The five candidates vying to become the NWT’s next MP touted their solutions for the territory one last time in a live Cabin Radio forum on Wednesday night.
Assembling at Yellowknife’s City Hall for their second and final broadcast together, the candidates often adopted somewhat more adversarial stances than in an opening debate hosted by the CBC a week earlier.
Noting the conspicuous absence of most federal party leaders from the NWT in a campaign that has largely ignored the North, moderator Ollie Williams asked candidates what their parties would do to benefit the NWT directly.
Paul Falvo said the Greens had funds earmarked to get NWT communities off diesel by 2030, noting party leader Elizabeth May – unlike others – had visited Yellowknife earlier this year. At the other end of the spectrum, the People’s Party of Canada’s Luke Quinlan said removing the Liberal-implemented moratorium on Arctic oil and gas development was his top priority.
Providing high-speed internet access to all northern communities by 2030 was the focus of incumbent Liberal candidate Michael McLeod, whose party wants download speeds of 50 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 10 megabytes per second for all. “We’re not even close to that,” McLeod acknowledged.
The NDP’s Mary Beckett said her party would bump up that timeline and provide high-speed connectivity for rural and remote communities in the next four years, while ensuring cellphone and internet bills remain within global averages. She advocated a “telecom bill of rights so that people have a way of dealing with the companies when we have a problem.”
For the Conservatives’ Yanik D’Aigle, reducing the cost of air travel is a top priority. People of the North, he said, are paying an “exorbitant amount.” D’Aigle said his party would reduce regulatory burdens “without compromising safety” to eventually result in savings passed on to consumers.
Read what candidates had to say on:
- Climate change and the environment
- Indigenous rights and the UN Declaration
- Working with all levels of government
Tackling climate change in the NWT
A day after young climate activist Ella Kokelj called on Yellowknife city councillors to declare a climate emergency, candidates were asked if they would declare such an emergency in the NWT themselves. Falvo and Beckett agreed there was a climate change emergency. Action, Falvo said, would entail a “massive program” to retrofit houses as well as ending fossil fuel subsidies.
Beckett agreed fossil fuel subsidies need to end, challenging the Liberals’ decision to purchase the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and provide what she termed a “free ride” for fossil fuel companies on carbon tax. To transition from diesel, Beckett – who is a resident of Inuvik – said liquefied natural gas is not a solution, as the community had seen from two recent truck rollovers on the Dempster Highway. Biofuels, she said, and other “made-in-the-North” solutions would keep jobs and money in the territory.
McLeod and D’Aigle both felt the country and territory are not at the point of an emergency, yet each agreed action was needed. “We’ve already invested close to $100 million in the North on different projects,” McLeod said of the past four-year Liberal government, including “windmills and studies on compressed natural gas, geothermal, biomass, and solar.” McLeod added the party is looking at “several large hydro projects.”
Audience members and moderator Ollie Williams at the live broadcast. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The Conservatives would transition from diesel using liquefied natural gas and emerging green technology, D’Aigle said, promising a “smart” transition away from fossil fuels that would affect neither jobs nor the economy.
Arguing there is “no consensus in the science” of climate change, the People’s Party’s Quinlan said the solution to climate change in the North lies in the free market. “We’ve become remarkably efficient and it’s the free market, competition through the sectors,” he said, arguing for scrapping the present carbon tax and dismissing a replacement cap-and-trade system.
Indigenous rights and self-determination
Parties differed on whether, and how, they would implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (or Undrip). The declaration outlines Indigenous peoples’ rights including language, identity, health, education, and an enshrinement of the right to “free, prior, and informed consent,” which allows Indigenous peoples to either grant or withhold consent to projects affecting their people or territory.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has said the consent clause is the basis for the party’s reluctance to embrace the declaration. “When you talk about free, prior, and informed consent, that leaves a great deal of uncertainty about what that means,” he said during the October 7 leaders’ debate. A private member’s bill by MP Romeo Saganash on implementing Undrip failed to come to a vote in the Senate this summer, effectively killing the bill as legislation not passed before the October 21 election cannot move forward.
On Wednesday, Conservative candidate D’Aigle said Indigenous and treaty rights are enshrined in Canada’s constitution and, while the Conservatives support Undrip as an “aspirational document,” the party has concerns over some provisions and how they apply to treaties and Canadian laws. “This is something for lawyers to discuss,” he said, adding implementing the document in Canada as presented would create too many “constitutional issues.”
Quinlan rejected the implementation of Undrip, calling it “not a serious approach.” He argued implementing the document was “outsourcing policy” to the United Nations. “We don’t outsource legislation to the UN – not on immigration, not on firearms rights, and not on Undrip,” he said.
All three left-of-centre candidates agreed on implementing the declaration, with McLeod saying the Liberals would want it in place by 2020. Beckett called for Undrip not only to be put into law, but also into practice.
Falvo countered Quinlan’s claim of “outsourcing,” instead saying implementing the declaration would mean taking guidance from an international standard. “I’ve read Undrip and there’s nothing threatening in there,” he said. “What I would ask those who oppose it to explain is what are you specifically afraid of? What right in there, that a Dene, Métis, Inuvialuit person might get, are you afraid of them getting? Because that’s what implementing and enshrining it means.”
