When you disagree with just about every move the territorial government has made over the last four years, the only thing to do, if you’re Kieron Testart, is challenge it head-on.
“It’s no mistake that I’m running against a cabinet minister and an incumbent,” said Testart, a former Liberal candidate in the federal election who is now set to contest Kam Lake, home turf for Dave Ramsay, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
“I disagree with the government’s approach to investment in oil and gas and hydraulic fracturing; a lot of citizens have deep concerns,” Testart said in an interview with EDGE.
Ramsay and Premier Bob McLeod have touted a bitumen pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the Beaufort Sea. The proposal has received no support from industry and Testart is not surprised.
“A major pipeline project is not sustainable at a time when the industry and the world are looking for ways to reduce carbon consumption,” said Testart.
“We need to return to responsible resource development and diversify our economy. Those don’t seem to be on the agenda of our past government.”
“I want to challenge that approach and the approach to transparency and accountability as well,” said Testart, who wants a public discussion “to determine what shape of government we would like to participate in.”
Testart said the public “needs to have more of a say in who becomes premier and a cabinet minister. There needs to be accountability to the public in that process,” which is now conducted in secret.
“I don’t think we need to be beholden to whether we continue on with consensus the way it has been, or whether we adopt a parliamentary style of political parties. Let’s look at all the options,” he said.
Government is not an economy
Testart said the major challenge for the NWT is a “cost-of-living crisis complicated by a diminishing funding base and a population in sharp decline.”
“Government jobs are not an economy. We need to focus on the private sector and incentives for small business growth and investment,” said Testart, who advocates investment culture, education and local food production.
“In Quebec, the culture industry is huge. They export cultural products across the French-speaking world. The NWT has a rich cultural diversity and could be doing the same.”
Testart would put Aurora College on a 10-year plan to grow it into “a place where you can learn a trade without leaving the territory to get a quality education. We could draw educators and students and stimulate Yellowknife, Fort Smith and Inuvik.”
Testart said the territory needs to deal with the cost of living that is even more crushing outside the larger centres.
“We can’t keep subsidizing fuel, food and freight. It’s an endless cycle. We need to stimulate agriculture and aquaculture and provided food for northerners. It works in Yukon, it can work here.”
Step up the game
Testart has lived and worked in the NWT for most of his life, and lives in Yellowknife with his son Corbin. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, he served as a deputy sheriff and as policy analyst for the GNWT.
“A lot of Northerners have concerns about how transparent and accountable our government is,” he said.
“Devolution has given us more responsibility, and we need to step up our game, and make sure we’re more transparent and accountable, so taxpayers and voters can hold government to account and clearly understand what government is doing and how its spending their money.”
Testart would strengthen the powers of the conflict of interest commissioner “so we’re not seeing thousands spent on partisan advertising” by MLAs in the months leading up to the territorial election.
“Just because we don’t have political parties doesn’t mean we don’t have politicians with their own colours that they want to emphasize over their duties as legislators,” he said.
“We need to make sure the rules are clear and that money is being spent appropriately. And we also need make sure anyone who wants to challenge an incumbent has the ability to fundraise and get their message to voters.”