People in Nunavut cast their vote today in the fourth general election held since the territory was created in 1999. With no political parties and no polling, it’s impossible to predict what will happen—unless you happen to know some or all of the 71 candidates and their community and family ties. (And if you don't know, take a look at this helpful photo gallery, featuring profiles of all the candidates.)
However, there are a few things pundits will be keeping an eye on.
1. The return of Paul Okalik?
Paul Okalik, now 49, is making a bid to return to politics after a brief hiatus following an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the House of Commons.
Okalik served two terms as Nunavut’s first premier (and Canada’s youngest at age 34) and was re-elected in 2008 for a third term, but was unsuccessful in his bid for premier that year. (Under Nunavut’s consensus government, the MLAs elect the premier by secret ballot). He resigned from the legislature in April 2011 to challenge Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq as the Liberal candidate in the federal election (Aglukkaq won with 49% of the vote; Okalik took 28%).
This year, Okalik is poised for a comeback but things have changed considerably in Iqaluit. For one thing, his former constituency of Iqaluit-West is no more. The map was redrawn earlier this year to add a fourth seat to Nunavut’s bustling capital.
Okalik has been busily campaigning in the new constituency of Iqaluit-Sinaa, which includes part of his former base. However, he’s facing three serious challengers, including Leesee Papatsie, the woman who put Nunavut’s hunger issue on the map with her Feeding my Family Facebook page.
2. Will Premier Eva Aariak win her seat again?
Nunavut’s second premier, Eva Aariak, has already announced that she won’t be running for the top job again, but she has been on the campaign trail in the new constituency of Iqaluit-Tasiluk.
This time she’s facing four challengers who are campaigning hard. George Hickes, 44, comes from a very political family and has the backing of his cousin, Nunavut’s longest-serving MLA for Iqaluit Centre Hunter Tootoo. Another challenger is a former cabinet minister in Paul Okalik’s government, Patterk Netser, although as a newcomer to Iqaluit, it’s not clear how much support he’ll gain.
While Aariak has said she won’t be premier again, there are few obvious successors. Aariak’s own selection as premier came as something of a surprise in 2008—she was selected over two long-time political animals, Okalik and Tagak Curley.
3. New constituency confusion
Until this year, only Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit were considered large enough to require more than one MLA. This year, the communities of Igloolik and Arviat will both elect a second member to the legislature. That means voters will have to vote in the correct constituency, and that could be a challenge.
Since 2003, Elections Nunavut has complained about the lack of civic addressing and the challenges it poses to returning officers. In the lead-up to the election, Arviat installed its first street signs. Igloolik, however, still relies on the old system of house numbers, which were frequently assigned in the order in which the houses were built, rather than where they’re located. According to Elections Nunavut, returning officers are working hard to make sure everyone knows where to vote.
4. Social media
As with any election, social media will inevitably play a role. Several candidates have campaigned on Facebook and Twitter and in blogs. According to Elections Nunavut, all of this online activity counts as a “broadcast,” which means it’s all subject to the media black-out period in the two days before the election. Several candidates received notices telling them to shut down their online campaign sites and Twitter accounts. However, not all of them did, and it remains to be seen what actions Elections Nunavut might take to correct this.
Nunavut’s new Elections Act, updated earlier this year, also includes a new rule that prevents people or organizations outside of the territory from campaigning in an election, though they are not prohibited from expressing their opinions. One former politician has challenged the rule as an affront to her rights. However, the rule does not appear to have had a significant impact on the campaigns themselves.
5. The weather
This is the Arctic after all. With polls spread out from the barrenlands of Baker Lake to the chilly shores of Victoria Island and the rocky cliffs of Ellesmere Island, things could easily go awry. The forecast looks good in the capital, but unexpected wind, snow or sleet could keep voters away from the polls.
This year, Elections Nunavut is planning to share results online and post them to its website and Twitter feeds. However, technology can fail, and everyone is preparing for delays in counting and reporting the votes.