Voting day is next Monday and with an endless list of needs in the North, residents could be forgiven for sleepwalking to the voter booth and marking an X beside a candidate and party they dislike the least.
This election for the NWT was a snoozer given the gravity of woes and misfortunes that rain down on this territory.
From an outbreak explosion of COVID-19 threatening to overwhelm an understaffed healthcare system to housing shortages on every spectrum to climate change impacts of floods and fires to to declining economic prospects of aging mines, infrastructure and people – at times it feels like the NWT is suffering through the 10 plagues of Egypt.
The territory needs a champion in Ottawa that is rooted in the North and who can get meaningful responses to issues dire to Northern living.
The only question that Northerners face is what works best to get Ottawa’s attention on these issues and who can fill that role: a team player or a firebrand?
Incumbent MP Michael McLeod, ever loyal to the Liberal government has demonstrated an ability to patiently and methodologically work the sinews of power between northern governments and layers of bureaucracy to get funding and attention. From the National Co-investment $60 million NWT carve-out to sprinklings of spending in areas ranging from infrastructure to COVID worker relief, to advancing reconciliation to advocating for a Green New Deal – it is hard to argue that McLeod’s government hasn’t been responsive to the NWT. His approach may be less effective if he finds himself in the opposition next term.
In contrast to McLeod’s approach, however, outgoing NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq has set the standard as a vocal critic of Ottawa’s neglect of the North and has received more national attention by shouting and shaming the feds toward needed action on everything from housing to residential school survivor justice to social inequities.
Kelvin Kotchilea, the NWT NDP candidate, is well educated and versed in the North’s diverse needs for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and has prioritized his positions sensibly – calling for more post-secondary investment for Indigenous people in small communities and settling land claims to get the NWT economy moving again. He has been more soft-spoken, more seasoned and more open to the Westminster system than Qaqqaq and therefore it is hard to see him filling her shoes. But he is still aware that her voice has brought benefits to his party and the national discussion and his success may rest on whether the Northern territories go orange.
Independent candidate Jane Groenewegen, by appearance of lawn signs in places Yellowknife and Hay River, name recognition as a 20-year MLA and long-lived resident and business woman also poses a formidable challenge. We question her approach of not attaching her name to a party in a House of Commons almost entirely driven by the federal party system but we have no doubt her ability to communicate and advocate the North’s most pressing needs to the nation’s capital. Should she be successful, will her advocacy for issues like small business labour shortages be heard or lost in the wilderness?
Roland Laufer, given the Greens have any chance of taking the seat and retaining national party status – both longshots to be sure – could be useful in speeding up the transition of diesel-dependent communities to alternative energies and advising on the expertise needed for an NWT post-secondary institution and homegrown student-base. But again, would a Green seat in the NWT deliver on the array of complex files an MP has to face?
As for Conservative candidate Lea Mollison, a last-minute, call-in candidate from Thunder Bay, the NWT can’t afford an outsider who was filling a role no one here wanted. A vote for her would literally be casting a vote for party above the NWT, given that she has made no public appearances at forums, has little to no signs erected and has made few efforts to engage with Northern media.
Although the NWT Conservative Association may have had legitimate reasons for not being able to recruit a Northern candidate, it is critical voters drive home the point that no matter the party, we send our best to Parliament with our needs at heart, not the other way around.
We challenge every resident to get out and vote and to think seriously about the type of MP that will bring the greatest benefit to the North.