Meet the NDP candidate: Q+A with Kelvin Kotchilea

A headshot of Kotchilea. (Supplied by Kelvin Kotchilea.)
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Kelvin Kotchilea is running for the NDP in the upcoming federal election.

MyTrueNorthNow.com interviewed all the candidates, asking about their plans for the economy, Covid recovery, climate change and reconciliation.

Voting happens on September 20.

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Why did you decide to run and why do you think you’d be a good MP?

So last month, I was part of the Monfwi MLA byelection. So the ideas and platform that I displayed, not only in my interviews, but the content that I was putting on social media, or through my brochures — I didn’t have any help putting that together. So the NDP party looked at what I was putting out and it was sort of a mirror image of what they wanted to do as a platform for this coming election. So I was approached in that sense of, ‘How would you like to represent people in the north at a larger scale, and have more influence, especially positive influence to help smaller communities, and even the big centers like Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Norman Wells, Inuvik and Hay River.

What do you think you learned from running for MLA for Monfwi?

I guess it was an eye opener for me for smaller communities, that housing is a big issue, mental health and addiction, and lack of employment. And then when you look at the larger centers, and they have other priorities, which can be local businesses, getting contracts, or infrastructure, that kind of capital from the federal government and GNWT — so we just don’t see those benefits that they would like to see and just policies that are not working for us.

One of the things you mentioned last time when you were running for MLA was the lack of opportunities for youth, especially with employment. Is that something that you’re prioritizing this time around? How is your approach going to change now it’d be on a federal scale?

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So with that question, I’m still an advocate and promoting that. With Covid, a lot of people work remotely from home and I know there’s a lot of jobs that can go to communities. But what would be the biggest issue is the internet. So at a federal level, if businesses are not able to give high speed internet to communities, then I believe the government should start getting involved to offer high speed internet to communities. So this way, we can be diverse in the different types of employment they can do, because there are a lot of post secondary people in the communities. But when you look at the jobs, existing jobs that have the community going, so it’d be like the community governments that have the day-to-day stuff, not anything that’s headquartered in the community.

The COVID recovery is going to be a big part of this election. And with the outbreak recently in the territory, what resources do you think the federal government has as the NWT proceeds with reopening?

So with that type of question, the party’s promoting a Green New Deal. And green jobs employment, which means it’s renewable jobs that are for longer periods versus like mining, which has a shorter life span. When you look at communities, a lot of them rely heavily on diesel generators. With the large vast land with rich minerals and resources, we can look at funding for the communities and look at how they can provide power for their communities through geothermal energy, hydro, solar, when that itself will bring jobs. With health care, it’s not only here in the Northwest Territories, but it’s across Canada, and feels like the federal government is part of the problem of putting strain on the health care system and on the healthcare staff. These are people that are on the frontlines, and we need more Northerners, nurses, so we should have a big push with Aurora College giving more funding for local post secondary institutions so that they can train local people, local Northerners that will remain in the communities.

You mentioned the Green New Deal, what are some of the jobs people could be seeing in the NWT?

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We’re most likely going to transition — getting away from diesel generators will be the big one, because a lot of communities will benefit from it. Because most of the jobs would have to take place at community level. It’s like, ‘How do you train people from the community to diversify?’ As well as training people from the communities to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters, so that they can take care of the housing situation at a local level. So I would categorize that as a part of the Green New Deal, because a lot of times, communities always have people coming in. There’s issues with regard to housing or infrastructure, we need to start building up capacity.

I assume part of the green new deal would be the approach to climate change. And that’s had a big impact this summer with all the flooding we’ve seen. So what are some of the adaptations that you see being made in the NBT to manage the climate change situation in the territory?

So there definitely needs to be more studies near communities — it could be things like video, tracking, what’s happening seasonally, because it is abnormal for these events to occur. And with the NDP, there’s only one that really went out and spoke about fossil fuels. Other parties kind of stepped back, because they look at it as a risk. But you know, the NDP is really touching on concrete platforms and their messaging, tax the rich, don’t give money to corporations, don’t bail out the banks. We are the people that are affected day-to-day, and we should be the ones receiving the support that is needed, or else we will just continue to live in poverty, continue to live in the housing crisis and continue to have low employment. Like nothing will change unless we vote for change. And the NDP is putting it out there that they want to be the change.

The discovery of Indigenous children’s remains under red residential schools and mass burial grounds — the federal government said they wanted to work with indigenous bands across the country to help with the recovery of bodies. I was wondering what the NDP’s role would be if elected?

When you look at, you know, the Liberal government, it’s kind of ironic that they do touch of issue, but at the same time, you’re taking First Nations to court as we speak. That for me, it’s two different messaging. But the NDP they’re advocating for this, they are doing marches, they’re pushing Liberal governments to put funding for First Nations communities in the government, so that they can do work on recovering and finding out what other residences, schools across Canada have these types of burial sites. You know, I’m a First Nations person as well as Indigenous Tłı̨chǫ, and when you look at the north, we should all have our land claims and self-government fully established. That’s what I believe, reconciliation is having self governing powers, being able to make your own decisions for the future, establishing lands that are available for mining lands that are set aside for protection, lands that are for community use, the Dehcho and Tłı̨chǫ region, government, have their self-government established and signed. Justin Trudeau was in power for six years. So what happened was six years. So having a Liberal MP, that doesn’t feel like anything really has happened, and in a lot of the funding announcements, it’s capital money. People have to realize that capital is always going to be there, that type of money will always be announced. It’s pretty poor to take credit for something that was going to happen, old infrastructure that needs to be replaced. So taking credit for something — it’s not big news.

Another project that has been on the cards for a while is the Giant Mine Remediation projects and the Yellowknives Dene had been negotiating for apology and compensation for a while. How would you bring forward the issues that YKDFN members are advocating for?

So when it comes to any First Nations or Indigenous concern that needs to be addressed, the NDP party is in full support. If we don’t, we’ll never go forward. The more we try to fight First Nations people, they’re entitled to their land, they’re entitled to their resources, they’re entitled to their way of life. That’s what was in the treaty agreements, that was a promise that their way of life will never be altered. As long as the land remains the same. The river flows, the sunrises and still, we deliver the government. It’s like sending two messages saying we are for First Nations, but at the same time, you’ll fight them behind the scenes.

If you were to be elected, you’d be unseating Michael McLeod, who’s been the MP since 2015. So what would you bring differently? What would you bring to NWT residents as an MP.

New leadership brings in new ideas. Like I have a set of skills in Environment and Natural Resources and Business Administration. So I look at things from an environmental wellness perspective, at the same time, the ability to look at financial statements, look at budgeting, look at the type of funding that’s coming to Northwest Territories. Having relationships with people in all the communities throughout different departments of government and indigenous governments and the number one thing that I say is a strong skill set is listening. I really do listen to what people are telling me and I’m a very adaptive person, I’ll adapt to what is the most concern or what is needed at the territorial level, coming from constituents coming from ordinary, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. So, let’s see what that skill set can do as an Indigenous person.

I think that was all my questions. Kelvin. So is there anything you want to add at all? Any last thoughts?

Well, I want to send our condolences to the families of the sudden death, or sudden passing of an elder in Fort Good Hope, this tragic and a surprise — prayers for families as they grieve the loss of loved ones. A reminder to Northerners look after one another, stay strong, resilient. And please follow the guidelines of the public health officer.

We shouldn’t have been in the federal election this fall that energy should have been put into our healthcare system. This was a selfish act by our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assuming he can win a majority government, putting Canadians at risk with the fourth wave of Covid. So I hope everyone comes out and votes to send them a message that we need change and that we’re willing to be the change.

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