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What was said at the NWT candidates debate?

Only three of the five candidates were speaking at the NWT candidates debate on Thursday, co-hosted by the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NNSL.

The candidates were asked questions about how to support business, the economy and infrastructure spending.

Green Party candidate Roland Laufer had to pull out of the debate at the last minute. 

Conservative candidate Lea Mollison was a no-show. Mollison is yet to make an appearance during the election, and has never visited the NWT, according to a report by Cabin Radio.

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Independent candidate Jane Groenewegen said she was running because she didn’t like the way the Liberal government was accumulating record levels of debt.

“Mega projects and mega development in the Northwest Territories is not something that needs to come from the top down, it does not need to be instigated by the government, it should only be supported as the impetus for the development comes from the people who reside in this land,” she said.

Liberal incumbent Michael McLeod said he was proud of the Liberal’s record of supporting infrastructure projects in the NWT.

He pointed to things like the Mackenzie Valley Highway — with construction scheduled to start in 2024 — as situations where government funding can create benefits  

NDP candidate Kelvin Kotchilea emphasized working with Indigenous governments to build their economic strength.

Kotchilea said infrastructure spending in the territory needed to focus more on working with communities and local workers.

“When you do it from a community level first, and there’s a lot of federal funding, a lot of good can come out of it,” he said. When you focus on industry and infrastructure, people just don’t see that benefit and it causes more social problems than benefits long term.”

“A lot of Southern employees come into the Northwest Territories, not that it’s a bad thing,” he added. “But a lot of that money in the wealth leaves the Northwest Territories.”

Both Kotchilea and Groenewegen said infrastructure needs to be looked at when it comes to childcare as well, because some communities may not have the facilities needed to accommodate childcare services. 

Both added the NWT needed more locally trained workers to provide the services.

The Liberal’s $10-a-day daycare plan would save a Yellowknife family $9,576 a year, the Liberals claim. But the availability of daycare has been an issue even in the capital city, with the YWCA’s childcare program filling up, with hundreds left on a waitlist.

Kotchilea said investing in the tourism industry — especially supporting Indigenous governments involvement in the industry — would help attract more people to the NWT.

Groenewegen agreed, adding immigration was an area where the NWT could help attract more skilled workers. 

McLeod pointed to the Liberal’s $500 million tourism relief fund, $50 million of which is specifically aimed at Indigenous tourism businesses. McLeod added the Liberal government has lowered the Canada Emergency Response Benefit from $500 a week to $300 to encourage people to get back to work.

In their closing statements, McLeod touted his past record as an MP, Kotchilea said he would work for the diverse people of the NWT and Groenewegen touted her past experience and said she was running to combat the deficit the Liberal government is adding to.

Candidates will debate again next week.

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