"The People's Office": Constituency Offices in the Far North
Roundtable with Michael Nadli, MLA, Frederick (Sonny) Blake Jr., MLA, and Kevin Menicoche, MLA
In this roundtable discussion, three MLAs from rural/northern parts of the Northwest Territories reflect on the unique challenges parliamentarians face when doing constituency work in remote communities. They explain that offices often tailor themselves to the needs of the community. For MLAs, an office helps to create work/life balance, offers a source of much-needed local employment, and provides an additional connection to the seat of government. They are also the office of last appeal for constituents frustrated by bureaucratic decisions.
CPR: When you represent a geographically vast district, how do you decide where to set up your constituency office(s)? How do you balance where you spend your time?
Menicoche: It just so happens that the largest community in my riding is my home community of Fort Simpson and that's where I have my constituency office. I often conduct three full tours of the communities and have a public meeting when I'm there. I do three trips per year. In between, the ministers travel to the communities once or twice a year. It's all part of the consensus style of government. Each of these communities has a chief, two of mine have mayors, and two have Metis presidents. I'm dealing with 10 elected officials. In a more central riding like Hay River or Inuvik you're dealing with one mayor, potentially a Grand Chief and one Metis organization.
Nadli: I represent four communities with the farthest being about two and a half hours away by vehicle. The closest community is a 45-minute ride. When not in session or doing committee work, I spend the majority of my time in my home community so it was logical for me to set up a constituency office in my community. I also established a part-time office in the farthest community. When I travel to the communities of my riding, I start with the farthest community.
Blake: What I decided to do when elected was have an office in Fort McPherson because it is the largest community. The office had always been there and people appreciate that. I'm from Tsiigehtchic and there was a thought that I'd move it there. A lot of elders stop by every few days to see what's happening or if they have any concerns. Because we're in Yellowknife for an average of 100 days a year, I spend as much time at home with my family as I can. During the summer we have a lot of time to travel in our constituency. So I spend a lot of time in Fort McPherson and I attend a lot of events there and in the community of Aklavik. We have jamborees during Christmas and feasts and I also contribute to those feasts. We have to watch our budget and since I have to fly in to Aklavik, I really have to get my timing on there; though in the winter we can drive in and that helps a lot. Also, they have a gathering at the Beaufort Sea once a year. I went there last year and I was really happy with that.
CPR: When you travel to communities that don't have an office, where do you meet with constituents?
Blake: We usually have an arena or a hall that we can use.
Menicoche: Even though they're small, all our communities have an arena or hall or band office with meeting facilities. And before the meeting or after the meeting well visit the elders in their homes or yards and speak to them on a one-to-one basis. In fact, one of the things I find with our Aboriginal constituents is that they're not ones to use email or phone calls or letters. They'd rather wait for you to visit and then tell you what their needs or their concerns are. Often theyll say, "Oh, I was waiting for you to show up because I had this thing going on." It's interesting.
CPR: Are there guidelines for establishing these offices? How did you decide what type of staff you needed and what types of services you would provide? …