N.W.T. Election 2023: Michael Wallington’s Hay River North interview

Wallington says his experience leading multiple egg production boards has prepared him to advance the interests of residents in a consensus government, arguing that solutions require the involvement of everyone with a stake in the outcome.

Key platform objectives include health, education, new businesses and public safety, though he says that feedback from the community will ultimately direct him.

Wallington says he would like to see more education devoted to mental health and available services. He wants more support to help local businesses succeed and compete in a changing market, and wants to hear from youth about education to cultivate an environment in which they can succeed.

More information: Michael Wallington's Facebook page

Greg McMeekin, incumbent RJ Simpson and Hans Wiedemann are also vying for the seat.

This interview was recorded on October 23, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Simona Rosenfield: Why are you running for MLA?

Michael Wallington: Very short, I sold my business and I have the time, desire, and the election came and offered the opportunity to run. So I decided to run.

Q: When did you decide to run?

A: Honestly, not until Wednesday, after careful deliberation with my family. We’re foster parents, we have a lot going on. And it was a family decision.

Q: What do you hope to see addressed in the next assembly?

A: You know, I'm just hearing people say – I feel like politicians are losing a little bit of their goodwill with the public. And I'm just trying to go around and tell people I'm here to listen. I have concerns of my own, obviously, but I'm here for the people and I want to hear what they want done. That's my aim going forward.

Q: What are people saying to you?

A: What affects people at a base level: families, health, education. They're worried about public safety. What about opportunities for new business? They just want to know that possibilities are being explored to the fullest and then conveyed to them so they have some assurances that things are getting done.

Q: What are your ideas for supporting and advancing healthcare for constituents?

A: In my experience, mental health and addictions are something that affect people across the board, no matter what demographic. I would like to see maybe more education to the public about the resources that are there, and also the government continuing to improve those resources so that they can fit many people's needs.

Q: Presently, there’s no treatment centre in the North. Residents have to go south for addictions treatment, which has drawn criticism. What are your thoughts?

A: I can understand the criticism, because we would all like to see resources available to us locally. And I think we need to explore that. But as we see with the constant crisis across the country, health professionals are not easy to come by. I think that's going to be some deep digging to see whether it's doable in the North. And of course, I would love to see resources like that in the North, because it just makes it more accessible for people, especially northerners who like to stay close to home.

Q: Moving on to the economy, what are your ideas and plans for business opportunities?

A: I would really have to talk to the business community about that.

I ran a poultry farm here and getting workers in was very tough. But we have a lot of people in the North that are willing to work and education is one aspect of getting more workers to create more business.

Dig deeper about government programs to help small business get off the ground, and the territorial government to help in certain red tape, to get small business possibly bidding on government contracts, instead of just big companies that have those resources.

There's always a lot of small issues that, if they are addressed, can help improve the big picture, and I look into digging into all of those.

Q: You mentioned government red tape. How will you get things done more efficiently?

A: Well, if I had that golden answer, I'd be the prime minister of the country.

There's always got to be red tape, because there's regulation to protect consumers, to protect a lot of different individual interests and collective interests. It's a matter of figuring out which of this red tape is redundant. And the red tape that is there, how do we help people navigate through that without alleviating their responsibility to do the work themselves as well?

It's a big, nuanced question, and I think it requires stakeholders across the board – both from business and from government – to talk about those things and to keep refining it.

Q: You spoke earlier about the link between lasting employment for northern businesses and education. How would you improve education?

A: I think we need to reach out to our youth and say: what do you love about the North? What do you wish you could change?

There's aspects of the North that can't change. Our isolation, for one. And just the number of people we have here. The draw to the big city is always something that draws kids, my own son included, who went to Toronto for university.

So, how do we create the opportunities and the environment for them to get experience, to help their communities, to be good neighbours, and to accomplish their own personal, professional goals while coming back to the North?

It always takes stakeholder involvement. You never want to dictate down. You always want to ask for feedback and then try to meet those needs. If we do that then we will solve some of those issues bit by bit.

Q: Have you started communicating with the public to gauge what they're looking for?

A: I'm a little late to the game. I'm getting my resources together. I do intend on knocking on doors, because that's the only reason I run, is to listen to the people, hear their concerns and take those to the Legislative Assembly, to advocate for Hay River and for the Northwest Territories as a whole. So, door knocking and conversation is going to be a huge aspect for me.

