Three months ahead of a federal election, the Conservative Party so far remains alone in having announced its Nunavut candidate.
Leader Andrew Scheer made that announcement in April – veteran politician Leona Aglukkaq returns to politics after being trounced by then-Liberal Hunter Tootoo in 2015. It was a decisive win for Tootoo over the three-time winner and cabinet minister, with 47.2 per cent of the territorial vote as compared to Aglukkaq’s 24.8 per cent.
Jack Anawak, representing the NDP, placed second with 26.5 per cent.
Scandal then saw Tootoo resign from cabinet and the Liberal caucus.
When Scheer paid a surprise visit to Iqaluit in June accompanied by Aglukkaq, both played the facts and numbers game peculiar to pre-election periods. He and Aglukkaq took the opportunity to criticize the current Liberal government on housing and Nutrition North.
“We do know that in the last few years of this Liberal government it’s been a token gesture in terms of addressing the (housing) issue. I think the amount of funding worked out to one house per territorial riding which is not going to, in any way, actually address the issue,” said Scheer.
“The things that we’re talking about, things that we’re going to be looking to do, is to partner with the territorial government, look at ways that bring in more economic development and the ability for that to help address some of that issue.”
The press did not have the opportunity to further question Scheer on his statement.
As Tootoo, now an independent MP, noted in a telephone call a few days after Scheer’s visit, the Liberal government, while not doing enough to address the territorial housing crisis, did continue to invest in Nunavut housing. In 2017, the feds announced $240 million over 10 years.
Nunavut currently sees roughly 90 housing units constructed annually.
“I think that just points to how well-informed Mr. Scheer is. I don’t know if Leona was briefing him on that, or what,” said Tootoo, who is considering running in the next federal election.
“But, I mean, it shows to me that he’s really not up to speed and in tune with what the issues and challenges are in the North. They come up with their talking points that they use down south, but you know it just isn’t reality in the North and they don’t seem to get it.”
Nunavut News offered both the Liberal Party of Canada and the New Democratic Party (NDP) the opportunity to respond to Scheer’s statements.
“In this fall’s important election, Canadians will have a clear choice. While Liberals are focused on investing in the middle class and making life better for families in Nunavut and all across Canada, Conservatives like Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford, and Jason Kenney are focused on cutting vital services, and returning to the failed policies of the Harper era,” stated Parker Lund, spokesperson for the Liberal Party of Canada.
Lund also said an annual general meeting for the Nunavut Liberal association is expected to be called over the summer.
The NDP didn’t respond to Scheer’s statement, but communications and media officer for the NDP Guillaume Francoeur stated, “Several candidates have expressed their interest in the nomination. The approval process is following its course and a nomination meeting should be scheduled shortly.”
‘We’ve had no one advocating for issues in the North,’ says Aglukkaq
At the impromptu news conference with Scheer, Aglukkaq said that since 2015 when the Conservatives were in power, Nunavut hasn’t seen any investments related to infrastructure.
“Our government at the time made investments, major investments, related to infrastructure. You can just look at the airport that we built, the deep sea port, the small craft harbour here, social housing investments …” she said. “So we made significant investments as a government and since 2015 we have not seen any federal investments related to addressing the major infrastructure gaps that we do see here.
“So it is going backwards, in my view. We’ve had no voice in Ottawa. We’ve had no one advocating for issues in the North.”
Aglukkaq and the ruling Conservatives made commitments to Nunavut ahead of the 2015 election call, all contingent on their re-election, including the deep sea port in Iqaluit. That port is now under construction.
In March 2018, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjeet Sohi announced $566 million in infrastructure funding for Nunavut over 10 years in a bilateral deal with the territorial government.
At that announcement, Sohi also noted $300 million invested in 18 Nunavut projects over the previous two years, such as clean water supply initiatives in Pangnirtung and Iglulik, as well as Kimmirut’s improved waste water system that would prevent sewage from draining into the Arctic Ocean.
In Iqaluit, Nunavut Arctic College was expanded with a new building, the Baffin Correctional Centre is being expanded and renovated, and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett recently cut the ribbon at a new $8-million community daycare.
As for the Nutrition North Canada Program, the Liberals have so far failed to fix the Conservative-era program. Scheer said his party is ready to try again.
“I’m here to talk to Leona and some of the people in the community for ideas on how the government can strengthen (Nutrition North), whether it’s auditing rules, whether it’s a more robust regime to keep the accounting on where the money is flowing to and how it’s actually impacting the people of the North,” Scheer said.
Aglukkaq raised the ire of many Nunavummiut when she sat in the House of Commons reading a newspaper, even as the discussion centered around food insecurity in Nunavut.
Tootoo called for an inquiry into Nutrition North in the House of Commons in June.
“Since it launched in 2011, successive governments have spent over half a billion dollars on the Nutrition North Program. In that time the number of households in Nunavut affected by food insecurity has risen from 33 to over 50 per cent,” said Tootoo in Ottawa, calling it the Phoenix Food Program, a comparison to the flawed federal pay system.
“If you look at the issues that Mr. Sheer raised, these aren’t problems that just popped up in the last four years. These are problems that have been around since before Nunavut was created. Like housing, infrastructure funding – successive governments have all failed to deliver on the promise of the new territory,” Tootoo told Nunavut News.
The federal election is scheduled to take place on or before October 21.