Meet the Liberal candidate: Q+A with Michael McLeod

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod. (Supplied by Michael McLeod.)
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Michael McLeod is running for the Liberal Party in the upcoming federal election. McLeod is the incumbent, first taking his seat as an MP in 2015.

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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So if you win, this would be the third time you’ve been elected as the MP for the NWT. So what would you say the NWT has gotten out of your time as an MP?

Well, first of all, I want to say that I’m running for reelection, because I’m proud of our government’s record. And I want to build on that record to help improve the lives of NWTers. Our Liberal government was there for Northerners from the start of the pandemic, with support for people, businesses and communities that were hit very hard by economic and health impacts. And when vaccines became available, we made sure that the North had priority access. So now, we’re still dealing with Covid and we know, reopening is on the horizon. I really want to make sure that we have a robust economic recovery, and  we have inclusive, inclusive growth right here in the Northwest Territories. Many issues are out there in all our communities: access to housing is a major issue, and we’ve made some very significant progress through working with our partners in the north. But more work is necessary. We have a plan — a comprehensive housing plan as part of our platform, and will build more houses, unlock more homeownership for Canadians, and that includes very specific commitments to the north, and for Indigenous housing. During my time in office, we’ve developed strong relationships between Indigenous governments and the Government of Canada. And I want to keep that momentum up too. So we can close the gaps in services and infrastructure. So we can advance reconciliation. The north has been through a lot since 2019. At this time, I think it’s very critical that we have an experienced voice in Ottawa to advocate for the priorities to make sure our country moves forward for everyone. So that’s why I’m running. And that’s why I’m asking for everybody’s vote on September the 20th.

One thing I noticed in the platform is there’s going to be the development of a specific Northern and Indigenous housing strategy to go along with the National Housing strategy. I know one of the things Yellowknife’s Mayor, Rebecca Alty, was saying when they were handling the federal housing was there was a lot of confusion about which funding pots were available and what funding could be spent. So how is the northern housing strategy going to address those concerns?

The investment in housing and the Northwest Territories has been significant. Since 2015, we’ve made over $500 million worth of commitments in the area of housing — and of that money, there’s been $100 million earmarked for Indigenous governments, every Indigenous government in the Northwest Territories has an allocation that they will be able to use to spend on housing needs for their membership. It’s a game changer. And it takes some of the pressure off the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. We have seen a lot of money going to the core investment fund, the Rapid Housing Initiative and there is some work being done to try to make those programs a lot more streamlined, there is new money in the budgets. There’s a lot of attention being paid to what is happening in the north by the federal government. And I think over the next couple of years, starting this year, we’re gonna see a lot of construction, we’re going to see a lot of repairs. Indigenous governments are planning to do significant work in the area of housing, the Housing Corporation is also on board, they have received a lot of investment to help their programs. And overall, we set up a senior working group with the Indigenous governments, GNWT and the feds to look at how we can improve the housing situation. What solutions are out there? And what options do we have? So there’s a lot of work going on, I think things are going to change significantly in the next little while.

So when you say you’re looking at streamlining the funding, how’s that going to look?

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Well, the money going to the Indigenous governments are very specific for housing and infrastructure, they come with very little criteria, except that they have to be spent on housing for their memberships. The other programs such as the core investment fund that you mentioned, and the rapid housing money, we have had some good discussion around the cumbersome process that people have complained about, information that is being requested sometimes doesn’t exist for the Northwest Territories. As you know, a lot of research that happens in the south sometimes doesn’t take place, in the Northwest Territories, it doesn’t make sense. So there is attention being paid to that, we want to change it. We have an official working group that is going to make some good recommendations on that front. So I think we’re going to, we’re going to see change, but in any event, we’ve got over $500 million that is being spent right now. So anything that we’re talking about from this working group is coming in the future.

You were talking about the COVID recovery. And I know in the NWT the tourism industry is a big part of the territory’s economy, especially in the winter. With the fourth wave here, it doesn’t look like leisure travel is going to be opened up anytime soon. So what’s the Liberals’ plan for a recovery in the NWT?

