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Notes from the Trail: MLAs are responsible for ensuring all Northerners live in dignity

This past Sunday night, only a handful of people turned out to an election forum at Weledeh school. Yet we are in the middle of a campaign that will affect all of us for the next four years.

This past Sunday night, only a handful of people turned out to an election forum at Weledeh school. Yet we are in the middle of a campaign that will affect all of us for the next four years.

People gave their lives so that we could participate in the political process and we are one of only a few countries in the world privileged to enjoy this opportunity. Yet we fail to show up to even hear what candidates say.

We argue that we will hear or read about it in the news.

Problem is, journalists are not covering the forums either; evidence of how far down the ladder our willingness or interest in governance has fallen. The result is that we elect MLAs who may or may not be equipped to handle this incredibly difficult yet important job.

And yes — taxpayers pay them handsomely to do this work both during and after their term is done.

How important is this role? We just went through the worst wildfire season ever in the North with thousands of people displaced, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land lost, countless animals burned alive and yes, human lives lost by vulnerable people who could not safely navigate city streets.

Though we knew for years this burn was coming, the territory was not prepared, calling last-minute evacuations and sometimes, no evacuations at all. We failed to have sufficient resources available so that we had to recruit firefighters from around the world and worked our own people exhaustion.

While the city is conducting a review into how it handled this crisis, the GNWT discusses an internal review which generally falls far short of a proper assessment. To top this off, we know another grim fire season is just around the corner. Will we have the leadership in place to carry us through this time or will it be another haphazard attempt to mitigate disaster? Or will we survive it at all?

From the dismal showing at forums, it appears few care though so many paid dearly from the fires and evacuations through lost wages and high business costs.

The failure to attend forums means we are not able to add our voice to crucial issues such as housing and find out if candidates even have a good grasp of territorial issues.

For example, at one of these forums, a candidate suggested there seems to be an attempt to create competition between the capital and the communities.

Anyone from the communities will say this is not true. In fact, the communities have been under represented and even ignored for decades because the bulk of the MLAs are from Yellowknife who naturally focus on their constituents. Its the high cost of the style of government under which we operate.

But the bulk of the territorial workforce are GNWT employees, which means people with money live in Yellowknife. The consequence is the territory works to meet their needs while many living in the communities live in almost third world conditions. This means poor housing, poor quality drinking water, limited health and education centres, costly food and no treatment centres.

This has nothing to do with competition but with ensuring that all NWT residents have equal access to services. It doesn’t matter what constituency you are elected in, MLAs are responsible for ensuring all Northerners live in dignity.

The North is facing so many crucial issues now, including the growing impacts of climate change, Arctic sovereignty and treatment centres, which is why we need informed and stable people in office. We do not people running because they “enjoy” politics but because they understand the North is up against it. We had enough drama in the last sitting and need people prepared to get down to serious business because the business is serious.

Finally, if we don’t participate in pre-election activities now, we have no right to complain about what MLAs do during the 20th Legislative Assembly. We lose that right when we ignore proceedings.

Let’s make our voices count. Let’s honour the system our ancestors died to protect. Let’s elect people who offer more than nice smiles and let’s make sure we elect people who can do the job.

—Nancy Vail is a longtime Yellowknifer concerned with social justice.