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Q&A with Jim Antoine

Richard Gleeson and Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 01/02) - In his third term as MLA, deputy premier Jim Antoine says he is working harder than ever, though it may not always be obvious to his constituents.

NNSL Photo

Jim Antoine: "We've worked very hard in the last 25 years to create the environment that exists today for aboriginal participation in a meaningful way, politically and economically." - Richard Gleeson/NNSL photo

Do you support the Deh Cho First Nations' decision to use the Mackenzie Valley pipeline as leverage in self-government negotiations?

The decision was made by their leadership. I was not involved in the decision at all. They're functioning as an aboriginal government and that's their decision. I can see the merit in it ... I'd rather not answer that, because it's their decision. It may be a good decision, it may be a bad decision, I don't know.

It's their tactic and it's their strategy.

How difficult is it for you, as a former Liidlii Kue First Nation chief, to represent the territorial government's interests when the Deh Cho First Nations want to split resource royalties 50-50 with the federal government?

It's not difficult for me at all. I'm still a Dene and, not only myself but the other chiefs in the North, the Dene Nation and Metis leaders -- we've worked very hard in the last 25 years to create the environment that exists today for aboriginal participation in a meaningful way, politically and economically.

A lot of us have put our whole life's work into creating an environment where aboriginal people have their rightful say and equal participation in the North.

I made the decision to get involved in public government in 1991. The aboriginal political position of the day was aboriginal people should get involved in public government.

Since getting involved with the legislative assembly, I've always pushed and continued to push aboriginal aspirations. We're all in the same boat, we all have the same things in common here. But at the same time, we represent everybody in our constituency. We are elected by everybody. So it changes a bit. We still represent the aboriginal point of view, but we have to represent everybody.

As for resource revenue sharing, that's their opening position ... they want 50 per cent of all resource revenues in the Deh Cho.

Speaking not as an MLA or cabinet minister but as a Dene from there, sure, I support that. But the federal government has precedents in other areas in the North, that's where they're coming from.

Fort Simpson is still facing the threat of $1 million in slashed funding from Municipal and Community Affairs over the next two years. Do you see that as something that can be avoided, or is a funding cut inevitable?

We're working on something through the budget right now to try to help resolve this issue. I think there's still going to be a budget cut.

When the block funding came in, I think it was five years ago, Fort Simpson was about $600,000 to $800,000 in the hole almost every year. The original block-funding agreement had an extra million dollars a year put into it to help them out of the financial problem they had. That was a three-year arrangement. It's stretched out to about five years.

We're working on something through the legislative assembly that I think will help alleviate some of these problems.

An airport development plan undertaken by the GNWT may recommend shutting down the in-town airstrip to boost traffic at the GNWT airport. Should the businessmen who run the in-town airport be allowed to carry on?

What I've heard from the Department of Transportation is there is an airport development plan completed. As far as I know from the department, they told me (the existing) arrangement is going to continue.

The CanTung Mine is back in production. A few communities in the Deh Cho have expressed concern that they are receiving little or no benefits from the mine, yet the mine's president has said there has been virtually no interest from the communities. What have you done to ensure local people and businesses profit from the mine?

The mine is right on the border with the Yukon. When they were going to get this mine back into production there was a series of meetings that took place.

We emphasized to the mine owners that we want to maximize the benefit of resources coming out of our region, that they have to go to all the communities and meet with them and try to see what kind of businesses are there that could provide the necessary services for that, as well as look at the different jobs and training positions that might come out of it.

I met with the mining people again recently and they said that ... they would put out public tenders and from there select the different services that they require. There was some interest from businesses in the Deh Cho, but they weren't successful. As well, they said they are still very interested in hiring people to work there.

Does the company have to hire people or use businesses in the Deh Cho?

We tried to get the mining company to do that themselves, and we will keep on trying. We will have to meet with them and see where they are. They're still in the early stages of starting up the mine again.

Despite the firestorm over the Cuff Report, the Deh Cho Health and Social Services Board is going to remain intact. Did you have any real influence in that decision or does the board deserve the credit?

I don't take credit for anything I do. I try to represent the people that elect me the best I can. I think everybody had a part in getting it to where it is, to something that's acceptable to everybody.

Do you feel as though you're working as hard for your constituents as you did during your first and second terms as MLA?

Yes, and even harder. You don't see it from the community level, but here in Yellowknife I'm meeting with other MLAs and different ministers and requesting their support. That's what I do, that's my job.

The legislature's Hansard documents indicate you've made a number of minister's statements during the last few sittings, but very few issues were brought forth in your capacity as MLA for Nahendeh. Why?

The way I approach issues is I deal directly with the ministers responsible for the issues. I've been very successful in resolving a lot of issues by working in this manner.

There's different styles, different MLAs have different approaches. I could be out there every day raising one issue after another. Maybe that's one way of showing I'm doing something. But whenever an issue comes up I try to deal with it as directly and quickly as possible.

You were moved from Justice to Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development in November. How tough has it been to make that transition?

To go to another portfolio that is very complex and covers a lot of area is a big challenge. But as a minister I had the opportunity to know a lot of the bigger issues from the cabinet table.

It's just a matter of getting into more detail on all the different issues. But we have a good staff at RWED and I'm very familiar with resource development in the Nahendeh region, the pipeline issue, the diamond issue. It was a very good transition.

Do you plan to run for a fourth term?

I still have to contemplate that and decide. When I feel the time is right I will make that decision.