Editor’s Note: The following story looked at Yellowknife MLAS-elect for our Yellowknifer publication. Please see Monday’s News/North for priority views on MLAs from outside the capital city.
Julie Green, Yellowknife Centre MLA-elect, came out swinging hard on behalf of the city’s troubled downtown during the first informal gathering of the incoming assembly.
Green was among the newly elected MLAs who made their first public appearances together in the legislative assembly since the Oct. 1 election with brief public introductions and visions of their priorities for the coming session.
The exercise was part of the transition period before the session opens Oct. 25.
Green’s priorities included the state of the downtown – which falls within her electoral district.
“The homelessness and intoxicated population in downtown Yellowknife are from all across the territory,” she said to the other MLAs. “They are not just people in Yellowknife on hard times. They are people from all of your communities who have come here for different reasons and they have stayed here. Maybe your community is dry and they can drink here. Maybe they were in jail and they stayed here when they got out. Maybe they were in hospital and stayed here when they got out.
“We now have a large population of people who have chronic addictions and chronic homelessness … and they need programming.”
All Yellowknife MLAs touched on the issue in one form or another on Wednesday.
The first week of the election campaign was marred by the death of Mark Poodlat at the city’s joint sobering centre and day shelter on Sept. 3. The campaign also marked its final week with a vicious stabbing at the same location on Sept. 24.
Green also touched on issues that ranged from settling land claims and self-government negotiations, to investing in tourism to addressing senior housing, food security and child care.
She added that her list hadn’t changed much from when she first addressed MLAs when she was first elected in 2015.
“The depressing thing about my list is that it is very much like the list I gave four years ago,” she said, noting that incremental changes won’t be enough in the coming session and that significant action needs to be taken.
“That doesn’t mean nothing happened but that not enough happened,” said Green. “Once again, we are in a change mandate situation – 12 new MLAs last time, 11 new MLAs this time. We can’t fool around anymore.”
Caroline Cochrane, MLA-elect for Range Lake who has expressed interest in the premiership, said the GNWT needs to take immediate to address a declining mineral sector and health care worker shortage crisis.
“The majority of people and businesses in my riding talked about the need to invest more in mineral resources sector and finish the outstanding land claims to be able move forward,” she said.
“We know we are in a downturn in our mineral resources sector and we talk of the end of life of our diamond mines, but if we don’t start investing now, we aren’t looking 10 to 15 years to the end of our main economic driver. We are talking many, many more years until we see an increase in this sector.
“We don’t have time to wait any longer. We need to invest now to ensure that in 15 years, we have other opportunities to support our residents.”
Cochrane, who is also still technically minister of education, culture and employment, said there needs to be more funding for early childhood education and that small communities have a voice in post-secondary expansion with a coming polytechnic university.
Katrina Nokleby, Great Slave
Katrina Nokleby, MLA-elect for Great Slave and a geological engineer who emphasized her experience working in the mining sector during the campaign, also stressed the immediate need to address the economy and the North’s primary industry.
She noted the need for better transportation road systems like the Slave Geological Corridor and Mackenzie Valley Highway as well as the expansion of the Taltson hydro-electricity expansion.
“It is not realistic that we are not going to build anything going forward. Our economy has been based on mining in the past and it is what continues to feed our families,” she said.
Nokleby said land claims and self-government negotiations have to be finalized to improve certainty with the GNWT. She said this will lead to more investment.
Two recounts in Frame Lake and Yellowknife North
Part of the day was highlighted by two Yellowknife MLAs, who won a pair of judicial recounts – Kevin O’Reilly of Frame Lake and Rylund Johnson, of Yellowknife North.
Both presented progressive social visions for the next assembly.
O’Reilly laid out an idealistic 10-year plan, which would include a more diverse economy in sectors like mining, tourism, arts, agriculture and fisheries, as well as the elimination of fossil fuel emissions, empowered caribou environmental protections and improvements to various social issues.
He was one of the few that pointed out that although MLAs have long lists of priorities, hard decisions will inevitably have to be made.
“At the end of the day, we will not be able to do everything that has been raised today,” he said at one point. “We will have to make choices.”
Johnson, who was confirmed the winner of his electoral district on Wednesday, advocated for radical change to how government does business and called for universal child care, a guaranteed basic income and green construction and mining technology.
As an environmentalist, he said there is a need to declare a climate emergency over the next session and to send Northern representatives to international forums to highlight our climate change challenges.
“I believe one of the first things this assembly should do is declare that we are in a climate emergency,” he said. “We should recognize that all of our decision-making going forward must always keep that fact in mind. As we advocate for social change, it means nothing if we don’t take meaningful climate action.”
Caitlin Cleveland, Kam Lake
Caitlin Cleveland talked about the need for more affordable housing.
“Our housing infrastructure – not only in Kam Lake, but across the North – needs an assessment,” she said.
She also noted the importance of promoting local food production, broadband internet, transportation improvements and others.
“We need to move forward together by empowering our North to overcome challenges that are pushing us from our past and see the opportunities that are pulling us into our future,” she said.
Caroline Wawzonek, Yellowknife South
Caroline Wawzonek, the new MLA for Yellowknife South, gave her four-pronged vision of improving health, education, economy and governance and the need for the NWT to be a leader in Canada for improving relations with Indigenous governments.
She tied her views on the the factors that make people healthy, which included maternal health, early childhood education and family supports.
“A lot of people spoke about the downtown social issues,” she said.
“We are not going to get ahead facing some of the social issues that we see downtown and playing out across the NWT unless we develop a long-term vision that looks at people as whole people.”
She also outlined the need for housing of all types, universal child care, restorative justice, and patient-centred health care.