Federal election season is officially underway and northerners will soon have their chance to select who will be their voice in Ottawa’s halls of power.
Voters in both northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan ridings will have five candidates to choose from. In northern Manitoba - which is covered by the federal riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski - the incumbent MP is Niki Ashton, running for the federal NDP. Ashton has represented the area since October 2008 and is the longest-serving MP to cover the area since NDP MP Rod Murphy, who represented the riding from 1979-1993. Before the writ dropped, the Thompson-born Ashton served as the NDP’s critic for Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development and the deputy critic for Reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.
Recently, Ashton pledged to support housing, infrastructure investment, pharmacare, supporting northern economic development and a tight approach on climate change. Ashton also voiced support for the NDP’s national student financial relief plan, which would cut interest rates on student loans, including outstanding loans, to zero per cent.
The candidates facing Ashton on the ballot are headlined by former MLA Judy Klassen, who is running for the Liberal Party of Canada. A former member of the Manitoba Liberal Party, Klassen won election to the provincial legislature in 2016 in the riding of Kewatinook, consisting mostly of the sparsely inhabited northeast portion of Manitoba. Briefly serving as the party’s interim leader following the 2016 election, Klassen stepped down from her seat in Winnipeg earlier this year to run federally.
Originally from St. Theresa Point First Nation, Klassen’s main pledges so far have revolved around continuing federal support for remote northern communities.
The Conservatives are running Cyara Bird in the riding. Bird currently lives in Black River First Nation, a small reserve north of Pine Falls east of Lake Winnipeg.
While Bird is running for office for the first time, she has gained the support of a number of high-ranking Conservative MPs, including Michelle Rempel and Candice Bergen. Bird was also part of the Daughters of the Vote program, which selected one delegate from all 338 Canadian federal ridings to take part in a national event on Parliament Hill. Bird represented the Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa riding as part of the event. Bird has already come to Flin Flon as part of a door knocking campaign.
Ralph McLean of The Pas will represent the Green Party. McLean is fresh off a campaign where he ran as the Green Party of Manitoba’s nominee for The Pas-Kameesak, earning 15 per cent of the vote and finishing third of four candidates. Ken Klyne, originally of Snow Lake, will run for the nascent Patrice Bernier-led People’s Party of Canada. Klyne is the president of the Manitoba Prospectors and Developers’ Association and has stated promoting Manitoba mining as one of his central goals.
Across the provincial border to the west lies the Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River (DMCR) riding, which contains most of northern Saskatchewan including Creighton, Denare Beach, Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay, La Ronge, La Loche and other communities.
In its recent history, DMCR has played host to some of Canada’s closest races. Liberal Gary Merasty won in 2006 by only 67 votes, while Conservative Rob Clarke held on in 2011 by less than 800 votes.
In 2015, NDP nominee Georgina Jolibois scraped out a win against Liberal Lawrence Joseph by 71 votes. A recount was called, but the result still stood.
The riding is one of few in Canada which may be a three-way race - each of the three main federal parties have held the riding at some point in the past 12 years. Jolibois will be running for her second term as MP, representing the NDP. A four-term mayor of La Loche, Jolibois won MacLean’s Parliamentarian of the Year award in 2018, as voted on by her colleagues. Housing, health care and economic growth are among her listed priorities.
Jolibois’ two main challengers are Conservative Gary Vidal and Liberal Tammy Cook-Searson. Vidal, a now-former mayor of Meadow Lake, describes himself as a fiscal conservative and has voiced an emphasis on reforming government financial policy if elected. Vidal’s official platform has not been publicly released. He has visited the Flin Flon area twice since receiving his party’s nomination late last year.
Cook-Searson is the chief of Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Saskatchewan’s largest First Nation. Cook-Searson came to national prominence during the 2015 northern Saskatchewan wildfires, where she became a voice for people evacuated from the region. Cook-Searson is also the president of Kitsaki Management Limited Partnership, an Indigenous-led company that provides trucking and logistical services.
Sarah Kraynick has been selected as the Green Party’s candidate. A tech entrepreneur, Kraynick currently operates a cyber security firm. Based out of Christopher Lake, Kraynick has mentioned connectivity, health care and the environment as among her main concerns. Jerome Perrault of Aberdeen has been confirmed as the People’s Party candidate, but has not released any public statements since earning the party’s nomination.
Election day will be Oct. 21. Advance polling will begin across Canada on Oct. 11 - exact locations and hours for either Churchill-Keewatinook Aski and Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River are not yet known. Election day polls will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Manitoba and from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Saskatchewan.