Round Table Speech

November 27th, 2023

Thank you, Mr. Clerk. And thank you, colleagues. It’s a great honour to stand in this House again and represent the people of Kam Lake. I want to thank Kam Lake residents for their continued support and trust.

I start today by speaking about trust because I want to begin by identifying my three personal priorities: our relationships with one another, our relationships with the public service, and our relationships with future Assemblies.

The foundation of every relationship is trust. I started the 19th Assembly speaking in this House about trust. Trust is both fragile and powerful, built over time, but easily and quickly broken. Building trust requires us to understand the unique challenges of our people, the curiosity and empathy to care, and the courage to do what is right. Trust is a feedback loop of not only gaining trust but also giving it both inside the House, within departments, other levels of government and community organizations, and within our own neighbourhoods. Trust allows us to have each others backs, work side by side, and advance with confidence towards a common purpose. This doesn’t mean this space will be void of conflict. Conflict is healthy, and we rely on it to advocate for the people we serve with integrity.

Second, Mr. Clerk, is our relationship with the public service. To reach our political goals, we rely on public service. It is inherent in every one of us to want to do meaningful, respected work. The public service needs to be empowered to do innovative and collaborative work toward our common goals. I want a public service empowered to dream big and be accountable and driven by visible, progressive results. 

Third is our relationship with future Assemblies. I’m frequently asked about working in Canada’s first gender-balanced Legislature. Given that roughly 13 percent of elected seats worldwide are held by women, I don’t discount the significance. But women don’t want to be remembered or celebrated because of their gender but instead because of the work they do. That said, there’s a deeper conversation to be had about what representation in this House truly means and reflect on who is not at the table. Are we missing entrepreneurs? Health care workers? Educators? People with disabilities? Mixed incomes, or gender diverse and two-spirited Northerners? 

Mr. Clerk, priority speeches in general are difficult. Each of us could each fill a day talking about the intertwined connectedness of each of our platforms, what we heard at the doors, and the individual yet related issues of constituents. It’s a fine balance trying to ensure residents hear their own voices in our speeches today while ensuring we are setting ourselves up for access with fewer priorities for the 20th Assembly. I do not believe our issues are discrete, nor can they be addressed one at a time in a vacuum. But I do think that our common priority trends, shared by the people we serve, and I look forward to see those emerge today. 

Mr. Clerk, my election campaign, again, centered on three pillars: people, land, and prosperity. And together they were defined by 18 outcomes that put people first, provided stewardship of our living planet, and fostered economic growth and diversification. But I’m not going to take you through my platform. My constituents have been generous with their opinions through social media, family-friendly chats at the fieldhouse, and door-to-door conversations. So today I will take you through the common priorities that I have heard so far from Kam Lake residents that centre on cost of living, economy, accessible health care, and climate adaptability and resilience. 

The escalating cost of living was a top priority for the people of Kam Lake. Many people reflected on the cost of food and goods and services but also acknowledged that this is a trend impacting much of Canada. Many Kam Lake residents agreed that energy and housing infrastructure were their top cost of living priorities. Kam Lake residents want the government to develop clean affordable energy systems to reduce diesel dependency. Yellowknife residents are paying premium rates and subsidizing small communities for expensive archaic infrastructure shared with the rest of the NWT and with oil reliance on diesel generators given the low water levels. The frustration of residents is further propelled by the carbon tax given there is limited ability to affordably and sustainably choose alternative energies.

Kam Lake residents, including young families, people — sorry, young people, families, senior and elders, also tied affordable accessible housing to cost of living. People are finding it difficult to remain housed or visualize the long-term certainty and sustainability of living in the North, especially after retirement is pushing more people to explore southern housing options. I stand by my words of the 19th Assembly and believe housing needs to be looked at as the big infrastructure opportunity that it is. We need to incentivize affordable housing solutions through public and private partnership with major capital investments.

Second, most residents spoke about the economy. As a base, many of the people I serve are entrepreneurs or work within private industry that serves the entire Northwest Territories. They are concerned with the state of the economy across the territory now stressed by COVID-19, climate events, and the approaching deadlines of mine closures.

There are several parts to a thriving economic system. So in no particular order we need to increase the number of well-paid northern residents who call the NWT home and are able to buy goods and services right here. We need do this by educating self-confident and self-reliant youth graduating empowered to join November our changing workforce, encouraging and welcoming our students to return North and incentivizing others to move here. 

Second, we need to continue to identify business opportunities for the things people need and want in industries from mining to northern art to green energy and local food production to energy retrofits of public infrastructure. There are so many opportunities for creative innovation in our territory that would be served by focusing on accountability for achieving outcomes rather than focusing on compliance with procedure or policy that exists today. 

Third, we are and have always been reliant on mining. Investors need clean affordable reliable energy in a certain and timely regulatory environment. 

Finally, housing is key input to business costs. So many times people have not been able to move North because there’s no housing. I have heard from Kam Lake businesses on multiple occasions they cannot afford to dream because they do not have the staff to realize those dreams because either they cannot find these staff, or those staff can’t find affordable places to live.

Beyond this, what do working Northerners need? Childcare. We need to fully implement universal childcare and support fair compensation to the sector. 

Third, many Kam Lake residents shared frustrations that related to accessible health care and social services. Residents expressed concern about accessing health care providers and mental health supports, concerns of medical travels financial supports, access to escorts and unfair process, and public safety within our city that directly relates to the NWT’s need for an accessible client-focused integrated service delivery system that includes, housing, health, education, employment, income support, and community justice that pairs with healing and addictions and aftercare supports.

Mr. Clerk, we can’t discuss mental health without talking about sport and recreation. When engaging with communities on child and family services, suicide prevention, and homelessness prevention, the 19th Assembly’s Standing Committee on Social Development found that access to sport and recreation was a common recommendation from residents. Sport and recreation is a key component of healthy communities so we can’t talk about mental health without raising the alarm on the quiet crisis coming our way. Much of our infrastructure was built within the same timeframe and is coming due. This territory needs an infrastructure deficit recovery plan and to address the municipal funding gap. 

Climate adaptability and resilience were next up on the list. This summer the city of Yellowknife made history when it was evacuated. As expected, residents have questions, want to participate in a third party review to share their experiences, and want to see improvements in how this territory mitigates and manages emergencies. Beyond emergency management, residents want to see the GNWT support a culture shift to become leaders in adaptability and resilience in a climate change environment.

So in many more words than four, Mr. Clerk, the priorities I have ultimately identified today are:

  1. Cost of living, where Kam Lake residents tied this to developing clean energy solutions and affordable accessible housing; 
  2. The economy through which residents also identified affordable clean energy infrastructure and affordable housing along with education, population retention, childcare, and certainty; 
  3. Accessible health care where the people I serve highlighted medical travel reform and responsive client-centered integrated service delivery, especially for vulnerable residents; and, 
  4. Climate adaptability and resilience where many Kam Lake residents reflected on a timely need to improve mitigation and management of emergencies while supporting a resilience-based culture shift.

Ultimately, Mr. Clerk, every single Northerner wants to make a difference, whether it is in our own home, our workplace, our neighbourhood, or our community. My top priority is to see the work we do positively reflected on the ground and in the lives of Northerners and that together we do just that, make a difference. In doing so, I hope we earn the trust of Northerners not just as independents but also as an institution. Northerners need to trust that their words, concerns, and passions for their home are reflected through our work and ultimately our legacy. Thank you, Mr. Clerk.