Harry Cassie has only lived in Norman Wells since 2015, but he's positive he has the skills required to be the town's next mayor.
He says those skills include solid financial leadership (he's currently the comptroller for the Sahtu Divisional Education Council), communication, honesty, and management expertise.
Cassie is basing his platform on diversifying the economy, increasing accountability and transparency, and collaboration.
He's running against long-time councillors Frank Pope and Tim Melnyk in the October 15 election. Fourteen people are still in the race for six councillor positions.
Sarah Pruys: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Harry Cassie: Looking at what has happened in the past few years, in my view, our government hasn’t had the leadership that is required. I believe I bring to the table the skills that are required to take Norman Wells into the future.
I am determined to work with the local council, territorial government, and the local business community on economic growth and development.
What kinds of skills would those be?
It would be, basically, skills in terms of making solid financial decisions, management expertise, and honesty - these are skills that are required to embrace the challenges ahead of the community.
Can you tell me about your platform?
My biggest thing in terms of what I’m looking at in my platform is the economy. [I'm also] looking at accountability and transparency, as well as collaboration.
Can you expand on each of those?
With respect to the economy, basically, there are key decisions that we have to make in the short term. It really revolves around the decline in Imperial Oil production. Here around 32 percent of our income revolves around property tax and 75 percent of that comes from Imperial Oil. That’s just under $2.1 million. So it is forecasted that Imperial Oil production will last another five to 10 years and as a community we cannot sit down and wait for that time to come.
We have to start planning now. The thing is, when this revenue is lost, we have to ask ourselves, who is going to pick up those deficiencies?
And the business community could very well be at the front of that. Before that time comes, we need to look alternative ways to plan for that deficiency in revenue. We have to look at different solutions, we have to look at innovative solutions, we have to bring more revenue into Norman Wells.
I’ll give you one little example: if you look at our smaller communities in the Sahtu, for example, the Deline [Got'ine] Government entered into an agreement with a Beijing tour company to basically bring 24 tourists every week - we can learn from that. Norman Wells could become the hub of the Sahtu.
Deline and these smaller communities have initiatives and other forms of revenue streams. We as a community have to look at that as well, and think outside the box, explore tourism, and other avenues to bring revenue into the economy.
Other than tourism, what other “outside of the box” things have you thought of?
We have to look at what other communities are doing in terms of increasing their revenue streams. So I certainly feel we should look at tourism. We can also look at other forms of opportunities.
Fort Good Hope, for example, they are looking to be self-sustainable by 2020 by building a greenhouse and growing their own vegetables. That could be another option that the town could explore. We need to look at Yellowknife and Inuvik and see what they are doing, and keep up with some of those ideas from those areas. It’s not cut and dry - we have to explore what is out there and what can add value to our community. Not all of these ideas could become a reality.
You also mentioned accountability and transparency as part of your platform.
It should be at the forefront of what every town does. Having a qualified and experienced senior administrative officer (SAO) will be critical to the community and the council. What has happened over the years - I’m sure you’ve heard stories and news - with our town situation.
We need policies to protect employees. Our town has had a high turnover in staffing, and that has a lot to do with policies that need to be updated. Our council needs to hold the SAO accountable for delivering. Just as council has accountability to the residents, the SAO has a responsibility to council. We have to ensure that accountability and transparency is there between the town office and council and ensure that things are working well.
We need to handle and address issues as well with employees; that is a priority. We need to look at ways to provide efficient and effective services to residents. We need to look at industry standards - like looking at what Hay River is doing - and look at capitalizing on options. We can’t say that everything is working like a well-oiled machine; we need to find better ways to operate. And again, hold the SAO accountable for operating the town.
And the last thing you’d mentioned was collaboration.
We need to look at the past and look at what has happened. In the past we had council collaboration and engaging the public. This is one of the things I want to drive, I will put the community first and foremost, engaging residents in town meetings: to get residents involved, to get their point of view, and to get the business community involved in terms of projects that can have a beneficial economic impact on our community.
These things we can do to handle collaboration to deliver solutions and make key decisions. These things have to be done with extensive community engagement. We must create a community that people want to live in. We must build a community where kids want to come back to. Again, we need to get everyone in one room and brainstorm.
How would you bring everyone together into one room?
Basically we will publicize it. One way is to bring them in to town hall for a public meeting. We can engage them using electronic media. Not everybody will be able to attend meetings because of the timing and conflicts with scheduling, so by doing surveys and putting things in mailboxes, on our website, at town hall meetings and stuff like that to get everyone engaged. I think, when you look at the past, residents want to be engaged so that would be a success for us as well, to see how things are working.
So you’re new to politics, or new to politics in Norman Wells, and the people you are running against have both been on council for many, many years. How do you see yourself standing out from them?
The people who have been here could very well be fit in ways that I’m not. I want a right and positive future for the town.
With me coming on board, I have a fresh perspective. With a new council - because definitely we are going to have a new council with fresh faces - it will bring more perspective. How I would stand out is based on what I’d bring in terms of value, communications skills, solid financial leadership - those are things that would separate me from the council that has been here in the past.
Like you mentioned earlier, Norman Wells hasn’t had a municipal government in a year now, so what do you think will be some challenges coming back to that structure again?
With respect to being without a council now, the administrator who took over, their rule and that responsibility right now is more or less to get the town through it. In terms of challenges, I think we’ll see finding an SAO as one of the bigger challenges. There will be some continuity, however, we will need to make some decisions without having all of the information, and at some point in time we’ll have to call and ask what has been done. We’ll have to talk to staff and get information from the administrator. The town has had a high turnover in staff, so it’s going to be a challenge.
Part of the reason MACA dissolved the council last year is that relations had broken down between councillors, and between councillors and administration. How will you foster more healthy relationships between everyone this time around?
One of the things that MACA has indicated is ensuring that they carry out training for new councillors, so that new councillors have an idea of how to run the town, how to provide direction to the SAO. I think once we open communication, we will understand what is our responsibility and what is the responsibility of the SAO. By having that training people will understand who councillor members represent and what their responsibilities are.
So you moved to Norman Wells in 2015; I guess that would have been around the time of the last election. You’ve never seen Norman Wells functioning properly. Where would you like to see Norman Wells three years from now, if you were to be elected?
I would like to see Norman Wells at the forefront, learning from other communities that are functional. I would like to see us collaborating with our residents. Once we engage the community and establish relations with the residents I think we can achieve a lot. I would like to see us working very closely with the residents, with the business community, and with the territorial government to take Norman Wells into the future.