Constituents sound off

Hay River North MLA Rocky (RJ) Simpson, right, chats with Tom Makepeace during a constituency meeting on Jan. 26.

Hay River North MLA Rocky (RJ) Simpson, right, chats with Tom Makepeace during a constituency meeting on Jan. 26.

On Jan. 26, Hay River North MLA Rocky (RJ) Simpson held a wide-ranging discussion with a small group of community residents in advance of the new session of the legislative assembly.

Simpson told the half-dozen people at the constituency meeting that he has heard the most concern about junior kindergarten.

The MLA expressed support for the idea of junior kindergarten.

“The GNWT thinks they can do it without funding it, which is a problem I have,” he said, noting the territorial government plans to only fund about one-third, with the rest coming from school boards.

Simpson predicted funding for junior kindergarten will be one of the big fights in upcoming budget discussions.

The MLA said junior kindergarten will not impact Aboriginal Head Start because it has guaranteed funding until 2020 from the GNWT and the federal government.

“They haven’t expressed any desire to cancel Aboriginal Head Start,” he said.

Plus, Simpson said the Department of Education, Culture and Employment says junior kindergarten will not conflict with Aboriginal Head Start, since, if it is held in the morning, junior kindergarten will take place in the afternoon, or vice versa.

Julia Trennert asked Simpson about the en masse trip by the territorial cabinet to a mining conference in Vancouver.

“How did that happen?” she said. “Did they need a winter break?”

Simpson defended the trip, and its reported cost of about $75,000, pointing out that there is a perception in the mining industry that the NWT is not a good place to do business.

Plus, he said all the existing diamond mines in the NWT will be wrapping up in the next 15 years.

“Unless we get some more, we’re going to be out of luck,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. And I think sending all the ministers down there shows people in the industry that this is a good place to do business.”

As for the $75,000 price tag for the trip, Simpson said it is money well spent if it creates just one high-paying mining job.

“It’s something that we just kind of have to do,” he said. “It’s part of the game of politics. They had to go down there and put on a show.”

A number of other issues were discussed at the constituency meeting, including the commercial fishery on Great Slave Lake, tourism and the future operation of assets purchased by the GNWT from Northern Transportation Company Ltd.

“I think it should be run locally because we have the knowledge and experience in Hay River to do it,” said Simpson. “It just makes sense.”

The MLA expects a request for proposals to be issued to operate the assets, and he suggested Northern companies might team up with proposals to operate the marine supply for isolated communities.

“What I don’t want is some company who’s just going to hire people from the south, and just bring up their own people every year,” he said.

The second session of the 18th Legislative Assembly began on Jan. 31.

–Paul Bickford