Q: You mentioned public safety earlier. What are you looking to address?

A: That's a really complicated subject. For Hay River, I think there's been a lot of re-offenders and people aren't seeing any consequences for these people that are breaking the law. And there's issues and reasons for that. I think that people would like some of those reasons addressed.

Changing the whole judicial code might not be possible, but are there made-in-the-North solutions that we could possibly address because people are just afraid. They don't want their own castles feeling unsafe. And everyone should feel safe in their home, in their community.

At the same time, those people that are re-offending, what resources can we use to help them so they don't continue to be in the situation that they are in? And create some accountability. There has to be accountability with crime, and how do we do it fairly and justly?

Q: I'd like to address directly drug-related crime in the community. Are you referring to that?

A: Yeah, a lot of it stems from that, let's be honest. There are a lot of aspects of culture where people have grown up in situations that aren't offering them opportunity, or they're not taking advantage of opportunities that are there, just because of their mental mind state with addictions.

We as the North and we as a country – and honestly, I've talked to people all over the world, this is a problem everywhere – how do we address it as a society? Because we cannot leave these people behind. It will not make the situation better. And they deserve attention and care and respect just as anyone does in our society. It's a big problem, but it's something we just have to keep nibbling on and attacking head-on with empathy and accountability.

Q: You've spoken about business opportunities as a way to stimulate the economy. What do you bring to the table as a previous business owner?

A: I never really wanted to get into politics because I like controlling my own destiny as a business owner. When you go to get something done, you normally can get it done a lot faster because your stakeholder is yourself and your team that you work with in the job.

I've lived in the North a long time and it seems like we've been pretty stagnant. People leave a job, people come back and fill that job. In this new economy, things online, there's so many different aspects that are changing business.

How do we look forward to creating opportunity here and sustainable opportunity that serves people's own individual needs and the community? Because there's a lot of things in the North you realize you've got to go out for. How can we create opportunities for these things that we keep looking outside the territory for? How do we create opportunities for people to supply those needs within the community so we have more businesses, more opportunity, more revenue, just more of everything for the North?

Q: Over the past three years, Hay River residents had to evacuate due to floods and forest fires. What are your plans to combat the effects of climate change in the community?

A: It's hard to forecast a disaster and the towns have been getting bashed by people. They're doing as well a job as you can at forecasting. It's up to the community, I would like to see better communication – it's hard to say.

We just need to keep working together. The North has been reliant on a lot of energies that might not be environmentally friendly. How do we use federal programs to innovate our energy systems in the North? How do we protect our communities with infrastructure and emergency plans and possibly, going forward, building plans as well?

It's a multi-faceted approach. But like I said, nothing is ever insulated in a bubble. There's a lot of factors that involve people's safety and mitigating these situations and preventing them in the future.

Q: Is there anything else you would tackle in the next assembly, if elected?

A: Right now, as I said, I have yet to engage the community further. I've had casual conversations, but I really look forward to engaging my possible constituents in Hay River North, to see what their concerns are and tackle the ones that are front and centre.

And at the same time, I'm also looking out for everyone. There's a lot of things I don't know, and those are the things that I wish people would bring to me, and things that maybe the territorial government hasn't broached yet. I would like to see everyone have an opportunity to hear their issues or concerns met, or at least addressed.

Q: Last question. Why are you the right candidate for the job?

A: I moved to the Northwest Territories for business, but I had an opportunity to sit on boards – the NWT egg marketing board – and I've had an opportunity to sit at the Egg Farmers of Canada board.

We have a system with supply management, and eggs and poultry and dairy, that the rest of the world envies. We take care of Canadians. We provide them something to eat. It's a very nuanced system. And I've managed to work within that system, with other provinces, to tackle some pretty big issues.

I feel like those skills and those experience at board levels will help me really enter a consensus government situation in the GNWT, and be able to work within those frameworks to build relationships, so that the NWT as a whole – our concerns and ideas – are met without a lot of confrontation and politicking, and more of just getting things done.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said, "I sold my poultry company just recently so we’re closing out a business. We have business with the GNWT that we’re resolving. So, there is a debt there. It’s under $75,000 and we’re working with them.”

Simona Rosenfield, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio