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Candidates eye Yellowknife vote

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - Half the population in the Northwest Territories call Yellowknife home, making the capital a major battleground in the Jan. 23 federal election.

With a host of issues on the minds of voters, candidates from four political parties are working the phones and streets for support.

Yellowknifer put three questions to Liberal incumbent Ethel Blondin-Andrew and her challengers: Dennis Bevington, NDP; Richard Edjericon, Conservative; and Alex Beaudin, Green Party.

What would be your approach to dealing with drugs and violence on Yellowknife streets?

Blondin-Andrew: A Liberal government would continue to support programs designed to prevent violence, she said. Since the last election, the federal government has invested $1 million in crime prevention for the NWT. Ottawa has also devoted $15 to rural prevention programs across Canada, $10 million to increase the number of graduating RCMP officers and $40 million for intelligence and surveillance, which includes operations that target illicit drugs, she said.

Bevington: The NDP would like to see economic spin-offs from minerals, oil and gas go towards drug and alcohol treatment programs, said Bevington. That would reduce much of the street crime in Yellowknife. "Development must bring us more resources to deal with the social issues. The rehabilitation of people suffering from substance abuse is very important," he said.

Edjericon: While he supported a "holistic" approach to crime prevention that includes more money for social programs and rehabilitation centres, Edjericon said harsher penalties need to be handed down for people who traffic in drugs like crack-cocaine. "More and more people are falling victim to (crack)," Edjericon. "It is hurting a lot of people and that's not right."

Beaudin: The government needs to address the root causes of crime and drug addictions, said Beaudin. He would like to see more social workers to deal with troubled kids and programs that offer them alternatives to crime.

How would you lower the rate of domestic violence, which, in the Northwest Territories, is seven times the national average?

Blondin-Andrew: In order to prevent domestic violence, the government needs to work closely with police and social groups, like the Yellowknife Wellness Coalition, she said. While she did not call for harsher penalties for abusers, Blondin-Andrew said there needs to be serious repercussions for domestic violence.

"People who perpetrate violence against women, children and families have to be dealt with," she said. "It must not be tolerated."

Bevington: The NDP would like to see laws that protect victims of domestic abuse and not force them to remain in dangerous situations, Bevington said. (The NWT has a nine-month-old law that allows victims sole use of things like the family home and vehicle.) "If it is in the territories, I would like to see that go Canada-wide. Glad to see our territorial government is doing that," he said.

Edjericon: There needs to be more money invested in shelters and a concerted effort from the whole community - including police and social welfare groups - to reduce the "scary" levels of domestic abuse, he said.

"When you look at the facilities that we have in Yellowknife, we don't have enough," he said. "We need to sit down and look at how we improve in this area. In our communities it's a big issue."

Beaudin: The governments needs to help low-income families and "stressed" parents who are working two or three jobs.

How would you make Yellowknife a more affordable place to live?

Blondin-Andrew: Ottawa has contributed to health and social services in the North, which have reduced the cost of living, she said. Through a federal plan to support the three territories, Yellowknife has also received $10 million - money that will divvied up in the next year. (City officials list the actual number at $7.2 million.) Ultimately, the high cost of living is market-driven and local governments have to set their own priorities when it comes to social spending. "Maybe we have to look at it and say: 'Money is not enough. It's the way we organize it'," she said.

Bevington: The NDP would support a plan to double the tax deductions that Northern residents can claim, said Bevington. The deductions should also be tied to a cost of living index, which would see them rise with inflation and other factors that could make Northern living more expensive. Right now, the deductions amount to about $2,700 per person or $5,400 per household.

Edjericon: The Conservatives have made a national commitment to reduce the Goods and Services Tax by two percentage points over the next four years - a plan that will help the bottom line of all Northerners, Edjericon said. He also highlighted a Conservative pledge to increase federal support for childcare, offering parents with kids under six $1,200 per year, per child. "The cost of living is going up. We need to take a close look at that," he said.

Beaudin: The resource-rich North has the potential to fend for itself financially, but it needs a fair deal from Ottawa on revenues from minerals, oil and gas, he said. While Beaudin said he opposed the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, he would push for more territorial control over revenues from development.

"A good part of the money made on natural resources should come back to the North to reduce the cost of living," he said.