Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nunavut elections

Territorial elections are happening this year at the end of October, and we have three candidates running to become the next Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), representing Cambridge Bay. This is Nunavut's fourth election.

I've just finished watching the entire West Wing series, and campaigning in Nunavut does not look like American presidential campaigning, pulling up wearing a suit in a limousine and speaking from a microphone to a crowd of a thousand cheering people while a marching band plays.  Nope.  Campaigning in Nunavut means putting on your warm snow parka and wool toque and boots, and marching around on the ice, talking to local folks about whatever is on their mind at the Quick Stop.

 Campaigning in Nunavut also means putting up posters at the bulletin boards of the local Co-op grocery store:

Politics in a small town is interesting, because everyone knows everyone.  Everyone knows everyone's dirt. One of the most fascinating things I find about the political system in Nunavut is that it runs as a consensus government with no political parties. From what I understand, this system is done in Canada in many places where the population is aboriginal

It is really interesting to see how politics works without political parties.  From what I understand, MLAs are elected as independents, which kind of means the 22 MLAs are each their own individual party. Also, the areas are single member districts.  In order to win an election, the candidate must win the simple voter plurality. Because there are no political parties, electoral candidates must raise campaign funds on their own, such as Nunavut businesses or their own money.

The lack of political parties also mean that once the Members of the Legislative Assembly are voted in, they have to choose the next Cabinet positions as well as speaker and premier. I can only imagine that this is an interest process. According to a very reliable political sources called Wikipedia, in consensus-type governments, policies are decided by majority vote, so the government has to present policies that will please a majority of the legislature in order to be approved.

I am just two months' shy of the residency requirement to vote in this election, but I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to observe the process.  This week, there was an open forum which gave the public a chance to ask the three electoral candidates questions in order to help them decide who they want to vote for.

Some people complained about the timing of the candidates' forum, which was at the same time as bingo.  Bingo is very popular here. Despite this, there was a big turnout for the event.  People were clearly interested in talking about political issues.

filming the event
 I was impressed by the fact that they had an interpreter set up for simultaneous translation for the  elders that only understand Inuinnaqtun.  There have been visible efforts to make sure that the Inuinnaqtun-speaking elders are included in the political process. A mobile poll has been set up for family members who cannot get out of the house, in order to allow them to be able to vote, with the availability of assistance from the Inuinnaqtun interpreter. 

listening to simultaneous translation

The forum touched on a number of topics that were very important to Cambridge Bay residents, including housing, mental health, addictions, tourism, education, mining, and infrastructure development.  It seems that the big political issues tend to be local even though it's a territorial election.  People wanted to know what the candidates would do for Cambridge Bay, and what kind of support they would get from the government for Cambridge Bay.

The candidates were asked questions such as what did they think were the biggest challenges in the community, and how did they propose to deal with it? The candidates talked about substance abuse, housing, and education, and proposed different approaches.  The candidates were asked about what they would do to maximize the community benefits of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station that was being installed in the community, or preparing the community for mining development.  There was also discussion of the preservation of traditional Inuit culture, especially the language, and how to increase services for the elders in the community. The public asked the candidates for their thoughts on the community's problems of youth vandalism.  The topic of suicide was also raised, which was a sensitive subject, as one could imagine. The very mention of suicide quickly caused a number of people in the audience to be filled with tears.

The moderator

Candidate Clara Evalik

Candidate Keith Peterson, who has has been Cambridge Bay's MLA for the past two terms

Candidate Fred Pederson

I was glad that I attended the forum, even if I don't get to vote. It not only allowed me to see what the electoral process in Nunavut is like, without political parties, but it also highlighted for me what is on the community's mind.  The impression that I got was that people do care about what happens to the community.  I was impressed to see that most people stayed at the forum until the very end, even though it ended later in the night (and even though bingo was happening with a $6000 jackpot!). They wanted to see what was going to happen.