Audience steals the show at CBC's federal election forum in Iqaluit

Three of the four candidates vying to be Nunavut's next MP faced off at a forum last night in Iqaluit, but it was the crowd that stole the show.

Forum focuses on Nunavut-specific topics, like Nutrition North, mental health and housing

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      The crowd stole the show Tuesday night at CBC's candidates forum in Iqaluit. It was the only forum in Nunavut this election to cover a range of issues.

      Three of the four candidates running for member of Parliament for Nunavut were present: Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq, Jack Anawak for the NDP and the Liberal's Hunter Tootoo. Green Party candidate Spencer Rocchi was invited but did not attend.

      The crowd was vocal at the forum, either applauding, cheering or laughing to show their support for a candidate, or groaning when they did not.

      Aglukkaq faced jeers and laughter from the crowd several times.

      She made repeated references to how the Liberals would bring back the long-gun registry. Each time, Tootoo said that is not the case. By the time Aglukkaq mentioned it in her closing remarks, and how it would make hunters' lives more difficult, the audience groaned.

      Nunavut's Health and Justice Minister Paul Okalik, who also ran for the Liberals in the last election, took his role as an audience member a step further. He was often seen reading a newspaper when Aglukkaq was speaking. Aglukkaq was infamously caught reading a newspaper during question period when opposition parties questioned the government about high food prices in the North.

      Nunavut Health and Justice Minister Paul Okalik was often seen reading a newspaper when Conservative candidate Leona Aglukkaq was speaking. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

      Nutrition North top issue 

      Nutrition North was the number one discussion topic throughout the forum.

      In both Inuktitut and English, the candidates were asked about the food subsidy program again and again through questions from the CBC or from the audience in the hall and at home.

      "The Nutrition North program, I've always said, can always be improved. There are ways to address that," said Aglukkaq.

      "We have an advisory committee that's established of Northerners taking direct feedback from Northerners on suggestions on how to improve the program," she said.

      Aglukkaq said a re-elected Conservative government would invest an additional $32 million into Nutrition North.

      She said the government would also make it mandatory for retailers to record the subsidy on consumers' receipts.

      "We know that this program is broken," said the NDP's Anawak.

      The problem is "two apples cost $5 and a family size cereal costs $17," he said.

      Anawak said there's a problem when there is no accountability from the retailers, and pledged that an NDP government is committed to a comprehensive review of Nutrition North.

      Tootoo said the Liberals would increase funding by $40 million over four years.

      "Everybody and their dog up here know Nutrition North isn't working," Tootoo said. "People used to have a choice. This new program pretty much took that choice away from people." 

      He also said the government decided what was healthy to eat.

      "A turnip is eight bucks here in town," said Tootoo. "It's a vegetable. It's not subsidized."

      '40 studies and nothing has been done yet?'

      Last night's forum covered a range of Nunavut-specific topics, from housing, to improved air transportation, to mental health and suicide prevention.

      But one of the best exchanges of the evening came during a question on whether the candidates' support a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

      Aglukkaq said there are many women in Nunavut living in domestic violence situations who need help right now.

      "We can't wait for another study. There are over 40 studies done already," she said. "So in Nunavut, do we wait another five years to respond to the women in domestic violence crisis situations?"

      "Forty studies and nothing has been done yet? That is unacceptable," Anawak said.

      "The New Democratic Party has made a commitment that if they were to form the government, they would start the inquiry for missing and murdered indigenous women in the first 100 days of their rule," he said.

      Tootoo said the Liberals would also launch a national inquiry.

      "Is that going to solve those cases? No, it may not," he said.

      But, Tootoo said, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an inquiry could help affected families bring their stories forward.


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