Baker Lake candidates plan to harness mining revenue to spur change in constituency
Karen Kabloona is challenging incumbent Simeon Mikkungwak
The two candidates campaigning to represent Baker Lake, Nunavut, at the territorial level both want to harness the economic potential of mining to improve infrastructure and education.
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The fourth-largest community in Nunavut — and the territory's only inland community — is closest to Agnico-Eagle's Meadowbank gold mine.
In 2013, when Simeon Mikkungwak was first elected, the community was grappling with the company's announcement that the mine would be closing three years earlier than originally planned. Residents were concerned about an economic collapse when the mining jobs dried up.
Since then, Agnico-Eagle has invested heavily in exploration and opened a satellite mine site, Amaruq, extending Meadowbank's life by 14 years.
The incumbent says he wants to see more evidence of that economic development in the community, especially in housing and infrastructure.
Mikkungwak wants to see more advanced landing technology used at the local airport.
Larger health centre
His main concern, however, is the state of the health centre, which he says is inadequate because all staff, except nurses and doctors, had to move into another building to be accomodated.
"Being one of the larger communities, and looking at our community health centre — it's very small," he said.
Mikkungwak says there are design plans in the works for a health centre and he intends to champion its completion if he is re-elected.
He has worked at the Hudson Bay Company, as a land inspector for the Kivalliq Inuit Association, and for 14 years he was an alcohol and drug counsellor for the Nunavut government.
In his time as MLA, he said he learned the importance of keeping his constituents up-to-date on what was happening in the legislature, including the back-and-forth on the controversial education bill, which he says he opposed.
"I have worked with the elected bodies of Baker Lake and at the same time I have tried to address the needs of Baker Lake voters," he said.
The 48-year-old is running against 40-year-old Karen Kabloona, a first-time candidate.
Kabloona was most recently the associate deputy minister for the Quality of Life Secretariat, a position created by the Nunavut government in response to the coroner's inquest into high suicide rates in the territory.
She has also worked as the executive assistant to the ministers of justice and health, as the director of tourism and cultural industries, and as director of aboriginal and circumpolar affairs.
Born in Baker Lake, Kabloona says she's excited about the opportunities in the community and looking forward to helping build it a stronger future.
She says the community has a lot of new young adults and she wants to see mining funds go into creating jobs for them.
Though she knows it's not an accomplishable goal in the fifth Legislative Assembly, she says she wants to lay the groundwork for bigger dreams for the community, including a university and a wellness centre.
She says Agnico-Eagle has committed $5 million toward the creation of a university and she sees this as an opportunity for Baker Lake residents to get a lasting legacy from their work in the mines.
"We need to be training Inuit here to be nurses so that they stay here," she said.
Kabloona says she's concerned that the health centre is often closed, except for emergencies, because of a shortage of nurses.
She sees the university as a way to entrench Inuktitut, train nurses and teachers, and give Nunavut Arctic College's environmental technology students the chance to upgrade to an environmental science degree to work on caribou management plans.
Her other long-term goal for the community is a wellness centre with an Inuktitut-language daycare and opportunities for elders and youth to connect over cultural programming.
"So many people are working at the mines that you have half of a family working at a mine, so you need that social support here so that the families are stable and happy and healthy," she said.
With files from Jordan Konek