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Highways to victory

Jack Danylchuk
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 05/05) - After 18 months of quiet campaigning, Western Arctic candidates shifted into a higher gear last week to map out their routes to the Jan. 23 federal election.

Incumbent Liberal MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew and NDP challenger Dennis Bevington started the race in Yellowknife.

Richard Edjericon

Ethel Blondin-Andrew

Dennis Bevington

Conservative candidate Richard Edjericon went to Edmonton on personal business while the Green Party continued its search for anyone willing to carry its banner through a long winter campaign.

Bevington was first off the mark. He set up on Franklin Avenue in front of the post office, across 49th Street from Blondin-Andrew's campaign office, and spent Wednesday noon hour shaking hands with voters.

Blondin-Andrew emerged from strategy meetings Thursday afternoon to introduce Range Lake MLA Sandy Lee as her campaign manager in Yellowknife, where the election will be won or lost.

"It has 46 per cent of the votes," Blondin-Andrew stated.

"We're going make a concerted effort to see that Yellowknifers get full access (to me). I don't want to offend anybody, but we will be in their faces politically."

Blondin-Andrew intends to go door-to-door in the capital and other major centres in the Territories.

She will get to the smaller communities, but it won't be like 2004, when she hit 33 in 35 days, averaging 400 km a day.

"We will try to be in every community, but I don't know if we will be able to. The weather can be scary; I worry about freezing rain and fog."

Bevington welcomed the 56-day campaign and the winter ice roads, which open access to small communities where he hopes to gain enough votes to win on his third try for the seat.

"This is the second campaign in 18 months and I think the people of the North understand the issues and the candidates," Bevington said.

"That will make for a very good campaign."

In the Tlicho community of Wekweti, Kathy Dryneck doesn't mind that there's another election within 18 months of the last one.

"The biggest issues are still the same as last time for me: health care and education for the kids," she said.

In Fort Good Hope, Karen Mercer said a federal election is always welcome.

"From a Northern perspective, federal elections are good because the money just flows," she said. "With all of the promises that get made to Northerners and aboriginal people, this is great for us."

In a brief post mortem on the 2004 campaign that Bevington came within 53 votes of winning, Blondin-Andrew said her team "didn't do as well getting the vote. People were rather complacent. It won't be like that this time. We'll have to work harder."

Blondin-Andrew is running on her record. She points to her work on the Tlicho land claim agreement, $40 million in Northern Strategy money and the $500 million shower of benefits promised with the Mackenzie Gas Project.

Without prompting from reporters, Blondin-Andrew picked up the issue of same-sex marriage that Conservative leader Stephen Harper promised to submit to a free vote in parliament.

"We voted for it and we stand by that," she said.

"That is my position. The churches are protected. They don't have to perform same sex marriages," she said.

"I believe people have their entitlements and they have the right to be fulfilled under the law. I've voted for equality rights throughout my 17 year career, so it's nothing different."

Asked to speculate on Harper's reasons for raising the issue, Blondin-Andrew said "perhaps he feels unrequited politically, I'm not sure. It's divisive. It's very controversial."