The NWT’s Conservatives have begun the process of finding a candidate for this fall’s federal election.
But who might that candidate be, and what qualities will provide a serious challenge to Liberal incumbent Michael McLeod?
Contenders have until May 16 at 3pm MT to file their paperwork with the party.
Dustin van Vugt, the party’s national executive director, said he expects a candidate that will represent leader Andrew Scheer’s “positive vision for Canada and the North … that centres on making life more affordable and helping people not just get by, but actually get ahead.”
However, it has been rather a long time since a Conservative federal candidate got ahead in the NWT.
Progressive Conservative Dave Nickerson, from 1979 to 1988, was the last Tory MP in the Northwest Territories – then known as the Western Arctic riding.
Since then, the Liberals (Ethel Blondin-Andrew from 1988 to 2006, and more recently Michael McLeod since 2015) have shared local power with the New Democrats (Dennis Bevington from 2006 to 2015).
At the last election, McLeod beat Bevington into second place with Conservative candidate Floyd Roland a distant third – the party’s worst showing, in terms of vote share, since 2004.
“We think that now is the time for the Northwest Territories to go to the Conservative Party,” said Tim Syer, president of the NWT’s Conservative riding association.
“We have had a government for the last four years that hasn’t really done anything for the Northwest Territories,” Syer claimed. “And we think, with the economy the way it is, now is the time for the Conservatives to have a strong showing up north across all three territories.”
No ‘identity politics or racism’
Studies of 2015 election results and associated polling data have suggested young voters played a large part in that year’s Liberal landslide across much of Canada.
By Statistics Canada measures, Yellowknife is one of the country’s youngest cities. In 2018, Canada had a median age of 41 while in Yellowknife, that was 34 (only beaten by Iqaluit, at 31).
“We can appeal to smart, young Canadians, and smart, young people in the Northwest Territories who see their future being mortgaged by a Liberal Party that continues to spend frivolously, and without any regard for how that’s going to be paid for in the future,” Syer insisted.
“So if there are young Canadians who are concerned about how they’re going to buy their first house, about how they’re going to open their first business, then they need to be looking at the Conservative Party platform, because that’s what’s going to help them be able to do that.”
Syer also pledged Conservatives in the North would have “no place for racism or bigotry” when asked about the behaviour of some Conservatives in other jurisdictions, such as Alberta, where several UCP candidates in the recent provincial election were criticized for racist, Islamophobic, or homophobic remarks.
“There doesn’t need to be any sort of identity politics or racism. Conservatives will stand on conservative principles,” said Syer. “That’s what we will run on, and that’s what will get us elected,”
If more than one nominee comes forward in the next 10 days, a run-off will be required – meaning it’s not clear exactly when the identity of the party’s candidate will be finalized.
There is as yet no word on an NDP candidate for the fall election, while the Green Party – which won a federal by-election in BC on Monday – is expected to choose its candidate from a shortlist of Paul Falvo and William Gagnon this week.