Roaring Twenties redux? Let’s hope so…
Welcome to the new year, and the new decade. Will it be another Roaring Twenties? North America enjoyed a decade of economic growth and widespread prosperity from 1920 to 1930, driven by recovery from devastation in the First World War.
But as we head into the 2020s, the NWT faces an uncertain future, as we look at the sunset of major diamond mining operations.
As we forge into these uncharted waters, I thought I’d have a look at a key issue for the NWT — our relations with the federal government. We rely on the feds. We have to. And we are keeping the lights on up here for the rest of southern Canada, after all.
After bypassing the NWT’s sole MP for a cabinet post — Michael McLeod had expressed interest in being in cabinet, but was again relegated to the backbenches — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted for a Winnipeg MP to be Canada’s first standalone minister of Northern Affairs.
And that truly sucks for both McLeod and all the Northwest Territorians who voted for the Liberal Party in the fall’s federal election. McLeod must have pissed Trudeau off at some point to be ignored for even a parliamentary secretary post, as one went to the Lib’s only other Northern rep, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell named parliamentary secretary to Melanie Joly, the minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency.
McLeod, of Metis ancestry, would have been an appropriate choice for a cabinet post dealing with Northern or Indigenous issues, as he is a former member of the NWT Legislative Assembly, as well as the former mayor of Fort Providence. Alas, his duties in Ottawa now involve only serving on the Standing Committee on Finance and chairing the Arctic and Northern Caucus.
But I digress.
Trudeau opted for a Metis from the St. Boniface neighbourhood of Winnipeg — former social worker, amateur boxer and city councillor Dan Vandal — for the Northern Affairs position. Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett is minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, while Montreal MP Marc Miller is minister of Indigenous services.
There hasn’t been a minister in place from one of the territories since 2016 (recall, if you will, the failed cabinet ministry of Nunavut’s Hunter Tootoo).
In any event, I wouldn’t be getting all giddy about Vandal’s visit to Yellowknife on Jan. 14 and 15. I know the guy. And he ain’t that impressive.
He was a city councillor when I was covering courts and crime for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s. My office was in the basement of Winnipeg City Hall, so I would also be tasked on occasion to cover civic issues and sit in on some council meetings.
Unless Vandal has changed a lot since becoming an MP, I don’t see him sinking his teeth into the mandate letter he was given recently by Trudeau.
And the info coming from his office prior to his arrival doesn’t exactly set things up for exciting things to happen.
“The minister is looking forward to meeting with a variety of different organizations and governments, including Indigenous leaders,” an aide stated in a recent email to Cabin Radio.
“The minister is keen to hear from Northerners directly on the issues that they face and to hear their priorities.”
Really? If the bloody federal government doesn’t fully understand our issues and priorities by now, then we should be very, very concerned for our future. What a bloody joke.
Infrastructure (Mackenzie Valley Highway, reliable internet connectivity and green power generation), housing, poverty, food prices and economic development (mining, mining, mining and mining). Oh, and I’ll throw in the growing impact of a changing climate.
The territorial government said an agenda is being developed for the territory’s representatives to meet Vandal.
Ottawa’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework — a vague document with a blurred vision for the North, dumped out just before the election last year — is also likely to be discussed by Vandal on his trip to the North.
Vandal’s mandate letter reportedly states he should work on that framework, finalize plans to clean up high-risk mine sites, push forward Northern hydro projects and create a “robust system of post-secondary education in the North.” Danny, that would include the NWT’s push for to morph Aurora College into a polytechnic university.
Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Alty told Cabin Radio she would like to see action on economic infrastructure – roads and visitor centres, hydro projects, and the university. Alty also told Cabin she wants to see a federal follow through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation to provide “sustainable funding for existing and new Aboriginal healing centres.”
The feds have already committed cash for the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation in Yellowknife. So I’m not sure what else could be forthcoming.
What the city really could use is help in pushing the Yellowknife Women’s Society’s extremely worthy plan to turn the city’s Arnica Inn on Franklin Avenue heading towards Old Town into a 42-unit transitional housing complex.
I listened to the society’s Bree Denning make her case to the Rotary Club of Yellowknife — of which I am a proud member — and believe this project could really have a positive impact on the city’s homeless problem.
It is a real ‘housing first’ strategy, which would provide a stable place to live, with social supports, to allow people to have their strengths and weaknesses assessed. It is also on the shoulder of the city’s core, thereby relieving some of the pressure on downtown residents and merchants who are dealing with the negative effects of panhandling and public intoxication on a daily basis.
Alty reportedly said society’s application is currently before the CMHC and Denning told the Rotarians the project was also delayed by last fall’s territorial general election.
The territory’s MP, Michael McLeod, will be forced to participate in Vandal’s visit, standing beside — or slightly behind and to the right, I snarkily suggest — the man who has what should be his job.
That’s gotta suck for him.
Would it be better to have a Conservative MP representing the NWT? Well, since McLeod appears to be in Trudeau’s doghouse, it surely couldn’t hurt.
But again, I digress. I just had a Tory daydream. Please excuse.
NWT’s new Premier Caroline Cochrane met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Dec. 5, along with Vandal and Deputy PM and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Chrystia Freeland.
Oh, and congrats to Cochrane — a self-proclaimed “progressive,” which translates to my mind as socialist lite — for being named as one of “20 people to watch in 2020” by MacLean’s Magazine.
From the blurb of her: “The burbling war of words between certain premiers and their nemesis in Ottawa is overwhelmingly male and pale. Caroline Cochrane, the Metis premier of the Northwest Territories — and the only female premier in Canada — is also a self-described progressive. She could be a key federal-provincial ally for the prime minister in 2020.”
Sure, except she leads a territory, not a province. And she will have to work quickly and with focus in order to capitalize on any benefits that perceived alliance could produce in what could be a short-lived Trudeau minority government.
At this point, all I can say is Vandal’s visit here will amount to little more than a fart in a windstorm.
He was selected to cabinet not for his knowledge or passion for the North, but since he was a rare animal on the Prairies — a Liberal MP. The federal election was devastating for Trudeau and the Grits, leaving them governing with a minority and without any seats in Alberta or Saskatchewan.
Vandal also has the intersectional advantage of being bilingual and representing Winnipeg’s French quarter. I’m sure he’ll want to see the progress being made on Yellowknife Bay for the Snowking’s Winter Festival. Vandal’s riding is famous for the annual Festival du Voyageur.
Heho! Danny Vandal, heho.
So sure, it’s nice to have the latest caretaker for the North make his way through these parts — especially in the middle of winter — but I wouldn’t get too attached to Vandal.
There is little political benefit for Trudeau to waste what could the short life of his minority government on Northern concerns. So it really is up to Cochrane to push for results sooner, rather than waiting for some sunnier days later on.
Our relationship with Danny Vandal is sure to be smashed by another federal election. Perhaps within a year?