Soon after she was elected the Conservative MP for Nunavut in 2008, Leona Aglukkaq was appointed to Cabinet by the Prime Minister, and many Northerners, indigenous Canadians and women were optimistic that having one of their own representing at such a high level meant good things would come; but in time, disappointment prevailed.
The smart, experienced Inuk politician from Gjoa Haven held great promise, but it seems what matters to her most is keeping her party in power to further their version of Conservative ideals than truly representing her constituents. One of the most partisan Conservative members of Parliament, Aglukkaq’s penchant for heckling opposition members with rude catcalls has gained her a reputation of lacking dignity, one of those most responsible for the lack of decorum in the House of Commons.
Aglukkaq was mediocre at best as the minister of Health during her three years in the role. As chair of the Arctic Council, she took the unusual approach of promoting industrial development rather than environmental protection, including drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Council is a forum where countries with common interests in the Arctic work together cooperatively for mutual gain, but Aglukkaq inappropriately used it as a platform to go after the Russians, nailing them over her government’s displeasure about the situation in Ukraine, much to the chagrin of other members of the council wanting to move forward on issues like climate change.
Following her re-election in 2011 she was appointed Environment minister. Again, she has been more a proponent of industrial growth and development than a champion of the environment. Her latest misstep was to avoid attending the international climate change summit in Toronto last week, heading off to her riding to attend a celebration and get a head start on election campaigning instead. Her rationale for missing the preparatory event leading up to the next international climate change convention, apart from her desire to celebrate Nunavut Day, is that the Conservative government has been doing a good enough job at reducing greenhouse gas emissions that she does not need to be involved in such discussions. The Environment Canada website indicates the opposite, that emissions have been going up steadily under the reign of the Conservative government, and they have failed to meet all the targets they have set.
Add to that the now common knowledge that climate change will impact the Arctic more dramatically than anywhere else and that those changes are already having a deleterious impact on her people’s homeland, and their lives. What is to be done about that? She of all people is in a position to do something and should be in the lead.
She is not. She does not even acknowledge climate change, since it is not a priority of her government.
Climate change is changing the type of food available from the land, impacting what indigenous Canadians have traditionally eaten.
Nothing is more demonstrative of that than what has happened to the caribou herds. It is important to foster awareness and seek solutions, and to evolve a new, healthy northern diet. As a former health minister, one would think she would be enthusiastically engaged in such things. She hears those concerns from her constituents, but ignores them. As an Aboriginal person, it is her responsibility to advocate for other indigenous Canadians who will be impacted. She is a leader, but somehow, she does not feel that sense of duty.
Aglukkaq’s other failure has been a lack of effort towards dealing with poverty in Nunavut. One way to do that would be to put in place a program for subsidizing the outrageous food costs in Northern communities, but the Conservative government’s Nutrition North program – which she surely must have had input into – has been ineffective. Not only is it not working well in the places where it applies, many Northern communities are not eligible to receive its benefits. While Aglukkaq remains silent on the matter, it has been left to the opposition NDP to rally on behalf of Northerners to improve their lot.
Along with poverty, Nunavut is plagued with a poor economy, lack of jobs, aging power plants, overcrowded jails and many other systemic problems. Despite her lofty status, Aglukkaq has done little to allay any of that, yet she is already busy electioneering, hoping the people of her riding will ignore her record and send her back to Ottawa for a third time. Last election she received nearly 50 per cent of the votes in the constituency, a resounding endorsement. Hopefully her constituents will be wiser in October, and elect someone new who is a good representative for Nunavut.