Moose FM sat down with each candidate ahead of the territorial election day on November 23, 2015. Here’s what Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh’s candidates told us.
You’ve been in government for the past four years. What have you, personally, achieved for the people of the NWT?
I bring the attention of government to the people. When I was health minister for two years, I thought Aboriginal people had a voice in the health system. I asked people what they thought the problems were and went about trying to resolve the issues – there are many, it’s our biggest department. When I became minister of transportation, public works and human resources, I felt there was not enough representation of Aboriginal people in the GNWT. I went about trying to increase that number: I talked to a lot of well-qualified priority one candidates who were not getting in. Many have and many haven’t at this point but it’s a work in progress and I felt it was important. I’m open, I discuss things with people. Transportation is a huge infrastructure department and I was pushing for Ottawa to fund a lot of our infrastructure up here. Together with the GNWT, I felt we did a good job bringing federal dollars to the NWT – we had two-thirds of the cost of the Inuvik-Tuk highway paid by the federal government.
Overall, how successful has this government been in dealing with the many issues the NWT has?
I think it’s been successful. There is work to be done: there needs to be more communication with the people, with other governments like the Aboriginal governments. This government has set up a forum to meet and talk to Aboriginal governments on a regular basis – with some tweaking there, starting to look at some real issues that impact people across the NWT, I think that’ll go a long way.
People see the territory pushing forward big infrastructure projects. Some residents have reservations about that when the government is stretched for money. Why are those projects necessary?
They bring jobs and economic development. Inuvik-Tuk has employed 600 people and has decreased the need for income support. Most people close to the government know that low employment rates tied directly with high social justice issues – that goes up as the employment rate goes down. My job is to increase the employment rate and lessen the cost of government. A lot of people have nothing to do – no jobs, nothing, they’re not sending their kids to school. That’s basic step one: your kids have to start going to school in kindergarten, every day. When you don’t have a job, you’re home and you have nowhere to go to – you’re sitting there all day – it gets pretty tiring at some point, and very depressing for the parents. Eventually, what happens is the kids stop going to school. So we need to get employment into the communities and that is one good way of doing it.
You touched on education there. What do you feel should be the next step the territory takes in improving education here?
Early childhood development is essential. When you start to develop that, it’s pretty-well tenfold – for every dollars you spend you get a return 10 times that amount. Starting with the departments of health and education working together, from pre-natal until the individual starts kindergarten and through their pre-school years, and then K-12 – better education systems in small communities, finding a way to bring the right teachers in to improve that education system so that when somebody from a small community graduates, they can step right into college, trade school or university. We recognize that in larger centres the kids are graduating, it’s achievable, but we have to find a better way to replicate that success in small Aboriginal communities.
You’re standing in Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, which is new and covers a really broad area. How do you feel that’s best approached, as a candidate and as an MLA?
I was against this. I did not believe that two indigenous Aboriginal groups, two languages and two cultures, should be put in the same riding. I’m very disappointing the Electoral Boundaries Commission even recommended taking YK Dene’s homeland and joining them to Tu Nedhe. The people in Tu Nedhe also feel their riding has been taken and joined in with a Yellowknife riding. Nobody is happy with this – why it went through all the way to today is beyond me. But we have what we have. I feel I’m the best representative because I have lots of experience in Tu Nedhe – the people there have supported me in the past. Now, I’m making myself available to the people of Wiilideh and I’ll do my level best but, in the end, we need to get the Yellowknives Dene their own riding. It shouldn’t always be based on numbers of people. It’s a very complex job, being an MLA in an Aboriginal community when you consider the social indicators. An MLA has to work a lot. I’m a very busy MLA just dealing with Res and Lutselk’e at this point. But I’m up for the challenge – I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ve been at senior government level for some time and I’ve been successful in government for a reason.
In the communities you hope to serve, what do you believe they want you to prioritize?
Employment is the key. There are so few jobs. When a job is available, somebody gets it and that means somebody else doesn’t. We’re talking about employment rates of 30 percent. Can you imagine that? In Yellowknife it’s around 80 percent, same in Norman Wells. We’re talking about employment rates of 30 percent. That’s not fair. We’re all NWT residents, we need equal employment rates. I don’t think 80 percent can be achieved but 60 or 70 percent is certainly achievable. We have to find a way that people can take care of themselves and not rely on government. And the only way to do that is to have a job.
Some would say, Tom, you were a cabinet member in the government that has overseen that 30 percent employment rate. Has the government failed here? How has this happened?
