Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Battle For the Northwest Territories

Western Arctic

The North (all 3 ridings of it) has gotten a lot of attention over the past 2+ years. The Harper government has spent a lot of time, money and attention to make sure the people of the Territories understand that we "South of 60" actually have an interest in what goes on up there - especially as things continue to warm-up, and the North grows in its importance as a potential area for commerce and growth. This approach has uniquely positioned the Tories to actually gain ground in the riding of Western Arctic, but how much is uncertain - with only 28,000 electors, there isn't a lot of ground that CAN be made up. Encompassing the entirety of the Northwest Territories, this riding elected the NDP's Dennis Bevington narrowly in 2006, at the expense of 18-year incumbent Ethel Blondin-Andrew of the Liberals. Like the other Territories, the N.W.T. is highly dependent on the federal government for funding and legislative affairs - so federal elections are somewhat more important here than in the provinces. That said, voter turn-out tends to hover at near 50% - another drawback to the massive distances between voters and their polling stations.

Dennis Bevington (NDP) - Dennis Bevington is a rare bird in Canadian politics. He ran for the NDP here in 2000, and was defeated. He came back, and ran again in 2004 - and was defeated yet again (albeit by the narrowest of margins - 53 votes. Unafraid of being labelled a "3 time loser", Bevington ran AGAIN, in 2006 - and won, by over a thousand votes. He keeps getting better at this "election" thing - and that doesn't bode well for his opponents. Bevington was the Mayor of Fort Smith, N.W.T. for 9 years - Fort Smith, by the way, has a population of 2,500 - so in total, Bevington has as much executive experience as Sarah Palin did before becoming Governor of Alaska. It would take an extremely effective campaign from one of his opponents to unseat Bevington, however he has worked too hard to get to this seat to take anything for granted, so expect him to fight tooth-and-nail to keep it.

Brendan Bell (CPC) - Brendan Bell plays defence for the Ottawa Senators - oops, sorry, wrong Brendan Bell. I *think*. THIS Brendan Bell is a small business owner who was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of the N.W.T. in 1999, and has since served in Cabinet as Minister of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development; Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment; and as Minister of Justice and Attorney General for the Northwest Territories. All this before age 37. The father of 2 is running federally for the first time, and is hoping that name recognition and his party's focus on the North in the past few years will help make up some of the 3,600 votes that the Tories lost by here in 2006.

Gabrielle Mackenzie-Scott (Lib) - Gabrielle Mackenzie-Scott is a long-time activist and volunteer in her community. Formerly the head of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board, Mackenzie-Scott was also heavily involved in the formation of the Tlicho semi-government in the N.W.T. Gabrielle's website seems to be touch-and-go, however she has at least a decent shot of becoming the Member of Parliament for this riding - the Liberal organization here is strong, and still stinging from their defeat after 18 years of incumbency in 2006. They're motivated, and pointing right at the NDP incumbent - but will that allow the Tories to sneak up the middle?

Sam Gamble (Grn) - Sam Gamble certainly could have chosen something less challenging to do with his time than run as a Green here - like, say, climbing Mt. Everest. The Greens were absolutely destroyed in this riding in 2006, getting less than 2% of the popular vote. Their candidate, Alex Beaudin, was tapped to run again this time around, but backed out and Gamble stepped up to the plate. Sam runs a blog, and comes across as a really thoughtful guy. You would think the Greens would find fertile soil for their message of sustainability in the North, but it seems like they keep trying to plant in permafrost. Gamble's got a handle on his party's 2 biggest drawbacks in the North, however (absolute ban on whale-hunting and nuclear energy), so he could make up some ground on the Big Three.

Noeline Villebrun (FPP) - Noeline Villebrun is the former Chief of the Dene Nation, and is hoping that her status in that community helps her win the first-ever seat for the First Peoples National Party of Canada. The party has never run in this riding before, and is admittedly not well-known, even within the First Nations communities. However, 36% of the population of N.W.T. is First Nations, and the communities are growing at 6 times the national average, so if Villebrun can help boost her fledgling party into the public consciousness, that's a victory in itself.

Take a look at: Brendan Bell. He's an upwardly-mobile politician with an impressive resume, and he's running for the party that has paid more attention to the North in the past 2 years than all the governments of the past 30 years put together. Could be the "perfect storm" the Tories are hoping for.

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