MP for the Western Arctic – the anatomy of self-sacrifice

MP for the Western Arctic – the anatomy of self-sacrifice

The Slave River Journal has had a positive relationship with the last three Members of Parliament for the Western Arctic. And we have come to realize what a demanding and difficult job it is they do.

Dave Nickerson won the seat as a Progressive Conservative in 1979 held it for three terms until 1988. Nickerson was a stalwart representative. We at the Slave River Journal appreciated his action on our behalf when we were being harassed by Statistics Canada to perform hours of work every month as a category representative. We had questionnaires and forms to fill out that consumed a half-day every month. Any small business has more than enough administration to do, but a newspaper with its ever-present deadlines is particularly challenged. That went on for well over a year. At one of his regular visits, we complained about it to Nickerson. Not long after, we learned that our problem was brought up on the floor of the House of Commons by our MP.

We thought it remarkable that the plight of a small business in the NWT was being discussed in Parliament. The comments Nickerson made about Statistics Canada imposing its will and forcing red tape on a small northern business over a long period of time were scathing. Nickerson, despite being an opposition MP at the time, was able to shepherd through the government a commitment to build a new federal building in Fort Smith – the large red brick building that anchors the community’s downtown core today. That was huge for the community’s long-term prosperity.

That high level of representation did not change with Liberal Ethel Blondin-Andrew. She defeated Nickerson in 1988 and was re-elected in 2004, but by only 54 votes. She was finally defeated in 2006. Again the communities of the NWT enjoyed the commitment and dedication of an MP who took a very difficult job to heart and worked diligently on their behalf. On her fairly frequent stops in Fort Smith, Blondin-Andrew always made a point to visit the Slave River Journal office and discuss current issues. She was always accessible for stories and interviews.

Blondin-Andrew was an early graduate of the Teacher Education Program at the college in Fort Smith. She was always positive, effervescent, a wonderful communicator and went on to become a dedicated educator. After eight years as MP, she was obviously tired, worn out by the toll of a very demanding job.

Along with all that work comes the insecurity of the position, the drama and toil of elections, the fact that everything you do and say is under scrutiny and constant challenges by the many who oppose you politically. Small wonder it is tiring.

It was not, however, until Fort Smith’s Dennis Bevington became Western Arctic MP that we fully understood the burden of being MP for such a vast area. It took three tries for him to beat Blondin-Andrew. He persisted and was victorious in 2006. He won the seat again in 2008. In this year’s election he carried one of the highest voter support percentages of any MP in Canada.

The NWT is a vast riding, difficult to get around in, with a small population. The people appreciate it when you take the time to get to know their community, their needs and their opinion, and that is what he did well.

Bevington is a homeboy, born and raised in Fort Smith, so we at the Slave River Journal have been able to observe his comings and goings as MP first-hand for the last five years. His visits home are few and far between. The times he gets to sleep in his own bed are rare. He routinely misses the birthdays of his grandchildren. He maintains a small apartment in Ottawa to subsist in while there, often and far away. But the real challenge is getting out and connecting with the people in all the communities of the huge Western Arctic riding, and doing so on a regular basis. The amount of miles he puts on are amazing. His schedule is arduous and demanding. The time suffered on long flights in the sparse comfort of airplanes is cruel.

Compare that to any MP who lives in Quebec or Ontario – their relatively easy life with home a few hours from Ottawa by train, where constituents live close together in an urban setting. Yet the perks, travel allowances and expectations are the same for both.

The job of MP for the Western Arctic is grueling and those who do it are little appreciated. The people of the NWT are lucky to have been so well represented over the years by quality individuals, regardless of political stripe or party, who strive diligently to make their lives better.

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