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Northerners weigh in on federal issues

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 25, 2011


With voters heading to the polls next week to select a new representative for the Western Arctic in Ottawa, News/North asked Northerners and community leaders what they think the issues facing the territory in this election are.

For Norman Wells Mayor Dudley Johnson and Deline adult educator Jennifer Waterhouse, training Northerners for future mining and exploration jobs is crucial to strengthening community economies and lowering dependence on social assistance.

"Young people tell me that they want training," Johnson said. "They're sitting home and doing nothing. This is the time. If the road comes or the pipeline comes we need people trained. We need to put dollars into training."

He said the long-term benefit of training for young people will play an important role in building stronger, healthier communities.

"The more training you got the less time they've got to get in trouble, the numbers on income support drop and it benefits down the road," he said. "This is the time, when the economy is down, you invest in training."

Waterhouse said it's important people understand the value of education and making programs accessible.

"We need to have training programs that are regularly available in communities," she said. "We need to have some sort of safety net for people who go away to school with someone there to support them."

"We're working on the path to self-government so we need to have people given the opportunity to get training in some of the areas which we will be taking responsibility for - government leadership, business and things like that."

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben said the Conservative government has done a lot for his community and the Delta region in general; for him, it's an easy choice who he wants in Ottawa.

"We've got a 150 million reasons to vote for Sandy Lee," said Gruben, adding the construction of an all-weather road to Tuktoyaktuk from Inuvik will change the community for the better. "The biggest thing people want is more things to do, more work. The Conservatives have given us money for our access road and they're promising money to build a road from Inuvik to Tuk which will totally change the community and the region. It'll create a lot of jobs, it's a good key to building better communities."

Johnson said the talk of the Inuvik to Tuk road is great, but he said the lack of discussion about the Wrigley to Fort Good Hope road is something he would like to see change.

"It is a big priority here," he said. "The cost of living is too much. Gas and food prices are out of control."

Besides jobs and economic stability, Gruben said the territory needs someone in Ottawa who will get things done, especially in the way of funding for social programs.

"In our community we've been looking for help on homelessness, we've got a women's shelter but we want a men's shelter, too," he said. "We have a lot of addictions and we need money for a community worker to help out with residential school issues."

Fort Smith resident Adam Bathe said while Nutrition North isn't something he benefits from in his South Slave community, he does see it as an important issue across the territory.

"As a territorial issue, I would consider voting for a candidate who is talking about this issue for my fellow territorial citizens," he said.

The same goes for Waterhouse, who said the new program, introduced on April 1, and the loss of personal orders through Yellowknife-based grocers, is causing her to reconsider whether or not it's viable to continue living in Deline.

"The changes have disaffected me," she said. "It's eliminated our access to quality produce at a reasonable price. I don't see the discounts that are supposed to be passed on. It's not enough that it's going to make anyone choose to buy healthy food over what they already are buying.

"It makes you think if it's really worth it to be up here."

Johnson said Nutrition North needs to be reworked so the savings are coming back to the customer in some form, which he said is not happening under the new system, something he said is causing some residents to rethink living in Norman Wells and other Sahtu communities.

"We're paying $8 to $9 for two-litres of milk here," he said. "Something is just not right. I'd like it to return to the way it was so people could order their own."

As a local volunteer for the community's ambulance service, Bathe said he wants the candidates to talk more about the rising costs of health care and the lack of nurses and doctors in the territory. He said with more local physicians and medical professionals in the territory, medevac costs could be reduced and more money allocated for improving the health system.

"The cost of flying people out - it's great, but we wouldn't need to pay for it if we had a lot more local nurses and doctors so we didn't have to send as many people out," he said. "When I see the story about the jets and how much they're going to cost ... I'd much rather send my vote to someone who is going to put that money into health care. I'm not an isolationist, but I do think we should have our priorities. Spending billions on things we don't need right now versus there are people who are in definite need right now."

With an ageing population, Johnson said particular attention needs to be paid to what kind of programs and services are being offered in the territory for seniors.

Johnson said he was remaining neutral on who might win, but added it will be a tight race with three very viable candidates - the Conservatives's Lee, the NDP's Bevington and the Liberal's Joe Handley - seeking the lone NWT seat.

"They're impressive, no doubt about it - it's going to be very tight. I don't see anyone winning by a large margin," he said.

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