d like to see - retention of the people who grow up here and live here and love this place.
Is there anything the town does to encourage people to move back currently?
Not as a set up program. As a mayor and as council, you try to represent in as positive way as you can and invite people to come and learn more about what’s happening, but I don’t think there is a campaign to try and get people to come home. But I know of a couple who have come back home after school and they do love living here, so it’s nice to see that and hopefully we can continue to see that.
Would a campaign be something you’d be interested in starting up?
Definitely to talk about. As mayor, I can’t just say, “We’re doing this.” It’s a group effort all the time, but I think it’s definitely something that I would like to bring to the table. I don’t know exactly how that would go but I’m sure we could look at our resources and at communities that have done initiatives like that and see what we could do in order to say, “come on back home.”
We’ll pivot here - you said you’ve had three-and-a-half years of experience on town council - I was wondering about your other experience, both in politics and outside of politics, that you feel makes you the most qualified for this position?
I’ve been volunteering in town for many years. I spent quite a bit of time at the Legion; I was on their executive for one term as their entertainment chair, so that gave me a lot of opportunity to look at the community and see what people were looking for and what they wanted to do, and then how to make those kinds of things happen. It also showed how meetings work, and how decision-making happens with a group effort when it’s not just one person making it all happen.
Outside of the Legion I used to sit on the Inuvik Disabilities Council. Since then, the council has disbanded and the Northwest Territories Disabilities Council has taken over.
I’m very involved in sports: even right now, as I campaign, I’m coaching the senior girls volleyball team at the high school. This will be my third year now doing that; I helped out for a year previous to that. I try to get out to any events that I can - at the Brett Kissel concert this weekend [the interview took place on Friday] I’ll be working there as a supervisor for the bar.
There’s just so many opportunities in our town to volunteer, and we’re a very volunteer-driven town, so I think that that gives me a real knowledge of what’s happening on the ground. I also run a free bootcamp fitness class, I’m heavily involved in the squash association, and I run the Terry Fox Run every year - there’s just so many opportunities and I’ve taken a lot of those opportunities and made sure I get my skills out there to help other people.
You’re running against Vince Sharpe, who has been on and off council for many, many years. He would have plenty of experience on town council to bring to the table. You’ve been on council as well, but for not quite as long, so what are some of the other things that you have to offer that you think are important qualities in a mayor?
I have youth behind me, I’m only 36, so I will bring a different perspective to the mayor’s chair. I’m energetic, hard-working, approachable, and I’m a team player. As mayor I know that working well with council is very important, as well as working with administration. I think that I would be very good at balancing both of those.
Wrapping this up, what’s your elevator pitch? Why are you the best person for the job, if you were to summarize it very briefly?
Do you want the tagline that I’m working on?
Sure, if you’re ready to share it.
I want to take the passion I have for the town and turn it into purpose. By working with council and administration, we can make the best possible choices for Inuvik.
Going a little bit deeper, why did you decide to run for mayor?
Back when I was volunteering, it showed me that in order to really make a difference you need to get involved, and so that’s when my decision to run for council the first time came about.
It’s the same reasoning behind running for mayor. I like to be involved in helping to make the decisions in the things that are going to happen. I also really like the idea of being the face of Inuvik and going out to conferences and meetings and telling people about what a great place we live in - not just Inuvik, but the entire Delta. The positive attitude that I carry, and the personability. I think I have a real skill to go out there and present Inuvik in the best possible light.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Just that I’d encourage everyone to get out and vote. We’d love to have a great voter turnout this year. I know with council being acclaimed it might be a little tough to convince them that just striking one “X” will be enough, but it is really important to all of us that everyone gets out there and lets their voices be heard through their vote.