Hats off to the original land owners!
I am Bruce Valpy, originally from New Brunswick. I settled in the North, mainly Yellowknife, 42 years ago. I raised five children with my parenting partners and worked in the media for 32 years. My last job was CEO of NNSL Media and Canarctic Graphics with over 50 employees. You can read some of my columns here.
After living so well for so many years in the NWT, I am extremely grateful to the Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit who welcomed me to their lands. I have had a great career. My family is all doing well, all are happy, productive, and in the North. I and they have had so many opportunities.
Yet in my job in journalism, I am aware that while I and my neighbours and have prospered so well in Yellowknife, that’s not the case for the majority of the people living in the regions and small communities, the majority of whom are those same Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit who welcomed us to their lands.
An economy is people. Some economies in Asia and Europe are built exclusively on human ingenuity and sweat equity with scant natural resources. The NWT has an abundance of natural resources so we are ahead in the game.
The goals of my platform are Healing, Housing and Education to foster human development. The tools are: healing options; daycare so we can help parents pursue their careers, pay the bills, to focus on developing their skills; training options that focus on maintaining essential services for families, building homes, and supporting small business, the engine of all economies.
The addiction crisis remains poorly addressed. Local preferences for On-The-Land healing go unheeded, leading to outsourced treatment and compounding social strain on Yellowknife’s streets. The failure to build community capacity and localize solutions burdens emergency services, hospital wards, and undermines the effectiveness of limited health dollars and education system.
Families, unable to find daycare, ask themselves: Do we stay in the North or do we go? Do I work or do I stay home? The federal government daycare subsidy helps with affordability but not availability of daycare spaces. For that, the GNWT has to recognize the scope of the problem, make some key investments, start training and recruiting childcare workers.
A lack of business experience in our political leadership has led to indifference towards the private sector. Absorbing business services into government, misplaced suspicion of profit motive and general distrust of Northern business has, not surprisingly, led to shrinkage of our private sector. A new attitude toward business is needed.
The daunting cost of homebuilding is ratcheted up by a shortage of skilled tradespeople. While the demand for maintenance and repair services skyrocket, especially during cold winters, local companies struggle to keep staff. Government-backed programs, such as Aurora College’s range of apprenticeship programs, have to be ramped up and adapted to employ the untapped workforce in the communities.
If the NWT is to grow, we must build more capacity in the communities. What does capacity mean?
Capacity means having people providing services in their own communities, from government, to house construction and maintenance, counselling, elder care, the list goes on.
It has to start with an education system designed for the people it serves, meeting national standards, and producing graduates to national levels.
It was not the decision of the Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit leaders to discontinue the once-successful teachers and social work diploma programs which were specifically designed to groom their people for working in their communities.
They didn’t cut the natural resources technology program, the recreation leaders program, the social work program and the criminal justice program.
It was not their decision to disband the language bureau, court workers, and northern-based treatment centers nor pour resources into a polytechnic university when the K-12 school system fails to produce the students who could take advantage of higher education.
We have little capacity in the communities because the senior staff based in Yellowknife make decisions about how MLAs’ policies are interpreted and carried out.
Assembly after assembly, addictions problems persist, housing crumbles, education and incomes lag, all of which prevent growth and progress in the communities. Half of the NWT population is Dene, Metis, Inuvialuit.
The territory can be an example to the rest of the world regarding education and employment for the Original Land Owners.
The Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit have been building capacity outside Yellowknife.
They have created their own governments – Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich’in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat, Dehcho First Nations, Tłı̨chǫ Government, Akaitcho Territory Government, North Slave Métis Alliance, Northwest Territory Métis Nation.
Their future success will determine the future success of the GNWT. Policies and spending on developing the communities and regions will speed up the historically slow process.
The GNWT has built enormous capacity in the Yellowknife-based civil service with over 6,000 well-paid, highly educated and committed (living in the North is proof of that) civil servants working with a $2 billion annual budget.
What they and we need to be more successful is clear, consistent direction from successive legislative assemblies to grow the communities and the NWT outside Yellowknife.
In early 2020, Northerners witnessed the GNWT staff mobilize and adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then this summer the forest fires hit, forcing an evacuation. No lives were lost, but miscommunication happened and the allocation of resources will have to be examined. The GNWT is not known for learning from its mistakes. That has to change.
A response of similar scope and intensity is required to launch the new mission of raising the quality of life and opportunity for the Dene, Metis, and Inuvialuit in the communities. Programs must be designed with robust outreach services that engage the population rather than simply exist. Too many program services are only triggered if first, people hear of them, and second, if they are able to access them through a complicated application process. Accountability is critical but it’s not the goal of support programs, building capacity so people don’t need those supports is the goal.