Who will represent the NWT in Ottawa?

On EDGE: Opinion

The first sign Ethel Blondin Andrew was in danger of losing to Dennis Bevington in 2006 came not from any poll, but an unexpected phone call from Paul Martin, in the waning days of the campaign.

Martin did not call to outline a new northern initiative, but to emphasize some point in the Liberal platform.

The unspoken message was that the race was close. The Liberals were in danger of losing a seat that might decide who formed the next government.

The possible outcome in the Northwest Territories kept local experts guessing. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper had edged into a narrow lead in national polls and voters here might follow that trend, was one line of thinking.

Had the experts focused instead on results from previous elections, it should have been obvious the race in the Northwest Territories was between the Liberals and NDP.

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Bevington had been climbing, Blondin Andrew slipping back. He got a big boost after touring the territory as Premier Joe Handley’s advisor on energy. Bevington visited every community and in 2004, came within 53 votes of winning.

The alarming trend might be reversed with a personal plug from the prime minister, appeared to be the thinking in the Liberal war room.

Election results of the past decade also show little to be learned from hitting the streets and quizzing local voters. Inuvik, Hay River and Fort Smith split between Conservatives, Liberal and NDP in 2011.

Brendan Bell came within 500 votes of winning in 2008, but lost in Yellowknife where Bevington has consistently prevailed, growing his vote total in every election. In 2011, Bevington won all but two polls in the city.

It’s always interesting to tag along with the candidates as they door knock or work a room, to gauge voters’ response and perhaps witness a misstep, but nothing this side of outrageous is likely to have any influence on voting day.

No media – print, radio, television or online – has the resources to cover an area as large and as varied as the Northwest Territories, whether it’s a federal or territorial election. At best, media sample from a buffet of interviews, photo ops, social media and the occasional sighting.

Bevington was in Tuktoyaktuk last week, and posted pictures of the ever-eroding beach. At the same time, Floyd Roland was door knocking in Yellowknife, and McLeod posted his thoughts on the party leaders’ debate in Calgary.

In a federal race that polls consistently portray as a close three-way split, vibrations from the national campaigns and leaders’ debates are just as likely to shape the final outcome in the Northwest Territories.

A candidates’ forum scheduled for the first week of October will be the best and maybe only opportunity to see candidates together, though none of them has the spark that lights a room and sends converts running to the polling booth.

Unless the NDP national campaign self-destructs, Bevington will be the winner in the NWT when the votes are counted on October 19.

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