The whole hospital hospitality sector has been hit hard in the Northwest Territories and across the country, for that matter. But for us in the north, it was a really exciting, growing sector that we were seeing a lot of activity happen and it just came to a stop. Hotels, tourism operators, airlines, were all impacted significantly. And it’s not going to turn around and rebound until some of the restrictions come down. And that might not be for a while, at least not by this fall. So we’re looking at providing the hard hit tourism industry with temporary wage and rent supports for up to 75 per cent of their expenses to help them get through this winter season. And we have other general business support so that they can tap into you know, there’s CANNOR programs, we have the tourism Relief Fund and there’s a highly affected sector credit availability programs so there’s things that they can utilize and we’re certainly going to make sure they have access as we move forward.

A big emphasis was on green jobs and encouraging the Green industries throughout the country. So what’s that going to look like in the NWT, what kinds of green jobs can we expect to see in the Northwest Territories?

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We’ve made significant announcements when it comes to moving towards a greater future, we’ve made the commitment that we will take all diesel generation — replace all the diesel generation in the north and we’ve already started on that front. We’ve invested in wind energy, solar. We recently made a significant announcement for extending the hydro line from Taltson to Kaiksa, to Fort Providence. We passed legislation to set Canada on the path to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. With really legally binding five year targets, we’re continuing to look at increasing the minimum carbon price, expanding the area of conservation of lands, we want to expand those to have more land protected, we want to support the Guardian program, we’ve made some announcements on that front, plastic single use plastic products will be something we’re moving forward on, providing more funding for species at risk. So there’s lots of work that’s being done, we’re also looking at training 1,000 new community based firefighters and working with the private sector to innovate climate adaptation and looking at bringing forward some legislation that will help low income Canadians to get off heating fuels. There’s a lot in that area, and it’s something that is getting a lot of attention. And we’re going to continue to invest and try to make sure the North is part of what’s going on in the rest of the country, and in the world.

You mentioned the diesel generators, and obviously, access to fuel and the cost of it is something that’s an issue in the north. What’re the diesel generators going to be replaced?

The commitment is to get all communities off diesel by 2030. And right now, a lot of investment has been made and replacing some of the old generators so that the generators are suitable so that they can be connected to alternative energy. There’s no, there’s no one clear method of what’s going to replace it. There’s all kinds of things being tested. Time will tell what we’ll be using. There’s biomass that has been considered, there’s hydro, thermal, solar, there’s hydrogen, there’s just many, many options that are being talked about and discussed. But there’s no one solution right now, for the Northwest Territories.

You mentioned climate adaptation and with the flooding we’ve seen this past summer and the water levels, researchers said that it was going to take a few years before the water levels were going to drop to drop to like the normal levels on the Great Slave Lake. So what does climate adaptation look like in smaller communities like Fort Simpson, and Fort Good Hope?

There’s a number of things that the federal government is looking at doing. But one of the main ones is looking at helping Canadians make homes more resilient from climate change through retrofits and upgrades and making the homes more energy efficient. And as I mentioned before, we want to be able to partner with the private sector to innovate climate adaptation by doing a number of different things. So some of these initiatives have already started. We want to be able to introduce a clean energy standard to achieve 100 per cent net zero, emitting electricity by 2035. We want to be able to create a pan Canadian grid council, in partnership with provinces and territories and Indigenous people. And that includes the private sector, labor, civil society, and really looking seriously at electric vehicles, putting money towards charging stations, and that includes here in the north. So there’s many, many things to be looking forward to when it comes to climate change and the environment.

One of the biggest issues that’s been in the news recently is the bodies have been found in mass graves on day residential schools. I saw that a couple of weeks ago, Minister Carolyn Bennett said there’d be $83 million in funding to help Indigenous governments recover bodies and uncover burial grounds. Do you think that is enough money, considering the extent and how many residential schools there are, and is there going to be more funding in the future to help with that work?

