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  • Rylund Johnson

ROUND TABLE SPEECH


When we are first elected, each member give a speech in the assembly to introduce themselves to the public and their new colleagues. I've decided to post mine here as a reminder of where I was when I started this new career, and to not lose sight of the commitments I was elected on. When I gave this speech it was still uncertain as to whether I would survive the recount against incumbent Cory Vanthuyne, but here I am.

I want to thank everyone who helped me get here, please hold me to account over the next few years. "I have faith in the process, and hopefully I will be returning here. Colleagues, people of the Northwest Territories, I am honoured by this opportunity to stand in this Legislature before all of you and share my priorities in the coming four years. Firstly, I want to introduce myself for those of you who I did not meet yesterday and for the many residents of the Northwest Territories who may not know me. I am 29 years old, which makes me by far the youngest Member of this Legislature. I was also born and raised in Summerland, BC, and I know that there is sometimes uncertainty when a person is not born and raised in the North, but I assure you I earned the trust of the residents of Yellowknife North, and, in time, I hope to earn all of your trust. To those Members, I hope to earn the privilege to invite me to your communities so I can meet your families, so I can speak to your constituents. Over my four years, I hope to get to all of the communities of the Northwest Territories.

I am a lawyer by trade. I am deeply passionate about policy work and deeply passionate about the work we do here in this Legislature. Yellowknife is my home. It is where I have learned so much. It has given me so much opportunity. It's where I want to raise a family. I want to recognize that I come from a place of privilege. I came up here as a lawyer. I have never known what it's like to have the government take my children away. I have never known what it's like to live in a community where the jobs are few and far between, and that is why I intend to listen. I intend to listen to all of you during this Assembly, and I want you to recognize that, when I speak, it is not just me speaking. I am speaking for the constituents of Yellowknife North. I have a very diverse riding. It is a riding full of permanent residents who could not vote, but they are still my constituents. It is a riding full of doctors and lawyers and senior bureaucrats and policy experts who have educated me on the various areas of law. It is a riding with people struggling on income assistance. When I speak, I speak for my most vulnerable constituents, and I will give you that same service, that over the next four years, when you speak, I recognize you speak for the people who elected you and sent you here. That is what I think we all have to remember. We represent the people of the Northwest Territories. I would like to thank each and every one of my constituents for taking the time to share their stories, concerns, and aspirations throughout this campaign. I am humbled by the chance to be their voice for the next four years. As a Caucus, we were handed an overwhelming mandate for change in this election: change the way we invest; change the way we address our most pressing issues; change the way we do business in this Legislature. We have a duty to our constituents to ensure that's reflected in our priorities. I will now talk about what I believe that change looks like. Change to me is a government pushing for big strides to better our society. Our public service contains some of the foremost policy experts in the world. No one is better suited to enact policy than our bureaucrats who work and live in the North. Now, I recognize we are going to enter into this game of "survivor" to select our Cabinet and Premier over the next three weeks. I myself will not be seeking Cabinet. I intend to be a Regular Member who advocates for my constituents. Let us not let this process divide us. After that vote, let us meet in Caucus and come together. Over the next four years, we will make hard decisions. They will not always be unanimous, but let them not divide us. After those votes, we will come together in Caucus and we will be whole again. In my platform, I advocated and I got elected on a platform of progressive social policies, one of which I would like to speak to is universal daycare, and why universal. The word "universal" does not discriminate. It does not matter if you are white or Indigenous. It does not matter if you are from a community or Yellowknife. It allows us to enact policy that applies to all of the people of the Northwest Territories. Let us think bigger, dare to lead, and be the change we wish to see. We are all here because we won. We have earned this, and now we must be leaders. We all fight for our constituents. I recognize that, but reactionary is not the key. We must create a user-focused government. We do not want a faceless bureaucracy. We are small; we can be nimble. When someone comes to our government, especially in our communities, they know that person by name. We can hear our constituents, and we can get what they want. We must try to find solutions, not be the reason for inaction, not create red tape for our Northerners but listen. I emphasize universal daycare because early childhood makes sure that every child ages zero to three has a safe, fun place to thrive. If we want to revive our Indigenous languages, we need to create language nests. Universal daycare is a place to create those language nests. We were asked to see what our priorities look like over the next four years and what the NWT looks like in the next 10 years. I would also like to think about what the NWT looks like over the next 30 years. I believe one of the first things this Assembly should do is declare that we are in a climate emergency and recognize that all of our decision making going forward must always keep that fact in mind, for, as we advocate for social change, it means nothing if we do not take meaningful climate action. I believe we have leaders we can send to the international stage. Just as we have seen in the pacific islands and the leaders in Greenland, we can probably do more by sending our leaders to speak on the international stage about the effects of climate change here in the North, we can do more to lower emissions by convincing others to do so probably than we can lower them here in the North. Now, I think it is important to speak about mining at this time because often, as an environmentalist, my views on mining get mischaracterized. Mining and the environment do not have to be polarized. In fact, I would like to see the first carbon-neutral mine in the NWT. I would like to see us use green mining technology that we can export around the world. One of the best things I think we could do for the City of Yellowknife and for the Northwest Territories is to have a gold mine right outside our boundaries, and I recognize that is scary. I recognize that is scary as we stand on 237,000 tonnes of arsenic, but we must remember that we must have faith in our land and water boards and our regulatory processes; we must have faith that new mining technology will not allow another Giant Mine disaster to happen. As the world looks to rare earth metals, it's important to remember that solar panels are not made of wood and lithium batteries do not grow on trees. We have an opportunity here in the North to be leaders, and an international race to the bottom for commodity prices does not benefit us, does not benefit Canada. I want to tell you that I believe this last government got it wrong when it came to mining. We sent our Cabinet to Vancouver to promote it, but we did not send our Indigenous governments with them and we did not send our land and water boards together. This conversation about exploration is meaningless without all parties at the table, without all parties buying in. I believe change looks like a government that leads instead of follows. I heard throughout this campaign where my constituents want us to take the lead. One of those such proposals is a guaranteed liveable income, also known as a universal basic income. We have to recognize that we are not exempt from the processes of automation and the labour market changes that are happening around the world. When I look forward to the year 2050, I want to see a universal income in the North. I recognize that some priorities may not be accomplished in one election cycle, but we cannot lose sight of them. We cannot lose sight and hit "reset" every election cycle. I want to create priorities that plan for 10, 20, 30 years. We have an opportunity to establish a hub of students for this kind of economy by building a northern university in our capital. However, I believe this issue has become unnecessarily divisive. I would like to see this Assembly commit to net-zero job loss at Fort Smith campus. I would like to see this Assembly do the same for the Inuvik campus. We are talking about expansion into a university. We are not talking about moving Aurora College to Yellowknife. We have to think bigger. We must recognize that it is our university and that it is a university that must serve the needs of our students first and foremost. That means training nurses, social workers, and teachers to respond to the unique cultural context in each of our communities. We need programs focused on skills like geoscience, graphic design, environmental rehabilitation, which are desperately needed in our northern organizations and put our students to work. We need trade programs that focus on green construction and retrofit techniques that are designed specifically for our infrastructure and climate. If we achieve this vision, I am confident this institution can establish our territory as a home of research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in our Arctic, but we must act now if we are ever going to get there. For our economy to grow, we need to attract and retain people. I believe we need to take a new approach this time around to finally achieve those aims. The world is full of workers who don't need to be in a traditional office nine to five, but it is also full of companies who can have satellite corporate offices virtually anywhere. We have a unique territorial financing formula and a lot of latitude to fund incentives to get people and retain people in the North, so let's take up the torch where our past government stalled. Let's get the incentives right and make a strong case for entrepreneurs and workers to join our vibrant northern economy. I believe we need to prioritize a green economy. Reducing energy consumption and saving costs on energy and logistics are crucial to our future. A big way we can affect that change as a government is putting serious focus into retrofit programs. It is a proven way to generate economic activity, save costs in the long run, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is a way we can create goodpaying jobs for our people, bring down their utility bills, and improve their quality of life; and we can do this while increasing demand for products which can be produced locally.


