N.W.T. Election 2023: Denny Rodgers' Inuvik Boot Lake interview

Rodgers, who has been the mayor of Inuvik, was the public administrator for Aurora College after its board was dissolved. He has worked for more than a decade at the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.

If elected, he says he will advocate for the territorial government to work "hand in glove" with the Indigenous governments – "looking at opportunities where we can work together again, whether that's health programs or any programs that are out there."

Sallie Ross and incumbent Diane Archie are also running for the seat.

This interview was recorded on October 19, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Aastha Sethi: Tell us about yourself. Why are you running for office this year?

Denny Rodgers: I worked with the Inuvialuit Development Corporation for 12 years. I have been here for just-about 30 years. I've been a mayor for the Town of Inuvik. I've chaired the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission. I was on that board for six years. I chaired the Business Development Investment Corporation board since 2013, as well as being an administrator for Aurora College for a couple of years. So, that's kind-of my governance experience. From a work standpoint, I have worked for Indigenous governments. In that job, I also worked closely in some major projects with the Gwich'in Development Corporation. Prior to that, I worked with a local housing authority. I have my own business here. So, I worked in pretty-much all sectors while being in Inuvik. That's kind-of the first reason I decided to run. I've always wanted to do this and I'm passionate about this.

Secondly? My commitment and my passion for working with people, developing relationships and listening to the voices of people in the community. I raised my family here. My three kids were raised here. My two oldest were one and two years old when we moved here. My daughter graduated with a teaching degree, then came back and taught school here for six years herself. My youngest son is in Grade 12. I've always been committed to serve. I have a passion for it and I enjoy it. I guess that's why I decided it was time I put my name forward.

Q: What are some of the issues you're focusing on this year?

A: Some of the priorities, and obviously there are many: youth and families. We need more people working. When I say youth, not just providing more recreational opportunities for them. We all know that if you're a youth, it gets you engaged, it gets you meeting with other people. But also providing training opportunities. I mean, we need more people working. As you know, for every person we have staying and working in the territories, we receive $30,000 in federal transfers as well. It doesn't take a mathematician to add up quickly. If you get 100 to 1,000 extra people staying and working in your territory, that's additional funding, and that's going to be even more important as we move into this term of government. We expect there's going to be a significant deficit that we'll have to deal with when we go in there. We need to keep people here and attract people here to ensure that the funding we receive for everyone working and staying here continues to grow.

We see more and more centralization in Yellowknife and I think the reason is we need more ability to make decisions. We need more of that autonomy. The reasons are different in Yellowknife. It is the territorial capital, you know, there's a central government there. But it's important, I think, that we don't centralize too much in the capital. The regions need more ability to make decisions. I think that's important as well.

Q: Diane Archie is seeking re-election. What do you plan to do differently with your campaign?

A: I'm old-school. I campaign knocking on doors. I plan on knocking on everyone's doors. I plan on listening to what people have to say. I am accessible and I have always been accessible. When I was the mayor, I very much had an open-door policy. I had community meetings. You know, we have a lot of very big people that have been here a long time. It is important to me that I hear those voices. Some of those voices I'll hear the day after, if I am successful. Some of those voices you have to seek out. Whether it's a business committee, or people working in health, in education or housing, or people that are working on the front lines, those are the people you need to talk to. You need to find out what those issues are. That's kind-of my approach.

Q: Having knowledge of how Aurora College operates, what do you think needs change since the GNWT is in the process of converting it into a polytechnic university? How confident are you that it is going to deliver the change that the territorial government is hoping for?

A: I'm very confident. I'm confident in that group. I did have the opportunity to be the public administrator for a short period of time for them. I think it is working. When you look at the policies, we need to make sure that we are creating training opportunities for jobs. That goes back to my comments about retaining people here, ensuring that young people have an opportunity to get training for the positions that are in the territories. We need to keep them here. I mean $30,000 in transfer funds for everyone that is working and staying in the North, this is huge for us.

Q: What are some other challenges in your riding that you want to look into?

A: We're talking about the college, we are talking about developing programs that are tailored to positions that we have available in NWT. In whatever sector, whether it is health, whether it is infrastructure, ensuring that our youth, our folks coming out of high school now have an opportunity to get that training. To ensure we can retain them to continue to live and work here.

Q: Speaking of healthcare, what are your views on making it more accessible?

A: I go back to working together. I look at whether it is healthcare, whether it is housing. We have to look at a whole-of-community approach. I think we are missing opportunities. We have no Indigenous governments here working together, hand-in-glove with the GNWT, and working as a community. Whether it is accessing programs, accessing funds, whether it is getting opportunities that may be missed by not working hand-in-glove., ensuring those relationships are strong.

Q: What about employment opportunities? What are your views on improvements there?

A: We need to think outside the box. In our region in the past, I can go back to 20 or 25 years ago when the economy was much more robust. We need to look at opportunities again and for businesses to grow. We need to work together as a community. As I said, a whole community approach, to ensure that we are taking advantage of the opportunities that we can. Some of that means things not being centralized, having some of these senior university positions in the regions that gives people access to programs, allowing them to cut through the red tape a little easier. Things like that are important.

Q: Are there other issues you'd be advocating for?

A: I think it's important to hear from the business community to see what things they're facing, to see what concerns they have and what ideas they have, things that can help me do the job that I'm going to need to do. And again, I can only represent a constituency. You have to make sure that you're ensuring that their voices are heard.

Q: Working collectively as a community – would you like to elaborate more on how you plan to make that change and how you will work toward it?

A: Ensuring people's voices are heard, ensuring that the GNWT is working hand-in-glove with the Indigenous governments. Looking at opportunities where we can work together again, whether that's health programs or any programs that are out there. Again, it is working with colleagues, it's just working together to ensure that we're maximizing what we can afford, for the territory and for the region.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.

Aastha Sethi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio