Caroline Cochrane-Johnson, CEO of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, which runs the Centre for Northern Families, is challenging Daryl Dolynny in Range Lake and hoping to help fill the progressive space in the legislature left by departing Wendy Bisaro and Bob Bromley.
“I think it was a really nice composition when we had someone that was representing women, somebody that was representing the environment. So with the loss of Bob Bromley and Wendy Bisaro, I think it’s a huge detriment to the composition [of the assembly], and I think we need to have that representation brought back to the table.”
Though focused on Yellowknife’s social issues, Cochrane-Johnson wants voters to know that she has a solid set of business and finance skills. Since taking over the Centre for Northern Families, Cochrane has helped bring the organization back from a $300,000 debt to a balanced budget; before that she spent seven years running the Shuswap Family Resource Centre in Salmon Arm, B.C. She came to social work, however, relatively late in life, having spent her early career running several small businesses in Yellowknife and working in the finance department of her father’s mineral exploration company, Titan Drilling Ltd.
“I think I have a lot to offer. I have a strong background in business, financial management and policy development. And I believe it’s an asset that I’m a Northerner, that I’ve been here for over 50 years and that I’m also Metis.”
Cochrane-Johnson hopes to use her experience to push the GNWT’s social issues envelope and change the culture of consultation: “What I tend to notice about the territories, is when they’re looking at social issues, they tend to exclude the people with the expertise, and you need to have everyone at the table… NGOs, people who have lived experience.”
One of her key priorities is improving mental health services, especially in relation to the incoming housing-first model: “If we do housing first and we just provide people with a whole bunch of houses and just stick them in without giving them the mental health and the wraparound support, they will fail. We’re setting them up to fail.”
She also wants the territorial government to pay more attention to the growing shortage of housing and supports for seniors. While she supports the GNWT coming to some sort of agreement with Avens, she also wants to see if the current Stanton Hospital building can be partially repurposed as a senior’s facility once the new hospital is built.
Improving education in the territory, from daycare to post secondary education, is a key part of dealing with social issues of all stripes, Cochrane-Johnson says. She wants to see the introduction of a curriculum for certified daycares, “so we can insure children have the developmental assets they need to succeed.” At a post-secondary level, she advocates for using more online technologies to bolster the relationship between institutions in the NWT and southern universities for long-distance training and correspondence courses. She also wants to see the GNWT’s apprenticeship programs expanded.
“I like apprenticeships because you can be a carpenter, a welder, an oil burner mechanic, and that skill is transferable. It’s not just a mine training course where if the mine closes you have no skill. So skill bases that are transferable and can be used in different markets.”
“Mineral exploration is still the backbone of the economy, so we need to support businesses that are working with the mines by revising or re-looking at the business incentive policy. But we all know the market is low at this time, so we also need to look at other areas.”
This includes tourism, forestry, fisheries and renewable resource industries, she says.
“My biggest thing is we need to develop a long term economic strategic plan that’s comprehensive. We’ve got mines saying they might be closing in 15 years, so we need to have a minimum of a 15-year plan, and we need to adhere to it. We also need to not just be looking at the economy and growth but also looking at healthy families, what would people need, and the environment: what do we need to do to preserve and protect our environment?”
In the short term, she wants to see the GNWT expand and promote its retrofit subsidy programs to help people reduce their household energy consumption. Over the longer term, the GNWT should be investing in renewable technologies like solar, biomass and wind.
Having a background in mineral exploration, she’s certainly not against resource development. However, “it has to be done as clean as possible,” she says. With fracking regulations likely back on the table after the election, she wants to see a “public forum or plebiscite” on the issue.
“If they’re spending money on reports, and the reports are saying ask the people, then we need to ask the people. Stop throwing our money away and actually do what we say we’re going to do.”