Lea Mollison, the Conservative candidate in the NWT, remains a mystery with only a week and a half until polling day in this month’s federal election.
The candidate – who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and has never visited the NWT – has declined to participate in candidates’ debates and ducked phone calls and emails from reporters.
Mollison pulled out of a Cabin Radio candidates’ forum on September 2, hours before the broadcast, providing no detail about her inability to attend nor responding to repeated attempts to contact her that day.
Mollison has since declined to participate in an economy-focused candidates’ debate to be hosted by the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NNSL on Thursday, and has not responded to an invitation to CBC’s candidates’ forum scheduled for September 15.
Searching for Mollison online turns up little information about the candidate or her promises for the North if she is elected, aside from a recently created candidate Facebook page and a profile on the Conservative Party’s website.
That profile states Mollison “believes in a fiscally responsible government that must be held accountable for its spending” and that governments should “be answerable to the people when problems arise.”
But should a candidate be answerable to reporters when they’re running to become the territory’s federal representative?
Matthew Lakusta, president of the NWT Conservative Party, said the local party has been in regular contact with Mollison’s campaign team and encouraged them to respond to media requests.
“It’s a unique situation for us and obviously we encourage any campaign in Canada to participate as they can and with the constraints that they have,” he said.
Earlier this month, NNSL reported Mollison and her team had “begun to reach out to various NWT communities to hear their needs and concerns.”
In an email to Cabin Radio, Mollison and her team repeated that statement and said they were working on a platform that demonstrates the Conservatives’ “focus in the North and for all of Canada,” which they promised to release shortly.
So far, the Conservative Party has pledged to fund a deepwater port in Tuktoyaktuk and the Grays Bay project that would connect a proposed deepwater port in Nunavut to the NWT winter road network.
“I am excited and honoured to represent northerners, and to push the agendas of the North,” the email stated, adding Mollison and her team plan to respond more directly to inquiries in the remaining days ahead of the election.
Even so, that response did not address Cabin Radio’s latest request for an interview.
‘Tough for a Conservative to win’
Amid vocal pushback from northerners against the Conservatives’ selection of a parachute candidate, not everyone expressed surprise.
Former NWT MLA Dave Ramsay, who was involved with the territory’s progressive conservative association about 12 years ago, said it can be a hard slog to run a Conservative campaign in the NWT.
“It’s a tough riding for a Conservative to win,” Ramsay said. “The fact that they couldn’t find a candidate that lives in the Northwest Territories that would run speaks a lot to the troubles the party finds itself in, in the Northwest Territories.”
The territory hasn’t had a Conservative MP since Dave Nickerson held the position from 1979 to 1988, when the region formed the Western Arctic riding along with parts of what is now Nunavut.
In the 2019 election, NWT Conservative candidate Yanik D’Aigle came second with 26 percent of the vote, behind Liberal Michael McLeod’s 40 percent.
Ramsay said a lot of work goes into finding a candidate, “putting them on the ground,” and connecting both the candidate and their party’s platform with residents in the territory’s 33 spread-out communities.
With just five weeks between the election’s announcement and polling day, and the added burden of restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ramsay said this year’s campaign faces an even steeper uphill battle.
He believes the territory’s incumbent, McLeod, has represented the NWT well in Parliament and will be “a tough guy to beat.” But he said Jane Groenewegen – a former MLA alongside Ramsay, who is running as an independent – is a “formidable candidate.”
Advance polls open on Friday at 9am and run until September 13. Polling day is September 20. The deadline to register to vote or apply to vote by mail is September 14 at 6pm.