PROFILE | Michael McLeod, Liberal, wants to bring people together

Michael McLeod says infrastructure funding could be used to improve Northern transportation links, one of the biggest impediments to resource exploration and development.

'I'm good at building consensus. I'm good at keeping lines of communication open'

Michael McLeod is best known in the N.W.T. for his three terms as an MLA, the last two in cabinet.

But the beautiful glass and slate legislative assembly is a long way from the small community halls and rec centres where he got his first taste of political life.

"I was probably 17 years old when I got involved with aboriginal politics, sitting in at tribal council meetings," McLeod says, sitting behind a desk in his campaign office atop Old Town Hill in Yellowknife.

"I became a mayor at 22 years old, which doesn't happen in larger centres. I was a private contractor at a very young age. I was given a training opportunity with the Fort Providence Dene Council to work as their band manager at a young age, so a lot of opportunities came my way as a result of living in a small community."

That small community was Fort Providence. McLeod, 56, is the younger brother of Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod. They were taught the importance of education and self-sufficiency from a young age.

"My father was very influential in my life. At a very young age he started pushing myself and all of my family to focus on getting a decent education… to have a good job so we could support our families and continue to live a lifestyle that would be respectful of others."

Environment and economy

Since losing the 2011 territorial election, McLeod has served as a director of the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board and worked for the territorial government developing tourism in the South Slave.

Growing up in a place where many people hunt and fish for food gave McLeod a deep appreciation of the importance of the environment, he says. "But it also showed me there's a real need to have a healthy economy in order to have jobs. If there's no work in a small community it's very difficult to make ends meet."

McLeod says his biggest political achievement came before he entered territorial politics. He was part of an effort to revive Dehcho land claim and self government negotiations. It involved finding common ground between the fiercely independent region and the federal government.

He says bringing together people with different points of view is one of his strengths as a politician: "I like to think that I'm able to build relationships with different organizations. I'm good at building consensus. I'm good at keeping lines of communication open."

'A lot of Liberals… are willing to come back'

In recent elections, the territory has been divided in its party support. The oil and gas driven Beaufort Delta has voted Conservative, smaller communities have largely voted Liberal, and Yellowknife and the South Slave have backed the NDP.

"For a good part of its history, a good part of the N.W.T. was Liberal," McLeod says. "And I'm finding, there's a lot of Liberals who are willing to come back."

Nowhere is that loyalty stronger than in the Tlicho region.

A photo still hangs on the wall of Chief Jimmy Bruneau School in Edzo of then Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Jean Chrétien at the school's grand opening. Chrétien was also in Behchoko as Prime Minister for the signing of the Tlicho Agreement, unquestionably the biggest political development for the Tlicho.

But to win the Northwest Territories, candidates must win Yellowknife.

"I'm going to be in Yellowknife right from now until the end of the election... knocking on doors, attending forums, attending any event that I can to expose what I'm all about and what I'm pledging to do."

New pipeline, infrastructure

McLeod has promised that a Liberal infrastructure plan would provide funding for a new water pipeline to replace the city's aging one. He says proposed infrastructure funding could be used to improve Northern transportation links, one of the biggest impediments to resource exploration and development.

The Liberals have also promised a 33 per cent increase to the residency component of the Northern cost of living tax deduction, more money for Nutrition North and a renewed relationship with aboriginal people.

And they want to legalize marijuana.

An abstainer himself, McLeod promotes clean and sober living, but he sees value in legalization.

"I think if we legalize it we can control it. Right now we can't control it. We know for a fact that young people are getting their hands on it. We know people are making money selling it. The laws that we have in place aren't working."

In the Northwest Territories, four candidates are running in the federal election Oct. 19. CBC profiled all four candidates.


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