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Social and economic issues dominate candidate's agendas

Jeanne Gagnon
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 18, 2011


Canadians will head to the polls on May 2 to elect a new government. Four people are vying to represent the Nunavut riding in Ottawa - incumbent Conservative Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, former Nunavut premier Paul Okalik for the Liberals, Jack Hicks for the NDP and Scott MacCallum for the Green Party.

Leona Aglukkaq, Conservative

Incumbent Conservative Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq was first elected as MP in October 2008.

Raised in Thom Bay, Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven, the 43-year-old married mother of one is a former MLA and Nunavut Health minister, and Cambridge Bay hamlet councillor.

She said the issues she has heard concerns about so far centre on infrastructure needs for housing, roads and sewers as well as more investments in mining sector training and education for Northerners. The Conservatives are trying to address the cost of living in the North through infrastructure, education and training, she added.

"My role has been to identify and find the resources needed to address the many priorities Nunavummiut had identified," she said. "In the two years I have been in Ottawa, I have been able to advocate and bring to the North resources needed to promote economic development, to address the infrastructure needs of Northerners, to improve health conditions as well as identify more training resources for the North."

Aglukkaq said she will continue to listen to people in the North and help them get the resources they need.

"My priority is to be a strong voice in Ottawa," she said.

Having a representative in Ottawa that understands the challenges and opportunities in the North is important, she added.

"I will take my role very, very seriously," she said.

Paul Okalik, Liberal

Paul Okalik, former Nunavut premier and speaker of the territorial legislative assembly, said the biggest issues in this election are the economic challenges Nunavut faces, and the food mail program, an issue that is "frustrating" many residents.

"As opposed to more military in the Arctic, we (the Liberal party) are focusing on the citizens that require our help today," he said.

The 46-year-old born and raised in Pangnirtung is a father of three and grandfather to one. Okalik is also three-term MLA for Iqaluit West, who also held the portfolios of Justice and Aboriginal Affairs in the Nunavut government.

"I view my role as no different than what I have been doing for the last 12 plus years in representing my fellow citizens, in making sure their issues are addressed and dealt with," he said.

Campaigning in the Nunavut riding, the largest electoral district in the country with its 25 communities spread among slightly more than two million square kilometres is challenging, said Okalik.

"On this campaign, it has been trying to find a way to travel to as many communities as I can and meeting with as many Nunavummiut," he said.

Okalik, a lawyer since 1999, was the first director of implementation at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

"My main priority is trying to make sure our challenges we face today are tackled as opposed to just focusing on military initiatives for our territory," he said. It's something that is being lost and also make sure that hunters that rely on food from the land are able to do that and their economy is supported."

Jack Hicks, NDP

Jack Hicks, a resident of the territory since 1984 with the exception of several years in Ottawa working for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, is completing his PhD with the University of Greenland, writing a thesis on evidenced-based suicide prevention.

The 52-year-old said the primary election issue is the future of families and communities in the territory under a possible Conservative government, he said.

"The Nutrition North program is a disaster," he said. "There is a need for more healing programs, stronger mental health care services, a wide range of needs, which are uniquely important in Nunavut and our simply not a priority for the Conservative party."

He added his primary issue is Nunavut's social needs - housing, suicide prevention, mental health services and community economic development - in the next 10 to 20 years.

"My role in this campaign was to provide the voters with a clear alternative to the Stephen Harper government and to raise issues and I think I have done that. I think it's mistaken to believe the only way to get things for a riding is to elect someone on the government side, especially when the prime minister is Stephen Harper," he said. "An effective spokesperson in opposition can actually get a lot done."

The biggest challenge, said Hicks, is getting the word out during the "short" campaign without the resources of a larger party.

Scott MacCallum, Green Party

Scott MacCallum is an airline passenger agent with Keewatin Air, having recently moved to Iqaluit after spending two years in Rankin Inlet. He hopes to become a pilot.

The lack of housing and the associated overcrowding of homes is an issue in Nunavut, said MacCallum.

"Because of that overcrowding, you also end up getting, essentially, a drop in overall wellbeing," he said.

Born and raised in southern Ontario, MacCallum turned 29 on April 16. He continues to work for Keewatin Air during the campaign.

"If I do get elected, I would be the voice of all Nunavummiut in Ottawa. I'm up there to be the voice of everyone back home," he said. "By being that voice for Nunavummiut in Ottawa, I am hoping to increase the well-being of everyone in the territory."

He added that includes health, social and environmental issues.

This is the first time MacCallum is seeking a job in politics and the lack of money to campaign has been challenging, he said.

"Myself, I am very brand new to this. I don't have the capability to be travelling all across the territory to meet people and answer questions."

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