3 candidates vie to unseat incumbent Monica Ell-Kanayuk in Iqaluit-Manirajak

In Iqaluit-Manirajak, three candidates are looking to unseat two-time incumbent and cabinet minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk.

Candidate Okalik Eegeesiak says 'the weakest link' was in Iqaluit-Manirajak

From left, Adam Arreak Lightstone, Okalik Eegeesiak, Monica Ell-Kanayuk and Jude Lewis, the four candidates running in Iqaluit-Manirajak. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Three candidates are looking to unseat two-time incumbent and cabinet minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk in Iqaluit-Manirajak.

Iqaluit-Manirajak was a new constituency in the 2013 territorial election. It's home to some of Iqaluit's newest neighbourhoods, like the Plateau, and one of its oldest, Lower Base. Some of the city's homeless live in shacks and boats along the beach.

Ell-Kanayuk, 62, won the seat handily in 2013 with 69 per cent of the vote. Even though she has spent her life in Iqaluit, Ell-Kanayuk doesn't think she has stronghold on the constituency.

"It's a democracy," she said. 

Ell-Kanayuk is the two-time incumbent and cabinet minister in Iqaluit-Maniarak. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Ell-Kanayuk spent the last six years in cabinet, handling Economic Development and Transportation, Health, and Tourism, among other portfolios. She says she wants to hit the ground running as part of the next government with work she has already started.

"I feel I can still give back to the constituents of Iqaluit-Manirajak," she said. "I supported and worked hard to get better health care services. I've worked diligently for better health programs for Nunavummiut.

"But the work is not done, there's so much more we can do."

Ell-Kanayuk said advancing marine infrastructure projects, like the Iqaluit deep sea port, remains a local priority, as well as addressing overcrowding at the Iqaluit men's shelter and getting people out of homelessness in her constituency.

Nunavut-wide she points to the interwoven social problems of violence against women, alcohol abuse, family violence and suicide as territory-wide issues that need to be addressed through mental health services.

Aiming for premier

Okalik Eegeesiak's term as chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council ends in July so she saw an opportunity to run in Iqaluit-Manirajak.

"That's where the weakest link was," Eegeesiak said.

She said that even with Iqaluit-Manirajak's incumbent sitting as a cabinet minister, "there have been more decisions that have been more divisive than… community focused and that's where I felt I could make a difference."

Eegeesiak says 'the weakest link' is in the Iqaluit-Maniarak riding. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Eegeesiak has never sat in Nunavut's legislature, but she's not without political experience. She tried to run for MLA in 2008 but was disqualified because she hadn't been a resident in Iqaluit for a year. 

Besides her current role as chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, she's past president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (2009-2014), past president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (1996-1999), former chair of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, and former member of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the Nunavut Planning Commission.

She says this experience qualifies her to sit as an MLA: "I think I have the best experience to be premier. I think I have the diplomacy. The diplomatic connections," Eegeesiak said.

She's running because she believes there needs to be more consultation with Nunavummiut.

Eegeesiak says the biggest issues facing her constituency and Nunavut are housing, mental health, getting docks in communities to meet sealift needs, education and improving airport infrastructure.

Time for 'the next generation'

Adam Arreak Lightstone, 30, is a young family man with a baby boy. He was born in Winnipeg but raised in between Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit and Kingston, Ont. He says he's ready and driven to "make my contribution for the betterment of all Nunavummiut."

"Monica has done a great job and I'd like to thank her for taking us this far. But I do believe it is the next generation that's going to be required to take us the rest of the way."

Lightstone is a senior fiscal advisor with the Government of Nunavut, and has held other business management and analysis roles in the government. He volunteers with the soup kitchen and the humane society.

'It is the next generation that's going to... take us the rest of the way,' says Lightstone. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

He says the biggest issue in Iqaluit-Manirajak is the disparity between the "haves and have nots." Lightstone has some specific ideas on how to address that inequality.

"Nunavut Arctic College needs to align their programing with the needs of Iqaluit, which to date they really haven't done," he said. "The Iqaluit campus has been focussed on the region."

He says education is the key to successfully addressing issues of poverty in the long run, not only in Iqaluit but across Nunavut. 

"The amount of children going to school hungry is unacceptable," Lightstone said.

"The schools that do have breakfast programs have showed an increase in attendance. Food and security amongst children could be partially solved through implementation of [government funded] breakfast and lunch programs."

He'd also like to see changes to financial support for adult learners so they don't need to worry about losing social income support if they go back to school.

"In today's economy, education is the key to success," he said. "The drop-out rate in Nunavut is out of control. The government needs to focus on the root cause in order to ensure students' success."

Lightstone launched a social media campaign in the election's first week.

Eliminate 'March madness' to fund housing

Jude Lewis, 52, was born in Grenada but has been living in Iqaluit for 18 years. His son recently completed high school and is off to college, so he says he has the time now to dedicate himself to standing as MLA.

Lewis started his career with the Government of Nunavut as a dental therapist and is now the territorial co-ordinator of dental care.

Lewis says homelessness is the issue that needs to be addressed across Nunavut. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

He says homelessness is the root issue that needs to be addressed both in his constituency and across Nunavut. He would like the government to name a minister responsible for homelessness — shoes he would gladly fill.

"If you don't have a home, you can't maintain a steady job, you can't prepare a healthy meal," he said. "[I] want to focus on home. If you focus on home, all these things will fall in line. People need a proper home."

Lewis says finding the money to build new housing can be a challenge, but a little creativity could go a long way.

He points to "March madness," the phenomenon he sees in government departments rushing to spend any budget surpluses -— whether they need to be spent or not — before the end of the fiscal year.

Instead of penalizing departments for not spending their budgets, Lewis said the government should take any surpluses and earmark them for housing, without any penalty.

"That would change … the way people manage their money in government."

Lewis says he's been asked to run many times before.

"I think I'm a strong candidate," Lewis said. "Monica-Ell — and all due respect to her — I think she's a great woman," Lewis said.

"But it's going to be tough."

With files from Walter Strong