This weekend, Conservative candidate for the upcoming federal election Floyd Roland made the first of many trips he will make to vote-rich Yellowknife between now and the federal election, to meet with his campaign team and develop strategies. Roland retired as premier in 2011 and has been mayor of his home town Inuvik since.
What made you decide to run?
FR: When I retired from territorial politics, the questions started coming from across the North: when would I be stepping in federally. I said then that I would seriously consider it.
Seeing the economy in the state it’s in – if it wasn’t for the investment by the federal and territorial government in the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway, we would be hurting in a big way.
Oil and gas has gone quiet. It’s much the same as when I stepped up in 1995 to run for the territorial assembly. Things aren’t looking good. This is my home and I have to step up, instead of being on the outside and complaining about what’s happening and not happening.
EDGE: What are you bringing to the table?
FR: My experience in moving files forward, and building solid teams and networks when it comes time to make a decision, making the decision. I think that experience will help going forward, and to get the message across, you have to be on the winning team.
In my role with the territorial government, I liked meeting with the prime minister. He was straight-up with what he said, and stuck with what he said.
I’m hoping that with the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut we’ll have a solid northern caucus that will influence the discussion.
Right now, we’re silent. We’re thankful for Yukon and Nunavut, but we’re devoid in having the Northwest Territories be part of the dialogue.
EDGE: What message needs to be delivered from the North that the prime minister isn’t hearing now?
FR: It would be more of ‘Here is a change in focus we need,’ [to] show that we have the team to take a serious look at how we can start doing things differently in the North. My experience from the territorial government was: any initiative we tried to get through, the work was 10 times harder, because it was harder to get in the door and harder to get our business case in front of the appropriate people.
EDGE: Why was that?
FR: We’re not aligned with the party.
EDGE: Are politics in the country that crude that you must have an MLA or an MP who is a member of the sitting government to present your business case?
FR: You need enough people there when the decision is made to move ahead to influence the decision. You have to be in the tent. It’s much the same as I told regional leaders: we’ve set this up, the table and chair are there for you. If you want to be in government, you have to be at the table together. Let’s share ideas and work together. If we don’t, we agree to disagree. That’s the way it works.
Roland in town this weekend, attending the MLA BBQ (in NDP orange) and speaking with Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro
EDGE: What ideas do you want to put forward from the Northwest Territories; what needs to happen here?
FR: I’m focused on trying to build a stronger economy, whether that’s oil and gas or the mineral section. If we have the right tools in the Northwest Territories, we can do more. That’s a key message that needs to continue. Hence, going ahead with an agreement-in-principle on devolution. We have more people signing on and that could influence discussion on how we as northerners can move ahead when these different projects come across the table.
EDGE: There’s no shortage of projects, but there seems to be a shortage of demand.
FR: That’s true. In my role as mayor, I’m focused on natural gas liquids. We’ve had to bring in propane from Alberta. That’s a short-term fix. We should be tapping into conventional fields in the delta, converting it and building a customer base in the North. We could build the capacity in the North.
EDGE: Some question the continued use of fossil fuels amid global warming.
FR: Clearly the issue of greenhouse gas and climate change is at the forefront of people’s minds when you look at melting permafrost and low water levels. We’re bringing fuel from Alberta. If we produced those products in the North we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transportation, and by using fuel that is lower in emissions, and less costly. With the price of fuel in the North, this type of technology could be affordable here. We would be building capacity, reducing the cost of living and greenhouse gas emissions.
EDGE: What would be your first ‘ask’ as the MP for the Northwest Territories?
FR: The approach I brought when I became a member of the assembly was to get familiar with the process, see how the system is working and how do we influence it. One of my first meetings with Jim Flaherty [the late federal finance minister] was to tell him that I wasn’t there to ask for money, but for tools. We built a solid relationship and some of the tools we got were borrowing and being able to live within our revenues.
EDGE: The GNWT asked for $1.2 billion in extra borrowing capacity; it got $800 million. Was that enough?
FR: It’s nice to have in your back pocket, but one needs to be careful when going into a borrowing cycle. The government did a good job in building a business case. Every assembly will have to do its best to live with what it has. There will always be more asks than the budget will allow.
EDGE: Are these hard times for the Northwest Territories?
FR: From my perspective, we’ve been through quite a number of cycles in the Northwest Territories. We’ve seen oil and gas come and go a number of times. The numbers show a difficult road ahead. That’s why we need a voice that brings a balanced approach to how we do government in the North.
EDGE: How do you get more people to move to the territory?
FR: One of the things that’s been talked about is the tax base; Ottawa does have a place in that discussion, and I would be willing to try to convince the appropriate people that it’s something we should be looking at.
EDGE: What ideas do you have for reducing the cost of living in the territories?
FR: I go back to what I’ve been saying at conferences on energy and energy development: the two factors that impact us the greatest in a remote community is [first] the cost of energy. If we can come up with a plan to address that. The road to Inuvik brings us closer to those resources. The other is rightsizing projects like converting natural gas to liquids. We could use that in other remote communities to reduce the cost of energy. If we can steer federal investment dollars in those directions, it would help. We could look at setting up a grid that would deliver energy to the south. You would have to pull all of the people together for that, but that’s going to be our challenge.
EDGE: What about the cost of food and accommodations? Those were identified in government surveys as key factors in discouraging people from moving North.
FR: I would look at some of the cost studies. Some costs are actually quite close to Edmonton. The challenge will be the capacity of our communities to build affordable infrastructure so people can afford to live in remote communities. Developing the food [garden] program and moving it further North; we used to do it – can we do it again?
EDGE: Anything you want to add as to why voters should support the Conservatives over the NDP or Liberals?
FR: When you look at the big picture, the NWT has had more attention paid to it under prime minister Harper than under any prime minister going back to John Diefenbaker’s time. Devolution, giving control to northerners, the investment in the Inuvik-Tuk road, the project development report for the Mackenzie Valley highway… I hope that being part of the team we can continue to build on that.