Candidates to duke it out
"The NWT is a swing riding, one of maybe 50 in the country," said Dr. Gurston Dacks, a political science professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in the North.
During the 2004 federal election, Liberal incumbent Ethel Blondin-Andrew scraped past the NDP's Dennis Bevington by just 53 votes - one of the closest races in Canada. That result makes the upcoming forum key, even if traditionally only a small percentage of undecided voters attend the event, Dacks said.
"This constituency is up for grabs."
The all-candidates forum takes place Jan. 18 at Northern United Place on 54th Street. Alternatives North, a Yellowknife-based social justice group, will host the event.
Minister of State for Northern Development Blondin-Andrew, Bevington and Richard Edjericon for the Conservatives will participate, said Alternatives North spokesperson Aggie Brockman.
The Green Party, which got an invitation to the forum, only recently announced that Alex Beaudin will be its candidate.
The questions will come from social groups and members of the public, who Brockman said would probably pepper the candidates on the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, the environment and crime.
"It is a chance for people to find out where the candidates stand," she said.
During the campaign proper, the three candidates will face an uphill battle against the weather and voter turnout, said Dacks.
"The ability of the respective candidates to get out the vote on election day will be very, very important," he said.
Dacks said Blondin-Andrew has two major selling points in the battle for the Western Arctic: her five previous election wins - which includes 18 years as MP - and a bustling NWT economy.
"Certainly the lengthy service that Ethel Blondin-Andrew has performed has to be a factor," he said from the Edmonton. "People tend not to vote for a change when they are prospering - and relatively speaking the NWT is doing well."
The controversy over the sponsorship scandal - which saw several high-level bureaucrats accused of wasting hundreds of millions in tax dollars - could play into the hands of Bevington and the NDP, Dacks said.
"There is the issue that after 12 years, arguably, democracy's health is improved when you bring in new people."