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Inuvik candidates ignore territory's fiscal realities

The Issue: 
Territorial election debate

On Thursday evening (Nov. 12), Inuvik’s four candidates vying for her two seats gathered in a forum sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. While I applaud efforts to allow public access to our candidates, I found myself holding that same applause come the end of the evening. The complete lack of regard, if not disdain, for the territory’s fiscal realities made me weak in the knees.

The North, at first glance, seems to be incumbent MLA Alfred Moses’ promised land of milk and honey -- rich in opportunity, history and potential.

This is a land that has welcomed me kindly and provided me with a series of opportunities beyond my wildest imagination. Having become involved in the politics of this region fairly early in my stay here, I’ve been blessed with an insider’s view of her machinations.

Our territory’s $1.3-billion debt ceiling and over $3 billion of other debt that’s just not counted (for, you know, convenience sake), were striking figures to become aware of, but weren’t immediately relevant to a federal candidacy. These numbers are, however, very important to private citizens and, here in my role as a guest columnist with the Inuvik Drum, I hope to hold the government to account.

At numerous points in the forum, the two incumbents almost jubilantly exclaimed that the debt limit of the territory had been raised not once, but twice in the past three-year session of the legislature. In a Keynesian economic model, this could be a good thing and, indeed, I personally find a lot to agree with in Mr. Keynes’ theorems. However, at no point did Mr. Keynes suggest that government should check its brain at the door.

Two excellent examples of this non-thought would be the proposed Mackenzie Valley Highway and the nearly complete Inuvik-Tuk highway, which both only serve to create larger debt obligations for our children to service over the coming decades.

In terms of decreasing cost of living, the Mackenzie Valley Highway would take approximately 335 years to pay for itself and the road to Tuk will literally never do so. It would be less expensive for the government to write a $5 million cheque to Tuk every year for the next century (and a $1.65 million cheque every year thereafter in perpetuity) than to have built this road. Even when it comes to jobs, we’re talking about a few dozen permanent positions.

If these projects are about connecting communities, as was suggested, why haven’t the candidates gotten serious about duopoly busting on some of the highest airfares in the world? The question regarding as much was probably the most awkward and least well-addressed of the entire forum.

If the government is seriously interested in lowering the cost of living, why have none of our candidates given serious attention to diversifying our energy mix? We import and burn – with zero return on investment – half a billion dollars in diesel every year for electricity. Using the Diavik model, we could simply install three wind turbines for approximately $23 million (about seven per cent of the cost of the road to Tuk or less than five per cent of our annual energy budget) and have almost completely free energy within six years (or, 1.7 per cent of the time it would take to see a return on the Mackenzie Valley Highway) and on a scale well beyond the peak rate of consumption for Inuvik. Even on the jobs front, data shows that a dollar invested in green technology and energy produces approximately seven times more jobs than a dollar invested in traditional energy sectors (like Inuvik’s beloved oil and gas).

At the end of the day, I have no hate in my heart for any of the candidates. Moses’ record is possibly the brightest of any junior member in the history of the legislature. His work on the Mental Health Act alone is a remarkable legacy to leave.

Dez Loreen differentiated himself as a guy connected to the community with a strong sense of humour, something nice to have in politics.

Robert C. McLeod has a remarkable amount of experience in the legislature and has consistently served in cabinet. And Jimmy Kalinek represents a completely apolitical existence, but is instead connected to the people, land and history of this region like no one else on the ticket. My complaint isn’t about the lack of qualifications, it’s about the lack of creativity.

If I can ask a favour of my fellow Inuvikians: write your nominee, and ask them why, even with a $1.7-billion budget, they can’t seem to think outside of this sandbox that’s been created for a region with the net population of a small southern town. With this rich a set of tools at our disposal, we, as a territory, should be leading revolutionary change across the continent.

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