There was no shortage of ideas to address the high cost of living, save a declining mining sector and stimulate a slowing NWT economy as six Kam Lake candidates offered their plans in a recent electoral forum.
Hosted by the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, those in attendance heard a whirlwind of ideas in under an hour that included everything from improving the NWT’s strategy to boost population growth to supporting the construction of a Yellowknife-based polytechnic university, to fast-tracking major infrastructure investments like the Taltson hydroelectricity project, Slave Geological province all-access road and the Mackenzie Valley Highway. Still others offered small business tax credits and benefits and other methods to lift the financial burden off the backs of the private sector.
The panel of candidates were participating in the third forum that night at Northern United Place, Sept. 10. Voters earlier heard from candidates vying for a seat in Frame Lake and the Great Slaver electoral district.
Running in Kam Lake are: Caitlin Cleveland a 15-year business-owner and former adviser with the GNWT; Cherish Winsor, a GNWT senior adviser and leader in non-government organizations, including the food bank and YWCA; Robert Hawkins, a pest control expert and former Yellowknife Centre MLA; Rommel Silverio, a current city councillor and health practitioner, and Abdullah Al-Mahamud, a businessman, store owner and operator.
Near-term economic fixes
All candidates agreed that serious economic decisions need to be made over the next four years, and but differed on what needs to be done.
Testart noted there is a difference between investing in major infrastructure projects that slowly move along like Taltson, Mackenzie Valley Highway and the Slave Geological Corridor versus the immediate need of stopping economic decline. He pointed specifically to lowering small business taxes and using tax credits to increase local business investment.
“I think the best way the government can support today’s economy that is going into a four-year recession that Northerners can’t afford is for the government to invest in people and communities,” he said.
“If re-elected I will continue to push to eliminate all small business taxes in the NWT and that will inject $2.4 million directly into the local economy.”
Caitlin Cleveland and Abdullah Al-Mahamud both offered pro-business messages about either make running a business more affordable and efficient, or cutting business taxes and other costs that deter business people from wanting to be in the North.
“People are moving down south and don’t have job opportunities so my plan is …. to support local people to let them stay up here,” said Al-Mahamud, who has owned a variety of businesses in Yellowknife over the past 14 years, including Quizznos, Winks and Mac’s convenience store.
Cleveland added to this list the need for “prioritizing settled land claims with integrity and respect” and was the only candidate to back an Arctic deep water port.
“As the NWT passage becomes more accessible -a deep sea port would provide multiple social and economic social gains for our territory,” she said.
Most candidates also seemed to agree that addressing a slowing economy will require addressing a stagnant population and making the NWT a more attractive place for newcomers to live and work. Silverio said he sees the need in his health care profession where staff shortages are common, and as a city councillor heading a municipality that wants to expand its tax base. He said bringing in more immigrants is important.
“One thing that everybody noticed is that the population is stagnant and sometimes it goes down,” he said, noting Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s visit to Yellowknife over the summer. “We discussed about immigrants coming in Canada, especially in North I learned we’re not maximizing the potential of the area and the number of people that we could bring people here …. so i would push for that.”
Another popular issue was the polytechnic university that is underway to replace Aurora College. Hawkins, whose attempted return to office was in large part due to the current “economy under siege on all fronts,” said boosting the economy requires a long-term and short-term vision for getting the it going again. For the next session, he said it is important to move forward on things that are already in play like the public sector, tourism and oil and gas, but in particular the polytechnic school.
“If you want to do something in the short-term within less than five years and potentially in the life of the next assembly, spend some time on ideas that create and generate innovation and stimulate the economy,” he said, noting how Athabasca University in Alberta has a $128 million annual budget.
“We could have polytechnic here and that would draw numerous jobs. ”
Winsor, who advocates a greater mining presence in the North, said infrastructure investment in projects like the Taltson hydroelectricity expansion and the Slave Geological Corridor would be beneficial.
“The more we invest in those now, the sooner we will see those things come into fruition,” she said.