Beyond the Ballot: Federal Election 2019 Canada’s North
This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.
Now past the halfway point of the federal election campaign, voters living in Canada’s North have yet to see a federal leader pay a visit to the three territories. Unusual? Not exactly. With only three seats up for grabs, federal parties tend to be more focused on securing as many battleground ridings in Canada’s vote-rich “south” as possible. But with the potential for a tight race in at least one of the territories, and national polls still indicating a likely minority government after October 21, the parties will not want to leave any seat open to their competitors, so expect some leaders to visit the North in a bid to shore up party support.
Incumbent Liberal candidate Larry Bagnell will be seeking his sixth term as Yukon’s representative in Parliament and will be challenged by a formidable Conservative candidate – Jonas Smith. Bagnell is no stranger to strong competition from the Conservatives, having narrowly lost his seat to then-Conservative candidate Ryan Leef back in 2011. While Bagnell was able to easily reclaim his seat in 2015, some polls are suggesting 2019 may once again be a tight race.
Smith, currently the Executive Director of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, has indicated one of his top priorities if elected would include repealing Bill C-71, the Liberals’ recently-passed gun control legislation. In 2011, the then-Liberal campaign struggled to sell the proposed long-run registry to voters in the Yukon and this became a topic many argued changed the outcome of the riding that election in favour of the Tories.
Just yesterday, the NWT held their own territorial election in what turned out to be a historic result. Before last night, no more than three women had ever been in government. All that changed with nine women elected to the 19th Legislative Assembly, including Caroline Cochrane, the sole cabinet minister to be re-elected and a potential candidate to become the next Premier of the territory.
Indeed, one of the first acts of business for the new Assembly will be electing a Premier for the territory. The NWT is one of only two jurisdictions in Canada with a consensus government, whereby all MLAs are elected as independents. The Assembly elects the Speaker by secret ballot, followed by the Premier and six other Cabinet Ministers. Eleven MLAs are charged with holding the executive to account.
In terms of what this might mean federally, other than the potential for voter fatigue, likely not much. Incumbent Liberal candidate Michael McLeod, the brother of now-former Premier Bob McLeod, is expected to easily hold the NWT seat. McLeod, along with the Government of the NWT, is viewed as having been very successful in securing hundreds of millions of federal dollars for a range of projects and initiatives throughout the territory. He will be challenged by Conservative Yanik D’Aigle, a banker from Yellowknife, and Mary Beckett for the NDP.
The race in Nunavut is largely perceived as a toss-up between the Liberals and Conservatives, and both respective party’s leaders are likely to pay a visit to the territory soon because of it. One need only look to the Liberals’ travel schedule in the dying days of the last Parliament to understand the vulnerability of the seat, and the related significant focus on it. Beginning this past July, the Prime Minister, seven of his Ministers and one Parliamentary Secretary all flew north to make announcements in the territory.
The seat was held by the Liberals after the 2015 election when Hunter Tootoo handily won it, unseating former Conservative cabinet minister Leona Aglukkaq. Tootoo subsequently resigned from the Liberal Caucus in 2016 to sit as an Independent, citing the need to seek treatment for addition issues. On his visit to the territory on July 1, the Prime Minister announced Megan Pizzo-Lyall as the new Liberal candidate.
Now, the Conservatives are pinning their hopes on re-taking the seat, with Aglukkaq once again running for Team Blue. No doubt, Aglukkaq has an advantage in terms of name recognition on the ballot but at this point, it still remains a race too close to call.
Party Commitments Relevant to the North
While each territory is uniquely different in terms of the specific dynamics on the ground and the challenges they face, common priorities remain that dominate all three – access to affordable food and housing, economic growth, energy, transportation and communications infrastructure, the impact of climate change, Arctic sovereignty, and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – to name just some.
Moreover, unlike in Southern Canada, policies around things such as health care, parks, new resource and infrastructure development, and Indigenous programming all play differently in the North. These policies are driven by a combination of territorial, federal and Indigenous politics and thus could be re-shaped post-election depending on which party forms government.
For their part, the Liberals’ platform outlined plans to make travel more affordable to those living in the North with improvements to the Northern Resident Deduction, initiate a $5-billion Clean Power Fund to support transition fully off of diesel-fueled power by 2030, ensure that the Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Children, Youth and Families is fully implemented, and outline how they will work with Indigenous communities to address major infrastructure needs by 2030 through a distinctions-based plan.
At this point in the campaign, Andrew Scheer is the only federal leader to not have released a party platform, leaving his plans for the North still largely unknown. In late June, Scheer did give a broad-strokes outline of his vision, noting a Conservative government would set aside special infrastructure funding for the territories, would repeal the carbon tax, and would reform the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to make it more responsive to local needs. Expect sovereignty and a stronger military presence in the Arctic to also be included in the yet-to-be-seen Conservative platform.
The NDP has noticeably focused on promising more socially-responsive measures in the North, including new child-care spaces, a national school nutrition program, the full implementation of Jordan’s Principle to end delays in health services, and a promise to have First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leadership at all decision-making tables to help direct climate change efforts in Canada – a particular challenge in Northern Canada, which is warming at three times the global rate.
Polling for British Columbia
The Liberals have also touted in their new platform their recently-released Arctic and Northern Policy Framework. The Framework, co-developed with Indigenous, territorial and provincial partners over the last three years, establishes issues and broad objectives around measures including ending poverty, transformative investments in infrastructure, eradicating hunger and eliminating the housing crisis in the North.
Since its arguably subdued release just a day before the election was called, the Framework has been criticized as being light on concrete policy action and implementation timelines. If the Liberals are not re-elected later this month, it remains to be seen what will happen with the Framework. It could be re-purposed by another party should one be elected to form government. Either way, parties that contributed to its development and final conclusion will be keen to ensure that whoever forms the next government will get moving on implementation as soon as possible post-election.
Again, while there are few seats up for grabs in the North, all Canadians should be watching closely what happens there on Election Day. We should all continue to espouse the now famous phrase – “We the North.”