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The Starting Line: Election 2015

The Starting Line: Election 2015

Three seats, 3.7 million square km: Election year kicks off as Liberal leader tours the North
By Tim Edwards
Feb 11
2015

It’s going to be difficult to unseat a cabinet minister in Nunavut, and so far no one’s stepped forward to give it a shot. Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq is the only confirmed candidate in her riding, as of press time. Aglukkaq quickly rose through the party ranks since she was first elected in 2008, holding the health and now environment portfolios, while her support back home grew from a fairly tenuous 34.78 per cent of the vote to almost 50 per cent in 2011. Despite her victory, 2011 also marked the birth of her biggest problem: her government replaced the Food Mail food subsidy program, which didn’t work very well, with the Nutrition North food subsidy, which also doesn’t work very well. And people are starting to get angry about it.

An affordable food movement sparked up in Coral Harbour and spread across Nunavut in 2012 with protests at grocery stores decrying the high food costs. Aglukkaq and her government have remained steadfast in their support of the program, but even the Auditor General tore a strip off it last year, saying there were no mechanisms in place to make sure the subsidy was being passed on to consumers by the stores that received it. If the government follows through on changes they promised in response to the Auditor General’s report, they might be able to head off a debate that’s already a talking point. In the first big event of the election year in the North, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s tour of the NWT and Nunavut, Nutrition North was one of his favourite topics.

Inuvik Mayor Floyd Roland has announced he’s planning to run for the Conservative nomination, and, as a former premier, he’s a strong contender.

“The Canadian government has a responsibility to fix Nutrition North,” he said at a meet-and-greet in Yellowknife. But when he was prodded by local media on how that should be done, he said his party is discussing that and “our platform will be released at election time.” 

A tight rematch in the Yukon, a powerful incumbent in Nunavut and a whole lot of uncertainty in the NWT—as the country gears up for a federal election, the Northern battle lines are being drawn, if only faintly.

The NWT was once a Liberal stronghold. Ethel Blondin-Andrew owned the seat for 18 years, holding cabinet posts in the governments of Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. But when support shifted to the NDP in 2006, it shifted hard. From a second-place finish to Dennis Bevington in 2006, the Liberals dropped to third in 2008 and 2011, while the NDP MP support grew and the now second-place Conservatives gathered support to become strong challengers. 

Inuvik Mayor Floyd Roland has announced he’s planning to run for the Conservative nomination, and, as a former premier, he’s a strong contender. His career in territorial politics was marked by signing the devolution agreement-in-principle, which led to the bestowing of responsibilities for land and resources from Canada to the territorial government last year. But he made a lot of people angry when he did it—only the Inuvialuit and Métis signed on at first, with all of the territory’s First Nations rallying against a deal struck without their approval or, they said, input. (Most have come on board since.)

When Conservative MP Ryan Leef ousted Liberal Larry Bagnell in the Yukon in 2011, people were surprised.

Running for the Liberal nom as of press time are MLA Robert Hawkins, local upstart Kieron Testart and Gail Cyr, an aboriginal women's advocate and former Yellowknife city councillor, and Bevington hinted last fall he might not run again. The NWT is anyone’s game.

When Conservative MP Ryan Leef ousted Liberal Larry Bagnell in the Yukon in 2011, people were surprised. The “common wisdom,” says Eva Holland, Up Here contributing editor, is that people were upset Bagnell abstained from the vote to abolish the long gun registry despite his riding being overwhelmingly against the registry. But there was more to it than that, she says. An extremely popular Green candidate, John Streicker, split the left vote, getting 18.91 per cent compared to the 12.83 per cent he got in 2008. (Bagnell lost by 0.82 per cent. )But after being elected to Whitehorse city council, Streicker has announced he won’t run federally this year.

But Leef is still the incumbent, and has a lot of support. He hasn’t made any big gaffes, and he pledged his support for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, against party line. This year we’ll see whether he’s a flash in the pan or did enough to secure his seat.