The Arctic Comes to the Forefront in the Canadian Election

L-R: Bevington, Handley, and Lee.

Dennis Bevington has represented the riding of the Western Arctic in parliament for the past two terms. But his time in office may soon be up. The Tories and Liberals are taking on the New Democratic Party incumbent in a tightening three-way race. Bevington is competing against the Conservatives’ Sandy Lee, former minister of health for the NWT, and the Liberals’ Joe Handley, former NWT premier. The NWT is a place where regional ties often count more than political allegiances. As all three candidates have a wealth of experience in the territory, it’s going to be tough for voters to choose who they want to represent them in Parliament.

Bevington has been in office since 2006, when he defeated the Liberals’ Ethel Blondin-Andrew, who had represented the riding since 1988. To the NWT’s east, Nunavut’s MP is Conservative. To the west, the Yukon’s MP is Liberal. So if the Western Arctic falls to one of these two parties, the balance of power in the Arctic will swing. With only 13,000 regular voters in the riding, a change in the preferences of just a couple thousand people could affect the outcome of the election.

On Sunday night, Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff both found themselves in Yellowknife, the largest city in the Northwest Territories, which is coterminous with the riding of the Western Arctic. This is the first time this election season that any of the leaders of Canada’s major political parties have paid a visit to the territories. Jack Layton, the leader of the NDP, has not yet announced any plans to visit the region. In 2006, he stumped for Bevington by going dogsledding with him. However, the NDP will soon be releasing a northern platform, which should prove an interesting comparison to those of the Tories and Liberals. The other day, Ignatieff criticized the Tories’ actions in the Arctic. During a campaign stop in Vancouver, he remarked,

“Mr. Harper has militarized the north, as if the only thing that matters is the military sovereignty aspects of that…There’s homelessness up there at 40-below zero. There are people without jobs. There is a strong sense that northern economic development is not benefitting peoples of the north.”

Harper responded by saying that military sovereignty is only one aspect of his party’s Northern Strategy. Building housing, creating national parks, and researching climate change are other important elements, as well. So far, the polls show that the Conservatives may very well win another election, perhaps gaining enough seats in Parliament to form a majority government.

News Links

“Sensing NDP vulnerable in NWT, Harper and Ignatieff head North,” The Globe and Mail

“Canadian leaders spar over Arctic ahead of election,” Reuters

“Harper, Ignatieff duel over Arctic,” Toronto Star

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