McLeod questioned the Conservatives’ claims to have adequately engaged with Indigenous governments. “I haven’t seen that,” he said, referencing past Conservative opposition to the implementation of Undrip, Bill C-88 to amend the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, and the Tłı̨chǫ land claim agreement.
Working with all levels of government
Exploring a Green Party commitment to create a “council of Canadian governments,” Williams asked candidates how they would approach working with different levels of government. Falvo said his party’s planned council would include “territorial, provincial, federal, First Nations, as well as municipal governments.”
Beckett said the NDP would work with Indigenous governments in a “more regional way” on issues such as healthcare and addictions treatment.
Changing the “long history” of decisions being made without Indigenous input requires solving issues of “land tenure, compensation, and self-governance,” McLeod said. The Liberals, he said, would change things using Undrip as well as acting on calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“If Indigenous consultation is important then why implement the moratorium four years ago? And what about the North Slave Métis when it came to the Thaidene Nëné park that just got completed? I don’t believe they were consulted,” D’Aigle shot back at McLeod. The Conservatives, D’Aigle said, would focus on settling land claims and including Indigenous participants in the process for, and economic benefits from, the creation of “any economic projects right across the North.”
The Conservatives, McLeod countered, “had all the chances in the world to turn over the Beaufort Sea to the government.” They “refused to allow” co-management of the Beaufort Sea and it was exempted from the devolution process, he added. The Liberal government has since been involved in scientific research and negotiating co-management of the area with the Inuvialuit and the NWT government, McLeod said.
Calling out the federal government’s track record on working with provincial and territorial governments, Quinlan said the People’s Party does not “want to lean on smaller governments.” The party’s focus, Quinlan said, is on decentralizing the federal government and enabling the provinces and territories.
What happens if Canadians elect a minority government?
In response to an resident’s question about which parties each candidate would look to work with if a minority or coalition government arose, both the Liberal and the Conservative candidates said they did not expect this eventuality.
“Realistically, it is likely that we will have a coalition,” Mary Beckett countered. She said the NDP is prepared to work with Liberals if McLeod’s party will agree on NDP priorities on reconciliation and cellphones and internet. D’Aigle called the potential of a Liberal and NDP coalition a “scary” possibility and characterized it as “Liberal spending on steroids.” In response, Beckett noted the Mulroney Conservative government’s debt-reducing budgets which resulted in “magnificent deficits bloom. I have to say the Conservatives are not good with their money.”
Paul Falvo said the Greens would be prepared to work with any party which would take real action on climate change. On the flip side, Falvo said the party is prepared to “bring down any government” not taking action on climate change.
Quinlan said every party has aspects which he agrees with, noting the Greens’ opposition to the Indian Act, the Liberals’ legalization of cannabis, the NDP’s push to end corporate subsidies, and the Conservatives’ take on the role of government.
Candidates divided on who and what to tax
Candidates differed widely on their plans to tax, or not tax, Canadians. To the left of centre, Falvo and Beckett agreed taxes for the wealthiest need to be increased. Beckett called for a two-point tax increase for those who earn over $210,000 as well as either freezing or lowering taxes for small businesses, which she called an “engine” of the economy.
Falvo said the Greens would not only tax the wealthy but would also close tax loopholes and tax foreign services like Uber, which “put Canadian companies at a disadvantage.” He added the Greens would direct the Canada Revenue Agency to focus on tax evaders “instead of ordinary Canadians and northerners who are audited far too often.”
Incumbent McLeod said his party had cut taxes for the middle class as well as increasing taxes for the highest earners. Adding to this work, the Liberals would implement a $1,200 deductible for travel costs for anyone living in the North, he said.
The Conservatives would scrap the carbon tax, D’Aigle said, calling it “ineffective.” “When you go up to the remote communities and are paying up to $1.85 for fuel. It’s ridiculous,” he said, noting a disparity between these communities and provinces like Alberta.
“You’re already disenfranchising the North, who already have double the heating days … as anybody else down south,” he said. The party would remove the GST from home heating bills.
The PPC would keep all GST in the North to help pay for housing, healthcare, and other services. Lowering income tax, including no tax for those who earn up to $15,000, as well as removing capital gains taxes and the carbon tax are also part of the PPC platform.
On supporting veterans
The conversation took a heated tone when the topic of veterans was brought up by PPC candidate Luke Quinlan during an open discussion period. He called out the Liberals for settling with Omar Khadr, whom he called a “convicted terrorist,” and fighting veterans in court.
Taking a swipe at the Liberals, D’Aigle noted the party had cut veterans’ benefits in the last few weeks. “Thanks for supporting our veterans,” he said, with a wry glance at McLeod. Dealing with a waitlist of around 40,000 veterans is top of mind, D’Aigle said, for veterans’ benefits.
McLeod countered that $10 billion had been cut from veterans’ services before the Liberals were elected. “We have reinstated resources, well over $1 billion more than what it was historically, before the cuts were made,” he said, adding his government had opened veterans’ affairs offices and implemented education training benefits and career transitions programs.
The NDP committed to keeping funds with veterans affairs, even funds which are not spent that year, said Beckett. The party also wants to ensure disability services – for mental and physical disabilities – are available to veterans, as well as mental health services for their families.
Falvo, who noted veteran Bill Gordon was in the room, said high rates of suicide and inadequate support for post-traumatic stress disorder are top concerns. He called for restoring periodic payments to “pre-2006 levels.”