Inuvik MLA hopefuls clung tightly to longstanding grievances with the territorial government and a centralized bureaucracy during Thursday night’s forum.
Hosted by Climate Action Inuvik in East Three Secondary Gym, Boot Lake and Twin Lakes candidates made their pitches to voters in a marathon session that kept the audience in their seats for more than three hours.
Despite the forum’s hosts, the discussion rarely touched on the climate crisis, with talk centred on amplifying the community’s voice in a distant territorial legislature and tackling local social issues.
Both constituencies’ incumbents — cabinet ministers Robert C. McLeod of Twin Lakes, and Alfred Moses of Boot Lake — stepped down ahead of the election, leaving the field open for a fresh slate of candidates.
At the forum, the Twin Lakes candidates were Sallie Ross, Donald Hendrick, and Lesa Semmler. In Boot Lake, voters could choose from Eugene Rees, Dez Loreen, Diane Thom and Jimmy Kalinek.
Chief among the candidates’ issues was jobs and services slipping away to Yellowknife, as the Government of Northwest Territories remains unresponsive to resident concerns.
That displayed itself as hopefuls vowed to fulfill a decades-old promise from the GNWT to replace outdoor playing fields. Over a decade ago, the territory scrapped the old fields to build East Three School, and said it would supply $415,000 to build replacements.
Currently, the location for that is an empty lot.
“I’m a baseball player myself,” Diane Thom said. For her, the fields would provide accessible recreation and wellness to the community. She said she would work to get to the root of the long delay, and find the underlying reasons.
Dez Loreen, meanwhile, found it to be an issue of accountability.
“Everyone knows me and you know me as a champion of fitness of perfect health,” he said. “If they said they’re going to pay for it, they should pay for it.”
Other candidates’ comments echoed that sentiment, with Jimmy Kalinek claiming broken territorial promises aren’t limited to the ball diamonds.
When it came to climate, Donald Headrick noted the erosion of local infrastructure.
“We’ll have to spend more money to fix up our infrastructure,” and study the issue further, he said.
Lesa Semmler said the community had to invest more in solar energy, “which will cut down on the diesel we’re spending (on).” Other projects the community should explore, she said, include recycling, composting, biomass heating systems and working with research teams to ensure the money is spent effectively.
Action on climate change has been put off too long, Eugene Rees said, adding “(my) generation is responsible for a lot of this.” Its effects, meanwhile, were clear in the region, he said. Rees called for a strong economy that relies less on fossil fuels, complementing it with renewable energy sources. Speaking on energy later in the evening, he also demanded opening up offshore drilling and other resource to development.
“To have a healthy environment is key to having a healthy community,” Sallie Ross said. She suggested working with across levels of government, and with Indigenous governments and researchers to develop a plan. Also on the table was accessing the viability of paper and electronics recycling programs, investing in infrastructure and retrofitting residents for energy efficiency.
Centralization and its discontents
A recurring theme was addressing a sluggish bureaucracy leading to Inuvik losing opportunities and support to Yellowknife.
As candidates vowed to make their voices heard, underneath those concerns was a housing crisis with nearly 100 people waiting for homes. Suggested solutions varied between candidates: Loreen called for bypassing bureaucracy and building tiny homes; Ross agreed those could be an option, adding that the community needed more single-unit housing.
Kalinek pushed for more government funding and selling homes for a dollar and assisting residents refurbish them. Semmler said programs like Housing First, in addition to partnering with Indigenous governments would help the region receive more housing support.
Thom noted the construction of one apartment building took seven years, and suggested working directly with regional Indigenous governments. Meanwhile, Rees said Nunavut appeared to be getting more federal attention on housing. Securing funding would mean local jobs, he said.
Hendrick also called attention to a skilled local workforce that could build homes, and said there should be more support for local home ownership.
As residents trickled out over the course of the over-three hour discussion, attendees thanked the attendants for their mutual respect, leaving voters to pick which two will head to Yellowknife as members of the 19th Assembly.