R.J. Simpson has announced his intention to seek re-election as an MLA in the territorial vote this fall.
The rookie MLA for Hay River North confirmed his plans to run again in an interview with The Hub earlier this week.
Simpson, who came straight out of law school and into politics said there is no job he would rather have than serving his constituents.
“The first four years were a really good learning experience,” he said. “There’s a lot left to be done. We have local issues in Hay River that need to be dealt with.”
Simpson said there are several issues in Hay River that he would like to push to the top of the government’s agenda. At the top of the list is the current staff shortage at the Hay River Regional Health Centre.
“I see this being the new normal unless something changes. People are afraid to get sick in town and people don’t want to see a different doctor every time they go.”
He told The Hub there needs to be greater incentives for hiring and retaining nurses and doctors.
“Part of the issue is it’s hard to attract doctors. When they come to the territory, they think Yellowknife first — not the other communities.”
Simpson said the other major issue which needs to be addressed is the housing shortage in the community, particularly in the wake of the fire at Hay River’s high-rise earlier this year.
With the exception of Yellowknife, of all the communities in the territory Hay River is the most poised for growth, due to its size and location on the road system, he said.
However, without a massive investment in housing that opportunity will be lost.
“Not just social housing but rental units in general. The town needs to expand,” he said. “Especially since the high rise was evacuated there’s been a huge housing shortage.”
At the territorial level, Simpson said the government needs to spend more money improve its education system outside of Yellowknife.
“Right now, a lot of kids are graduating without the ability to go on to college university or the trades. We have a lot of good educators, but the schools are underfunded,” he said. “There’s a lot of good government jobs but they go to people outside the territory.”
Simpson said without improvements in education, the territory will fail to take advantage of the opportunities for economic growth in the coming years, especially with several diamond mines scheduled to close over the next decade.
“We don’t have a Plan B,” he said. “One of the ways to insulate ourselves against that is to ensure we have a well-educated population.”
Simpson also said the GNWT needs to do more to improve its relationship with Indigenous government in the territory.
He added the territorial government could be a lot more effective at delivering positive change if there was better communication between cabinet and regular MLAs.
“There’s a real lack of communication between those two groups,” he said. “We need to work more together as 19 MLAs as a regular caucus. We need to focus on outcomes, not processes.”