I believe change looks like a government with harm reduction at its core. People across our territory are struggling with intergenerational trauma, addictions, and mental health. I believe this Assembly must take leadership in reforming our supports for the most vulnerable people, in their most vulnerable times. Let's make real investments in Housing First to bring the stability folks need to address their challenges. It works, and we should put the money behind it so it can succeed. Let's implement programs such as a managed consumption program for alcohol and establish a supervised consumption site for drugs in our capital. These models save lives, help break the cycle of addiction, and help save long-term care costs in the healthcare system. It's been proven in Canada and abroad, and it's time we acted on that evidence, not get caught up in old prohibition debates. For these programs to work, we need to staff our services with wraparound support. We need to prioritize getting more addictions and mental health professionals in our communities. I also believe change looks like a justice system that is more just and culturally relevant. There is a general agreement among my constituents that our justice system is not working. I believe the single biggest thing we can do to fix it is to bring our focus to restorative justice. In the coming weeks, I will be pushing several initiatives under that theme for inclusion in our mandate. Change looks like a government pushing to realize the true vision and intent of devolution. That means recognizing that the next step is devolving more powers to Indigenous governments and communities. That starts with settling our land claims. I believe this is the single most powerful thing we can do to advance reconciliation and end the uncertainty in our economy. The next step is handing over the reins to some of these services and getting Indigenous governments the resources they need to deliver them directly to their constituents. I will make our regions stronger and help our service delivery better reflect the reality of our clients. Change looks like transparency in government. As other jurisdictions accelerate towards greater transparency, we continue to foster a cloak of opacity. We need to be advocates for a government that is transparent, effective, and responsive for the sake of our constituents. I heard no shortage of great ideas from within the public service when I was knocking doors. As elected officials, it is our job to bring those ideas to the top and make sure we can implement them. Colleagues, we have a lot of work ahead of us to be the change our constituents asked us to be. In getting to know each of you, I know none of you takes this responsibility lightly. As we get down to the business of governing, I have full confidence that we can be the most progressive, productive Assembly this territory has seen in a long time. I look forward to working with each of you in the spirit of consensus and in the service of our constituents. Lastly, I want you to know that I will always be upfront and honest with you, and I ask that you do the same. As we commence this game of survivor for our Cabinet, Speaker, and Premier, I can tell you that my vote is open for anyone. It is open for those whose priorities align with mine. I will listen to you, and I ask that you do the same. Thank you."


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Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly

PO Box 1320  |  Yellowknife, NT  X1A 2L9