The Northwest Territories has not held a Conservative seat in decades, but the party is hoping to turn the riding blue in the coming federal election by centering its messaging around affordability, Northern self-determination and improved regulatory efficiencies.
The 43rd Canadian federal election is scheduled to take place Oct. 21.
Kevin Waugh, Member of Parliament from Saskatoon and Conservative critic of Northern Affairs was a guest over the weekend by the NWT Conservative Electoral District Association and its president Tim Syer, a local lawyer with Lawson Lundell LLP.
“Having MP Waugh here, I think really helped reenergize the party and put us election mode,” Syer said this week, adding the party is aiming to have a local candidate by the end of March. “We’re very much looking forward to our contest with MP McLeod.”
Syer held a gathering of local Conservative Party members with Waugh as guest speaker members last Saturday.
“This (Liberal) government has forgotten about the North and we think we see some opportunities,” Waugh said in an interview.
The riding hasn’t gone blue since Dave Nickerson was Member of Parliament between 1979 and 1988. Since that time, the riding has gone either to the Liberals (Ethel Blondin-Andrew, from 1988 to 2006 and Michael McLeod 2015 to present) or Dennis Bevington (2006 to 2015). This record is less successful for the Conservatives than both Nunavut and Yukon – each of which in the last term (2011 to 2015) had Tory members.
These days, local Conservatives point to national polling which shows the party may have a chance to claim the seat. A 338Canada.com poll shows that the Liberal Party has a lead of 37 per cent of the popular vote while the Conservatives are in second with about 30.6 per cent of the vote.
“But we don’t even have a candidate yet,” Waugh said. “In a writ period, you could easily make up that difference.”
The NDP, which has fared strongly in recent elections, is trailing in the popular vote with about 16.7 per cent – in part because of the Green Party’s representation of 8.4 per cent.
The party is touting the promise to eliminate the carbon tax and allow the Northern territories to keep 100 per cent of their royalties without clawback.
Waugh was a key invite for local Conservatives because he is one of the few Conservative MPs who sits on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
The committee is currently working on a report examining Northern infrastructure needs and strategies to develop the North.
A big part of Conservative messaging in the North is allowing Northerners make decisions for their own development, members say.
“Regulatory issues are really hurting Canada right now,” said Waugh, pointing to his party’s opposition to federal bills like C69 (Impact Assessment Act) and C88 (Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act). “There are just so many roadblocks up that we have lost our innovative mojo in this country.”
Waugh was promoting a policy passed at the Conservative Party’s Halifax convention which included allowing Northers to keep 100 per cent of oil, gas and mineral royalties without clawback. The party is also in support of ensuring Northerners make decisions in the North and investing more money in “economically empowered infrastructure.”
Waugh said the party does not support the slow movement of investment in Northern projects and would be behind providing for the $1.2 billion Taltson hydroelectricity dam and broadband expansion that could boost the Northern economy. The party remains dead-set against the carbon tax, which is set to come into effect on April 1, however.
“The carbon tax – let’s face it – we wouldn’t have it,” he said. “I’m worried about it.
“We all want to bring down emissions and we all agree with that. 1.6 per cent of the world’s issues. We all want to be green. But the government is pushing it on seniors, young families and it is not revenue neutral.”
Waugh, a former sports broadcaster, had the opportunity to see Northern issues first hand through meetings with Mayor Rebecca Alty and local Ndilo and Dettah chiefs Ernest Betsina and Ed Sangris, as well as seeing how diesel is shipped on the ice road. He also attended a Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday that featured GNWT Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment and Infrastructure Wally Schumann, announcing plans to table the Mineral Resources Act this week in the NWT Legislative Assembly.