Well, our commitment is to make sure enough money is available to be able to safety or to efficiently check all financial, all institutions that housed residential schools, and how federal day schools and hospitals that had Indigenous children and patients, and we want to make sure that the investigation was thorough, we want to be able to identify bodies that are recovered, we want to make sure that Indigenous people and people of Canada are satisfied that we’ve done a good job. And this pot of money is a start and may not be enough. But if it isn’t, then we certainly are going to make sure that we are pushing it and move forward. The area of reconciliation is a big focus for us and including myself as an Indigenous person is to work towards supporting and reconstituting nations. It’s no longer enough to just talk about land tenure and compensation and governance, it has to go further than that we want to be able to talk about including the languages, including the oral history, including the stories that are there historically and continue to be there. But our words are disappearing. And those stories were used to pass on the history and, and provide guidance. When we talk about nationhood, it’s comprehensive and it’s something that most Indigenous people are and have been talking about for some time. So our government is finally getting on side and we need to start engaging a lot better than we have. Things are moving forward. But for some people, including myself, it’s just not fast enough.

One of the things that’s going on, especially here in Yellowknife for Indigenous groups moving forward is the Giant Mine remediation project. I was wondering if you can talk to when and what it will look like when an apology and compensation is announced. Do you think that’s on the horizon and close?

Well, I was very happy that we were able to move forward as fast as we did with the Giant Mine. It was something that was on the to-do list for many years for many governments, including the Elders that is — that were patiently waiting, trying to get the different governments to engage. When we did have a sit down discussion with the ministers and and heard and listened to the presentations from the Yellowknives Dene and all the research they did, it was clear that there needed to be something happening, and quick. So, discussions have been going very well. The idea of an apology is well accepted, compensation is something that is part of the discussion. procurement is also a part of the discussion, and I think we’re going to probably see something fairly soon. We all seem to be in agreement, we all come to a consensus on what needs to be in the agreement. It’s kind of getting a little more into the details, and we’ll be ready to do something formally.

Would you be able to put in like a specific date on or give an estimation?

This is ongoing negotiations.  I’ve got to stay away from giving you any kind of guesstimate. Okay, sure.

Looking to the future, if you are elected, what would you say to residents? And what would you say they can expect from a Liberal government? If it is elected in a minority or majority? What can they expect to get from the government in the next however many years?

The big thing right now for our government, and I would expect it’s going to be we’re any government that gets elected is to finish the fight against Covid. We need to continue to stay focused on the pandemic, we need to continue to provide the support. And that has been true for businesses and organizations and families have to be also very strongly supported, because there’s a lot of issues as a result of the pandemic that we have to make sure we are on top of — we’ve done a pretty good job Up to now, I think. But we got to make sure that it’s number one. And as we move forward, we have to ensure that we work on economic recovery, we need a strong healthy economy. And our focus is going to be on creating good jobs, our focus is going to be on supporting training and education around employment. And the Covid situation, the pandemic has shone a light on our communities, and is really brought to the surface how vulnerable we are. So there’s issues that we have to really tackle these areas, and we’re tackling. That’s housing, that’s healthcare addictions, and other things like climate change. We’ve released our platform, we said, we’re going to do many of these things. We said we’re going to, we’re committed to accelerating climate action. We want to help Canadians find homes. We want to deliver $10 a day childcare. We want to be able to fight systemic racism, and we want to be able to walk on that shared path of reconciliation. Most of all, we want to keep Canadians healthy.

Is there anything you want to add at all?

Thank you for talking to me. I’m really hoping people are going to look at some of the work that I’ve done. I think I’ve got a very strong track record. To prove that I can get things done. I proved time and time again, and I’m a team player. I have a very good communication network with Indigenous governments, municipal governments, with the ministers, with the prime minister and I like to consider myself a problem solver. usually pretty good at finding solutions to the challenges that we face. I think my colleagues will vouch for me when they say that I’m dedicated and a very hard worker. We’ve seen record investments in Northwest Territories, in many areas, housing, infrastructure, Indigenous governments, municipal support, pandemic support. So once again, I say, on the 20th of September, please consider putting your vote by my name.

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