It’s a long process. I don’t think the government has failed here. The employment rates have crept up slowly but it’s a multi-faceted approach that’s needed. I’m talking about daycare – there is no daycare available and that’s something we have to work on. We need early childhood development. We need to have people working with youth. We need projects like housing projects where individuals in the community can fix homes of elders. We need environmental clean-ups and more infrastructure spending. Sometimes, the priorities are pulled from every direction. What the government has done for years and years – not just the last four – has been continuing with the status quo, with some minor improvements. In the six years I’ve been an MLA, employment rates went up by six percent. When there’s money available for infrastructure, I’m there to advise the chief – we spent $30 million rebuilding Highway 6 as an example; there’s a new adult learning centre in Lutselk’e and youth centre in Fort Res. That’s the stuff I’ll present to the people of Wiilideh to show I’m an active MLA even though I’m a minister.
You sound like even though you’ve been a member of government, you believe there’s room for a lot of change. The Premier is seeking a second term. Do you support that?
Right now, what I have to do is get elected. When we have 19 new members, it’s an opportunity for us to have a discussion. At this point, what I’m hearing is some people want change – in my own riding, some people don’t even want me to be on cabinet.
Do you want to be on cabinet?
Yes, I do. It’s a very good position and it’s very healthy for the riding to have a cabinet member coming from your constituents. There’s a lot of benefit to that. When you’re not on cabinet, sometimes you’re asking for information and making suggestions. And I did make suggestions in my first four years, many of which went very well. Some didn’t. If the cabinet position wasn’t a position the MLAs felt was very important to the riding, then not all of those MLAs coming in would run for cabinet. Usually, many of them do.
A criticism levelled at the territorial government – including you – from some candidates is that it’s been too secretive in the way it does its business. Can you see merit in that argument?
I wouldn’t say it’s been secretive. I don’t think the cabinet deliberately tries to hold secrets. Sometimes you have a legal obligation to hold things close to your chest, you can’t always be divulging discussions you’re having on a contract to the public. We try to inform the regular members as much as possible and have the confidence that they’ll keep the information confidential. Sometimes, we can’t even divulge that to anyone.
Not everything is legal, though. Committee meetings could be more open. If you’re re-elected and you cast your vote for the next Premier, you could come out and tell us who you voted for. Some other candidates say they’ll do that. Would you?
I don’t think it worked out too well the last time people came out in advance and said ‘I’m going to vote for so-and-so.’ Everybody has a right to a secret ballot. We do have rights. When I’m voting for cabinet, if I get re-elected, I would have a secret ballot. If I feel, at some point, that it’s important to divulge who I voted for, I would do that.
Lastly, it’s a straight fight for the riding. Why choose you over your rival?
I have a lot of experience. I speak the language, that’s one thing. I can sit down with elders that can’t speak English and I, without interpretation, know exactly what it is they’re saying and present their arguments in the house. I’m an experienced politician with eight years in the Assembly and eight years prior to that as a deputy minister, with two years at assistant deputy minister level – vice-president of the housing corporation. I work hard and I think people can’t go wrong by voting for me.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Richard Edjericon. I used to be the former chair for the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board, I’m a past chief of YKDFN, housing division manager for a number of years and been in Aboriginal politics for a good number of years.
What persuaded you to stand?
When you take a look at the whole GNWT, as a former leader myself, I’ve been in many meetings over the years and never really seen anybody from the GNWT sit down at the table. When I was asked to take a look at being the MLA, my idea would be to get the voice out to the GNWT. I want to work closely with the Aboriginal governments and elders’ council to look at their needs and issues, and be their voice in government. It’s giving the voice back to the people, where it should belong.
There were Aboriginal MLAs in the last assembly and it’s the job of all MLAs to ensure that the government gives that voice to people, no matter who those people are. Where do you think the government has let Aboriginal people down?
The biggest issue in my riding – if I’m elected – is the outstanding land claim agreements, the self-government agreements and land use plans. I signed the Akaitcho framework agreement in 2000 in Fort Resolution – my great-grandfather signed that same agreement 100 years earlier. There’s a real need now to get those agreements finalized.
Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh is a new district, adding Fort Res and Lutselk’e to Ndilo and Dettah. How will you approach representing a district that diverse, spread over such a large area?
It is what it is. There are concerns about that. Nidlo and Dettah are very unique and it’s interesting, the riding we have. Because we’re all put together, to me, it makes us stronger. It’s not a big issue. The issues are similar – the thing is we need to get those issues resolved, those land claim issues.
