Roland wants to make his own path, including advocating for a Youth Mental Health Act
It wasn’t inevitable that Sam Roland would enter politics, but growing up watching your dad give and take political punches on TV has got to make an impression.
“When he’d always come home and be able to smile at the end of the day it would make me feel better,” says the 20-year-old son of Floyd Roland and manager of Yellowknife’s Jiffy Lube who’s challenging Premier Bob McLeod in Yellowknife South. “He’s definitely a role model. But I’m not Floyd Roland. I’m Samuel Roland.”
Roland was only one when his father was elected as the MLA for Inuvik. He moved from Inuvik to Yellowknife when he was eight, after Roland Sr. became finance minister en route to becoming premier.
“We’ve always had our disagreements, we’ve always had our agreements,” says Roland, adding his father didn’t learn of his plan to run for office until several months after he made the decision. “Even in school I’d goof around and say, Mr. Speaker, this territory needs change and it needs it now, when we’d watch segments of the legislative assembly on TV.”
“Yeah, I’m proud to be a Roland, yeah, I’m proud he’s my father, but I’m willing to make my own path.”
Representing Yellowknife South
Roland’s main pitch is that he’ll actually represent Yellowknife South’s interests in the legislative assembly.
“Yellowknife South hasn’t had a voice in eight years. It’s not necessarily Bob’s fault. Bob’s a good guy, and he’s definitely worked hard. However when you’re premier or a minister you got other obligations than your constituents.
“Now I have no intention of being a minister, I have no intention of running for premier, I simply want to devote my time to the constituents of YK South … I want to be the one to hear you on every concern or issue you have. Being young and ambitious, I have a need to get you answers.”
He’s also hoping his age – so far he’s the youngest candidate by a sizable margin – will make him a good representative for the youth of the NWT, who often don’t get heard in the legislature.
“A lot of youth ages 18-24 don’t get out and vote because they feel like their vote doesn’t count,” he says.
If elected, Roland hopes to advocate for a separate Youth Mental Health Act.
“Seventy percent of these disorders have their onset during childhood and adolescence. For ages 15-24, you’re looking at 3.9 per 10,000 people as the suicide rate. We got a population of 40,000! How many suicides is it going to take before someone actually looks at it?”
Devolution, oil and gas
Following his father’s line of thinking on the economy, Roland sees resource development as the key to the future, not shying away from advocating for increasingly unpopular (at least in Yellowknife) oil and gas development.
“You have to start looking at all the options, renewable and nonrenewable – there has to be an equal balance between it all. We got the Canol Shale, which is full of oil, then you got the natural gas up in the Beaufort Delta – we can start doing research into those and looking at resource development. That will create jobs for Northerners.”
“We have to look at being prosperous and getting rich, for lack of a better word, off devolution, because we are now in more control of our resources. And if we start getting resources from the natural gas in the Beaufort Delta, we’re now profiting off that which gives us more money for social programs.”
Housing, Aboriginal education and a territory-wide outlook
Roland wants to see the GNWT increase investment in low-income housing as well as raise the income threshold that disqualifies people for rent subsidies.
“For every housing option that’s not full-priced there are wait lists,” he says. “If someone left town, or one of these office spaces [is now empty because some business] left town, let’s turn it into an apartment for low-income housing.”
He also wants to see more money put towards Aboriginal language and cultural programming across the territory. Though he adds, a big hindrance to traditional practices comes from the simple cost of living; just getting out on the land can be an expensive proposition in many communities with sky-high gasoline prices.
To bring down these costs, as well as spur economic development, Roland wants to see the GNWT redouble its efforts to get major infrastructure projects like the Mackenzie Valley Highway off the ground.
“People here have no idea how much it costs up North,” he says.
And this is his last major pitch: growing up in Inuvik and Yellowknife, he says he’s well placed to understand and navigate the often fraught relationship between Yellowknife and the rest of the territory that defines so much of our politics.
“Any decision you make as an MLA, you’re going to affect the whole territory. I have experience in the North, above the Arctic Circle, and in the North in general, down here; and they’re two different climates, two different people, two different lifestyles”