Sunday, April 17, 2011

Swing Riding Close-Up:: Nunavut

Paul Okalik, Liberal

Jack Hicks, NDP

Scott MacCallum, Green

Leona Aglukkaq, 

While there's talk of the race in the Western Arctic riding heating up with Ignatieff and Harper heading there in an attempt to knock off the NDP's Dennis Bevington, it will be interesting to see how things shape up in Nunavut. 

Turnout will be a key to this election with only 47.4% in 2008, down from almost 60% in 1997. Conservative Leona Aglukkaq won on 2008 with 449 votes, which represented a 5.5% margin in the riding. 

There's an all-candidates forum on 23 April that Aglukkaq can attendafter some allegations and schedule jockeying. Leona participated remotely in the 2008 forum, which NunatsiaqOnline featured with a photo of the telephone she used::

While there's talk across the South about the youth vote, Nunavut's population is young—very young with the median age {the 50th. percentile} being 22.1 years in 2001, far below the 37.6 Canada-wide figure. Nunavut has plenty of problems that need addressing and plenty of issues affecting the youth. I've blogged about the cancer epidemic and the territory has very healthcare expenditures, but some of the worst health outcomes in the circumpolar region.

The riding was held by the Liberals for 20 years, from 1988 to 2008. This interesting blog post discusses Nunavut's populist conservatism and highlighting how Aglukkaq and the current Conservative Party might be a good fit for the territory. The current Liberal platform is populist and Paul Okalik, the first premier of Nunavut, resigned his MLA post and has name recognition. My take on much of what Aglukkaq has done for the territory are like many of those of Stephen Harper—piecemeal. While $2.4M aimed at youth mental health issues may be a step in the right direction, there are huge dysfunctional issues that are becoming a part of a normal paradigm of life [see pdf].

This recent Globe and Mail article on Nunavut could well be fodder for a discussion that contrasts Aglukkaq and Harper's tough on crime stance with her opposition. While crime is rising dramatically in some areas of Nunavut, what's the solution? Getting tough on crime by throwing the book at offenders who feel they have nothing to lose. Does the territory want to see more institutionalization or more addressing of the root causes of crime—namely poverty and a lack of opportunity. The Globe and Mail article notes how institutions have historically distorted the cultural landscape::
"While the shift increased Inuit life expectancy from 35 in the early 1940s to 66 in the late 1980s, the transitional period sapped all manner of Inuit self-reliance, replacing it with shoddy government homes, abusive residential schools and social-assistance cheques. Generations since have been raised to sentimentalize the past and expect little of the future, a recipe for the cultural disorientation and undirected anger that breed violence."
Moreover, the intertwined nature of the social problems aren't always readily evident. Can housing conditions be linked to crime? A UBC researcher found links between overcrowding and mental health and anger issues, which isn't surprising given decades of social psychology research::
"In 2006, University of British Columbia social work professor Frank Tester surveyed 91 homes in Cape Dorset to glean the human toll of housing shortages and overcrowding. Some issues cited were obvious, such as cleanliness, privacy and sleep. Others were not. One in four brought up anger. About one in five said depression and violence. Dr. Tester noted that at times one woman a week was being removed to a shelter in Iqaluit."
An education gap also exists in the territory, with the territory unable to fill its positions::
"That invasion ramped up the already-existing tension between Inuit and newcomers. Despite a mandate to fill 85 per cent of government jobs by 2020 with Inuit, the rate has languished around 50 per cent for a decade, because Nunavut's education system cannot produce enough qualified candidates."
It's clear that the territory needs to address these interrelated social issues and the solution is more likely than not to be one of systemic thinking, as opposed to throwing money at projects here and there. While there may be concerns that voting her out may stop the flow of funds North, given the Conservative budget, the impact of a Conservative government is likely to be piecemeal and not systematically address the problems of housing/homelessness, education, poverty, healthcare, etc. Aglukkaq is vulnerable on the building of a port that's never materialized, which Okalik is making a point of, along with education.

Aglukkaq has some weaknesses. She implemented a new policy on Arctic food subsidies, but when prices of certain items that were off the list skyrocketed, her take was to blame the retailers. That's one way to go, but if you look at the costs and normal retail markups, a case can easily be made that the retailers were not gouging the consumer. Well, in any case, the government relented and extended the subsidy until October 2012 and Leona cited this as an example of the government listening to northerners. It came at a price—upwards of $1M in additional costs per month for a $60M program. So much for prudent Conservative fiscal management. This begs the question of how much due diligence was done in researching the effects of the policy change. There seemed to be this mantra of "markets will fix everything" and when the markets react in noticeable ways {like $27 tubs of margarine}, it's blame the retailers followed up by coughing up extra cash to smooth things over during an election cycle.

Aglukkak as Health Minister is also vulnerable. There's the H1N1 body bags issue that left some feeling was swept under the rug, but probably the most telling was her noticeable absence at the Canadian Medical Association meetings last year at Stephen Harper's request. There was a good reason though. Aglukkaq needed to be with Harper for his announcement of airport upgrades in Churchill, Manitoba. Harper has shown you do what your told, but this should at the very least question his priorities and bring up the issue of Aglukkaq's ability to represent the riding under Harper's thumb.

On to the 2008 data. The following polling district maps show how the parties did according to a partisanship index I'm developing. The following is the 2008 turnout map.

Turnout in 2008 Federal Election, Nunavut
The remaining maps show how each party in a polling district fared with respect to the average vote received riding-wide::
Indexp,d= 2008resultp,d — [average (2006 and 2008)p]
where, p = party, i.e., Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green, and d=district. This shows relative hotspots for each party. The index shows how well a party did in a polling district in a riding relative to the party's overall riding performance in 2006 and 2008. On the maps, I did not have the time to standardize the legend, so the index numbers/colour intensity varies from map to map.
Liberal Index

CPC Index

NDP Index

Green Index

Twitterversion:: #SwingRidingCloseUp Nunavut w/sig. social problems & race w/ #Nunavut's first premier, #LPC's @Paul_Okalik @Prof_K