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NWT deserves seat in Trudeau’s cabinet

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod announced federal funding for a new diesel power plant in Sachs Harbour, plus research into climate change and permafrost, at an event in Inuvik March 4 of this year. NNSL file photo

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood straight-faced in Iqaluit earlier this month and said the Liberals would, if re-elected, commit to getting all Indigenous communities off diesel by 2030.

Well, they have a decade left to do it.

Why? Because it’s 2019.

The Papineau MP’s own polling must have been showing the possibility that he may have to move Sophie et les enfants off Sussex Drive at the end of the month (imagine the damage deposit).

It sounded like political flailing. It had the precise ring of a desperate and impossible Hail Mary attempt by a candidate that didn’t have anything to lose.

Now that the events of Oct. 21 have made it clear Canadians were willing to take away Trudeau’s car keys but not kick him out of the driver’s seat, his diesel double-down has become a commitment that has to be reconciled with the rest of the Liberal plan for the Arctic.

How red in the face he must be that after landing on Baffin Island and touring his kids around Iqaluit like a rock star, his Nunavut candidate still lost to the NDP. Baker Lake’s website, the home community for Nunavut’s new MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, is still under construction, and Trudeau wants to get the place on renewable energy?

There’s nothing in the "new" Arctic framework on Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs’ website that explains how this is going to happen. The word "diesel" appears just once in the 17,412-word document -- a passing reference to the fact that two-thirds of

Northern communities use the fuel to generate electricity and that this is bad. There is not enough sun for panels. There is not enough wind for turbines. And there is not nearly enough detail in the proposal to put any faith in it.

That said, minorities historically have been productive, and Trudeau’s Liberals will be under pressure to deliver on a range of issues, including those hamstringing the North: employment, education, housing, energy and climate change.

The North wants in, but how?

Enter MP Michael McLeod, who has built a reputation of being responsive to his NWT constituents and the issues they face, even at times when it has seemed as if his party wasn’t. He thinks he should be considered for a cabinet position, and he’s right. With 40 per cent of the vote (14 per cent ahead of second place) he earned a stronger mandate from his constituents than his party did nationally at 33.1 per cent. In fact they lost that battle to the Conservatives, who collected 34.4 per cent of all votes cast.

If McLeod is appointed to cabinet, he’ll have the ear of the PM and the rest of his executive council. If he is made Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, there can be no question that the buck – and the bucks – would stop with him.

Those bucks need to find their way to the twinning of the Taltson and Snare hydroelectric generation complexes. They need to help schools in communities outside the capital graduate high school students with a diploma that actually means something.

And they need to create jobs so once those high school graduates have a college diploma or university degree, there is reason for them to return to a region that is among the most under-serviced on Earth.

Trudeau’s new cabinet will be sworn in Nov. 20. There is one fewer Northern MP than the Liberals had in 2015, and no members from Saskatchewan or Alberta.

The Grits are running out of clock to get Indigenous communities off diesel generators, but McLeod’s time may have just arrived.