When you look at Ndilo and Dettah, what other issues do you hear that you’d look to raise in the legislature?
The future looks grim, I guess. Not long ago, the GNWT raised the borrowing limit. The economy is down, the global market is down. To me, it’s a good time to get these outstanding land claims done. My job is to bring the issues out, look for solutions and get on with the show. I sat back far too long, watching the GNWT continue with the status quo. We need to bring stability and vision to the government as a whole.
What ideas do you want to bring to the table when it comes to social issues like homelessness, or alcohol and drug abuse, or violence?
Back in 1990, as a band councillor, I was in the trenches with our community in regard to alcohol and drugs – frontline workers, drugs and so on. I’ve been there and fought those issues as a leader. The alcohol treatment program in Dettah was cancelled in 1999, then, four years ago, the health minister shut down a facility and decided to go with on-the-land programs. Those programs? We get funding for 10 days out of a year, which leaves 50 weeks to deal with our issues at the local level. My idea would be: the GNWT raises about $47 million sales of liquor, and I think it’s $26 million in taxes for tobacco and so on. I’m sure we can put $5 million aside for a new program for alcohol addictions. Social issues are huge in our communities and it’s time to bring that back and give it back to the people again.
As a territorial MLA, how would you balance the economy with concerns over the environment?
I was a former chair of the Mackenzie Valley Impact Review Board. We have an act in place to govern the boards and the way it’s set up, all applications come in through two boards. We usually have public hearings that take from two to five years. Now, it’s being narrowed down from, say, five years to 18 months. My job at the review board was that members wanted to push development without respecting existing land claim agreements and including the environment. Protecting the environment is a big issue. I’ll encourage the GNWT to fill those boards with members of our communities to make sure there’s a balance there.
The more you tighten regulation, some would say the more you scare off industry. What do you say?
I’ve talked to the guys in Ottawa. Sometimes, when regulatory reform happened, the guys in Ottawa would say the boards were the problem child of the North because they were holding up development. But we’ve got to protect land claim agreements and balance with industry. The two boards don’t dictate what’s happening globally. Some mines are sitting idle because they can’t raise the money on the open market. At Giant Mine, we have a mess unheard-of on this planet. My idea is that the communities are now benefiting from that project, getting jobs and training. There has to be a balance.
Do you see yourself as someone who can take on a cabinet role, or would you prefer to be a regular MLA, acting as a watchdog?
I wouldn’t mind trying to steer this government in the right direction. I know the leadership want to have a greater role in terms of selecting the premier and the cabinet – I’m going to work with Aboriginal governments, mayors and whoever else, and get them involved. I’m going to go to the house and put it on record: ‘If you want my vote to be the premier, what’s your position on these issues?’ In the past, the MLAs would get in and never consult with Aboriginal governments. I want to give that back to the people.
Can our system of government work for everybody?
It’s concerning. The whole system needs to be looked at. It’s just not working. You’ve got 19 MLAs, six ministers, the premier and the speaker. Whatever they say, goes. The remaining MLAs sit back and try to work with the government but it doesn’t really work. We need to be more open and more transparent. The future doesn’t look good right now and we need to try to bring stability back, making sure that people have a voice.
Transparency is an issue several candidates have raised. One candidate said they would publicize who they nominate for premier. Would you do that?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’ll go back to Aboriginal government leaders, ask them to give me their top priorities, and I’ll get back to them when I know who will address those issues.
So we will know, when you vote, who you voted for?
In the time remaining, explain for us what distinguishes you from Tom Beaulieu in your riding.
Look at the facts: Tom Beaulieu supported Devolution. He never consulted with the Aboriginal governments, who wanted to finish land claims first. There was never any consultation, it just happened. I’ve been a band councillor a chief, an acting grand chief. I have a housing background, review board chairman too. Housing general manager. I know all the issues that are front-and-centre and people had confidence in me to be their Aboriginal leader for a long time. I work very hard for our people and I don’t give up. I will give the voice back to the people.
I guess I sat back for too long. I’m concerned now with where this government is going. There need to be good-faith negotiations to finish these land claims once and for all. If we don’t do that, industry will still come in and do what it wants to do. Let’s get those things done and be done with. As it is right now, I don’t see much vision for the NWT – just the status quo. Eight years from now, I want the people of the NWT to choose their own premier instead of having 19 MLAs do that. Whoever’s got the vision deserves to be the premier.