Election interview with Caroline Wawzonek, Yellowknife South

Prospective candidate hopes to work on human infrastructure, restorative justice, regulations

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Last month Caroline Wawzonek told NNSL she plans to run for MLA of Yellowknife South in the upcoming territorial election.

But the lawyer first started thinking about running after the last election.

Photo courtesy of Dragon Toner Law Office. Caroline Wawzonek, a Yellowknife lawyer, is planning to run as MLA for Yellowknife South in the upcoming election.

“I was involved with Jan Fullerton at the time so I got a bit of an insight into what elections look like and how the campaign process works,” said Wawzonek.

“I’ve always been pretty politically aware, but it’s a different thing to see it first hand.”

As a parent of two children, Wawzonek said running for office is an opportunity to look at their future in Yellowknife.

“I want them to have the same kind of opportunities and lifestyle that my husband and I have had here and there’s a lot of uncertainty right now in the North,” she said.

“The economy’s got a lot of uncertainty around it and at the same time, I feel like we have so much opportunity. So in some ways, I feel like it’s a time of real tension but it’s a time of so much opportunity and I’ve got these two kids that I owe it to.”

This is Wawzonek’s first time running for political office and she hopes to tackle a number of pressing issues, like managing a resource based-economy in a region that’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

“We have an economy that’s founded on resource industry, but we’re also the front lines of climate change,” she said.

“We really have to find a way to balance that and to have a really united vision. I’m not always sure that we do. I think there’s really strong visions right now in the government which are sometimes maybe not across the government. So I’d love to be part of a government that really says, here’s these challenges and these opportunities and here’s how we’re going to make that all work together.”

Other items on her to-do list include a 360-degree review of every single regulation in the Northwest Territories.

“Wouldn’t it be interesting to know whether there’s different departments that maybe have some overlap, where we don’t need to kind of do things two times,” she explained.

Before she was a member of the legal team at Dragon Toner, Wawzonek ran her own criminal defence practice in Yellowknife for five years.

“The way I’ve approached my job as a lawyer is that I’m there to help people and businesses solve their problems using laws and regulations given to us by government,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s to navigate their way through it, sometimes it’s to challenge ones that we say aren’t working very well.”

Having spent her professional life on that side of the legal, political and justice systems, Wawzonek feels she has a lot to offer on the other side, including looking at ways to improve the justice system.

“There’s so much we could do to deliver more community-level justice and more community involvement and be, I would say, national leaders in a more restorative way of presenting justice,” she said.

“I think nationwide, it’s the right time to start having that conversation and why not the delivery of justice in the North first?”

Wawzonek feels very strongly about building the human side of infrastructure and Yellowknife has a very resilient population base, she said.

“The North has such a strong sense of community, but then we have high rates of mental health issues, addictions, poverty,” said Wawzonek.

“And if we could only find a way to start to overcome some of those problems and then combine that with the resiliency of the community, wouldn’t we be a phenomenal force?”

It’s not enough to build the economy and infrastructure to support it she said.

“We need to build human infrastructure. We’re going to have a stronger economy if we have a stronger human resource capacity to be part of that economy.”

When it comes to mental health supports in Yellowknife, there’s very little in the way of locally-based aftercare when people return from treatment, she added.

“We’ve invested all these resources in taking someone and having them treated, often (out of territory),” said Wawzonek. “But they need to come back to somewhere and then have supports to put those things into practice in their daily lives.”

In terms of education, the prospect of the polytechnic university in the city is both overdue and exciting for Wawzonek.

“We should be looking at it from the perspective of the students,” she said.

“What would students need to be an effective education institution that they want to come to? And I’m not sure that’s a perspective we’re hearing enough of.”

There are pros and cons to consensus government said Wawzonek.

“But you get a lot of different people there with a lot of different backgrounds and that’s such an exciting thing because you’re bringing the community together to make decisions,” she said.

If elected, Wawzonek said she plans to bring a high level of integrity and commitment to the role of MLA.

“Me personally, I’d say I’m very passionate, I care very deeply about people, I care very deeply about the North,” she said.

“With my kids, I say you don’t make a promise you can’t keep. But once you say you’re going to do something, you better do your best to follow through on it.”

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