N.W.T. Election 2023: Richard Ross Jr's Mackenzie Delta interview

Ross Jr says there is a need for stable and energy-efficient housing in his district. As an MLA, he says he would advocate for aftercare programs and more recreational opportunities in the region.

To see change, he says constituents have to work together. "I'd like to see if the MLAs work together. A big thing is not only working for your own people, but working for the whole NWT will make everything better," he said.

George Nerysoo and incumbent Frederick Blake Jr are also running for the seat.

This interview was recorded on October 26, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Aastha Sethi: Tell us about yourself.

Richard Ross Jr: I'm married with my wife for 20-plus years. We met each other in high school. We have three daughters. One has finished her university. Our second daughter is in her third year of nursing. My youngest daughter is in her third year of education. I am originally from Aklavik, NWT. My family still resides there. I am a journeyman carpenter by trade. I have my interprovincial Red Seal. I am currently the maintenance coordinator for the Department of Infrastructure with the GNWT in Inuvik. I have seven staff members working under me. We do maintenance on our infrastructure buildings in Inuvik, and in surrounding communities, which staff travels to assist with the repairs needed.

Q: Why did you decide to run for office this year?

A: I have been keeping an eye on politics for the past 20-plus years. My girls are of an age that they're pretty-much on their own. I thought it would be a good time to get back and try and help our people out. What I have seen is that communication hasn't been there. I want to try to work for people, make it a little better for them for the future.

I'm not going to change everything within the first few weeks or a year, but try and get started on that to see what we can do.

Q: What are a few of those things?

A: Looking at housing. Housing is always a big issue. Health is another one. A regional health centre, I've also been hearing. All those things tie into each other. We don't have a stable foundation with housing. You may fall off the lease side. Try and make a healthier lifestyle for our people. I have been raised to always help people when we can.

Q: In what ways will you advocate for improved housing?

A: Even living in Inuvik, we've got some old housing that's probably older than I am. We need to start looking at some energy-efficient housing. Smaller housing for singles, or another one too would be working hand-in-hand with the on-the-land programs. Once we get some of these people out there, that's where a lot of them were brought up. They don't need to be told what to do. Everything just kicks in and that's where a lot of them enjoy their time as well – on the land. Even small housing would help people out there. That's where they become healthy.

Q: On being healthy, what are your thoughts on making healthcare more accessible and having more treatment centres?

A: Right now, a lot of our people are being sent out. When they're done with their treatment, they come home. There's no aftercare and that's really not helping them to better themselves. They're trying to make themselves better for their families, for their future. I think aftercare programs would really help for them to become healthy.

Q: Speaking of infrastructure, what are your views on accelerating the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Highway?

A: I've heard a lot of that from constituents as well. We have a lot of issues with that. The Dempster Highway was closed quite a bit during the winter season. With the water levels being pretty low this past year, we couldn't really barge things up and down the Mackenzie. So, if you had the Mackenzie Valley Highway, you could have access right up to Inuvik. The communities, even in the Sahtu, that would benefit them as well.

Q: Do you think you'll be able to push for that?

A: We can advocate for it. The MLAs have to all work together. That's another thing I'd like to see, if the MLAs work together. A big thing is not only working for your own people, but working for the whole NWT will make everything better. If we all work together to become stronger.

Q: Frederick Blake Jr is seeking re-election this time. As an MLA, what will you do differently?

A: What I am trying to do differently is communicate with the constituents. That's really lacking right now. Just work with the constituents and make sure their voices are being heard. Bring things to the forefront. Work hard for them.

Q: If you're elected, what are the first three things you'll work on?

A: First three things would be communicating with the constituents. Work hard for them. Communicate and work well with the MLAs to make everything stronger. Make the NWT stronger. Like I said earlier, we have got housing issues, health and wellness. We always hear about medical travel. We also need educators that are still moving up. Whether they're in junior high, senior high. We have to get them ready for the future. Those are going to be our future leaders. If we don't do that then we failed, right? There's more than three things, but those are a few I would really look at. Communicating with our people and housing, health, education – everything ties in together.

Q: Would you like to share more about yourself that our audience would like to know?

A: I'd like to add that both my wife and I, we used to coach soccer. I did a lot of sports growing up. I've also sat on the Nihtat Gwich'in Council, the Inuvik Native Band Council, and volunteered with the Muskrat Jamboree in Inuvik.

I try to share my harvest with single mothers, as much as I can. For the most part, when I hunt caribou or beef, I always share with them to have a healthy homeland.

Q: Do you have any ideas on how recreational activities can be improved in your riding?

A: When we were growing up, there were always sports tournaments in the surrounding communities. You had that chance to travel for sports. You met a lot of people that became lifelong friends. Whether it be a close community or you travelled to Yellowknife, back then there would be team events. We travelled to Rankin Inlet for soccer. Then, the Arctic Winter Games for soccer. A lot of that created a healthy lifestyle growing up too. I think it really needs to be brought back into our schooling. You meet new people, become lifelong friends. It's healthy.

Asked to declare any outstanding lawsuits, debts or other issues that might form a conflict if elected, the candidate said there were none.

Aastha Sethi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio