Floyd Roland holds his hands in the air at shoulder level and draws a V in the air. In front of a campfire and with a brisk headwind outside the Wood Buffalo Inn, the former Inuvik mayor and Northwest Territories premier and current Conservative candidate told about 20 people on Saturday night that the NWT is falling behind.
It used to lead Northern Canada, but has become a valley between the two mountains of the Yukon and Nunavut.
Roland said he has believed the prime minister has the right plan for the country since he met him early in his premiership in 2007.
“I’d never held a (party membership) card prior to (meeting the prime minister),” he said after a short fireside address. “It’s rare in the political world to find somebody who will tell you like it is, stick to the message and stick to what he’s said to you and not come back with ‘oh, well.’ I found that refreshing.”
He said each region of the NWT has specific concerns but that he is hearing about cost of living everywhere he goes.
“I’m surprised that I hear a lot about the cost of living across the North,” he said, adding job creation is also a common theme.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper put down a small business platform plank on Sunday, pledging to lower the tax rate for small employers from 11 to nine per cent over the next four years if reelected. He said the plan would give $2.7 billion back to 700,000 small businesses over that period.
Harper was in Hay River on Aug. 14 and pledged up to $16 million to surface the remainder of Highway 5 in Wood Buffalo National Park.
Roland spent about four days in Fort Smith before heading back to Hay River himself, then on to Yellowknife Monday.
After resisting leaving office earlier this year, he resigned as mayor of Inuvik on Aug. 17 to focus on the federal campaign. He said on Saturday he did so to avoid his campaign taking away from the town. Acting Mayor Jim McDonald has been at the helm since Aug. 17 and municipal elections in the NWT take place on the same day as the federal vote on Oct. 19.
“I said I was committed federally shortly after leaving the government of the NWT,” he said. “A lot of people wanted me to run for mayor again but I felt I could serve the whole community and the Northwest Territories by stepping up to the federal plate.”
Grit pushes for infrastructure, Parks funding
Michael McLeod also made his way to the depths of the South Slave, stopping in Fort Smith for the community’s Labour Day barbeque and a meet and greet at the Pelican Rapids Inn.
While in the town nestled atop Wood Buffalo National Park, McLeod announced the Liberal government would not only restore $25 million in funding cut from the budget of national parks, but also increase science spending by the same amount, to allow for early identification of ecological stresses.
“There’s been programs and staff cuts to all the parks across the country and we want to be able to reinstate that,” he said in an interview with the Journal. “Our parks are important, we need them to run year-round and we want visitors to come to our part of the country and view what we have to offer and we can’t do it if the programs are underfunded, under-resourced.”
The campaign promise fits in with the Liberal’s three-point plan.
“We want to create jobs by investing in the economy through infrastructure investment,” McLeod said. “We want to be able to put money into the pockets of the people through reduction in taxes and raising the taxes for the wealthiest one per cent. We also want to invest in the social infrastructure like affordable housing, childcare space, those type of things.”
Upon election, Liberals would achieve these goals by taking on deficits for up to four years and managing funds to increase money in the Building Canada Plan.
“The NWT government and the federal government have recently signed an agreement for $70 million for 10 years,” he said, calling it a “drop in the bucket.”
“Our position is that we would increase the fund to make it workable so people can invest,” he said. “I would like to see large infrastructure investments such as the ones I’ve mentioned – the Mackenzie Valley highway, the Tlicho roads, extending runways for airports, lower cost of living – as separate programming, not coming from a program that’s already too small (and) underfunded.”
McLeod also noted that he would fight to revive the Kelowna Accord, an agreement which sought to improve education, employment and living conditions for Aboriginal peoples through governmental funding and alternative programs.
Incumbent soapboxes for seniors
Dennis Bevington, the three-term New Democrat incumbent, had a captive audience as he outlined planks in the NDP agenda that apply to seniors at the NWT Seniors’ Society AGM in Fort Smith Sept. 10, many related to the cost of living.
He said he would push for an increase to the Northern allowance, an equivalent to the fuel subsidy for apartment-dwelling seniors and a program to help build smaller, more affordable and easier-to-maintain houses.
A change to the “very unfair” GST, which affects northerners disproportionately, is also in the ethers, as is a boost to the CPP, which wouldn’t cost the government anything, and the guaranteed income supplement (GIS), which the NDP says it would augment by $400 million.
“Changing the age of eligibility for the OAS/GIS to 67 is a repressive step that will leave more people in poverty,” he said. “It doesn’t need to happen: we have the ability to deal with the OAS and GIS as they stand.”
The president of solar array installer Stand Alone Energy Systems, which shares a building with Anna’s Home Cooking and his constituency office, Bevington said there should be a federal program that reduces the amount of energy needed to live in the NWT.
“We need to build homes with smaller properties that are easier to maintain … new or retrofitted houses that are efficient,” he said. “In Tuktoyaktuk, the cost of diesel fuel eats your entire GIS.”
Bevington also said a tax credit for caregivers would cost a lot less than putting a senior in a long-term care facility, even if the extra help staves off the transfer for one year.
“We need to keep people in their own homes.”
Greens announce federal candidate
Rounding out the candidates for this year’s federal election, John Moore of Inuvik has been selected to represent the Green Party in the NWT.
The volunteer firefighter was formerly the executive director of the Inuvik Youth Centre, but recently decided to enter the political landscape. After receiving an invitation to run for the party and a conversation with a friend about the lack of focus on veterans’ affairs, Moore decided to throw his hat in the ring.
He plans to run on a campaign based in social issues with goals of improving Indigenous rights, mental health and food security, especially in remote communities.
“Exciting is definitely the right word to use,” Moore said of his candidacy. “It’s not something I was expecting, but it’s something I’m happy to be doing.”