The timing of the next federal election remains uncertain, but the search is on for contenders to oppose incumbent MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq.
Nunavut’s Conservative and Liberal associations are soliciting candidates, with the Conservatives circulating a public notice last week calling for nominees.
Leona Aglukkaq, former federal cabinet minister, made unsuccessful attempts to regain her seat in the last two federal elections. She finished with 26.1 per cent of the vote in 2019, an improvement upon 2015, when she wound up with 24.8 per cent.
Paul Murphy, president of the Nunavut Conservative Association, said Aglukkaq is no longer eligible to run because she joined the party’s national council.
He said the popularity of a candidate and what the governing party can deliver will be keys to success in the next election.
Murphy, a Kugluktuk resident, noted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau allotted $12 billion for rapid transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas on May 11, an amount that would have eliminated Nunavut’s housing crisis.
“That’s all we really want is a one-time shot at $12 billion. That would be really nice,” he said.
Nunavut has suffered from a lack of gains over the past several years due to having MPs who are not members of the governing party, Murphy contended.
He credited Qaqqaq for her passion for the job but questioned her lack of experience.
“I don’t believe she should have been thrown into the federal melee at that age, with not a lot of background in politics,” he said. “It hasn’t been good for Nunavut … she’s got to learn how to negotiate at that level.”
He also maintained that the money invested in Qaqqaq’s 2020 housing tour to highlight overcrowded homes in disrepair was not a worthwhile investment because it’s already an undeniable problem.
“We all know that. Everybody who lives here knows the issue. We don’t need our MP to be running around spending money to write a report that said what we already know,” he said.
Although Conservative leader Erin O’Toole hasn’t been able to gain traction in national polling – hovering around 30 per cent support since assuming the role last August – Murphy stands behind him.
“I believe in him. I believe he’ll be a good leader. He has nothing but the best for Canada in his heart,” he said of O’Toole.
Liberals in ‘early stages’
Cody Dean, president of the Nunavut Liberal Association, said his party is “still at the early stages” of finding a candidate.
“We want to get it right, of course … we take that really seriously,” said Dean. “We want to scour the territory. We want to find the right person who’s going to represent Nunavut well and do the best possible job for our territory at the federal government level.”
Liberal Megan Pizzo Lyall was the second-place candidate in Nunavut in the 2019 federal election, chosen on 30.9 per cent of ballots.
The Liberals stand a good chance of forming a majority government in the next election, in Dean’s opinion.
“We’re better served with a Liberal seat representing Nunavut,” he said.
He credited the federal Liberals for Nunavut faring well during the pandemic. They provided protection against COVID-19 and he pointed out that Nunavut was one of only two Canadian jurisdictions where the gross domestic product actually grew in 2020 despite a lagging economy nationally.
Dean, who resides in Iqaluit, declined to offer an assessment of Qaqqaq’s performance as MP.
“I don’t know what she’s done. I can’t say,” he said.
The Liberal and Conservative parties are aiming to have Nunavut candidates in place over the next couple of months.
NDP fighting for more, Qaqqaq says
While the opposing parties don’t see NDP gains for Nunavut, Qaqqaq’s office stated that the New Democrats have been “fighting hard” to get Canadians more help over the past 14 months.
As an example, the Liberals were initially prepared to offer a 10 per cent wage subsidy during the onset of the pandemic, but the NDP insisted on more, and the cap was later set at 75 per cent. Likewise, the NDP argued in favour of doubling the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to $2,000 per month.
“While the Liberals were trying to do the bare minimum and we pushed them to do better, the Conservatives were nowhere to be seen. They fought against CERB payments going to individuals right from the onset of this pandemic,” stated Qaqqaq, who prevailed in the 2019 federal election with 40.8 per cent of the popular vote. “I am proud of the help that I, along with my fellow New Democrats, have been able to get for people across Nunavut. In the coming months and years, the NDP will continue to fight for housing, food security, and more help for Inuit rights and cultural recognition.”
A virtual event was held March 2 with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh “to hear what we have to say about our shared vision and goals,” and to start her re-election campaign as the MP for Nunavut.
The governing Liberals may decide to call an election sooner, but the latest it can by held by legislation is October 16, 2023.