Saganash ready to work with new Liberal government on northern, Indigenous issues
“The health of our economy and environment are so dependent on the government’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis”
If the New Democratic Party’s Romeo Saganash was first elected as MP on the back of the party’s orange wave in 2011, this time around, he says it was hard work and experience that paid off.
Saganash held onto Quebec’s northernmost riding in a close race with Liberal candidate Pierre Dufour, who led polls through most of the evening, until Saganash pulled away and won Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou in the early hours of Oct. 20.
“I knew it was going to be tight,” Saganash told Nunatsiaq News Oct. 20. “The one thing that reassured me was that [Dufour] didn’t get away or widen that lead.”
Polls from riding’s Cree and Inuit communities trickled in last, boosting Saganash’s numbers.
And while he credits his win to votes from both Eeyou Istchee and Nunavik communities, Saganash noted the support he has grown in the riding’s southern hubs, which include the small city of Val d’Or.
“I had a really strong base of support even in the south, which is a reflection of the work I’ve done,” Saganash said.
“People know where I come from, my experience, and I think that’s what they voted for.”
Saganash finished the night with 12,788 votes, or 37 per cent of the ballots cast, about 1,700 votes ahead of second-place Dufour, who took 32.1 per cent of the vote.
The Bloc Québécois candidate Luc Ferland, a former provincial MNA in the region, came in third with 18.5 per cent of the vote, followed by Conservative candidate Steven Hébert, with 9.3 per cent.
Saganash said his contact with communities in Quebec’s largest riding, through social media and in-person visits, and his focus on Indigenous issues, won — and kept — the trust of constituents in Nunavik.
During his first term in office, Saganash served as NDP critic for international development and natural resources — and before this federal campaign got underway, he served as the NDP’s deputy critic for intergovernmental Aboriginal affairs.
Saganash said he’s also proud of the role that the NDP played in triggering the Auditor General of Canada’s audit of the Nutrition North Canada program, which last year found the program did not ensure that northern retailers were passing on the full subsidy.
Upon his return to the House of Commons, Saganash said Nutrition North is one of the first issues he plans to raise, along with the high cost of living faced by many communities in the riding.
But he’ll return to Ottawa with a much smaller team: the NDP went from 103 MPs to just 44 — many of those losses in Quebec — losing its status as the official opposition.
That’s where Saganash hopes to use his experience as a negotiator to bend the ear of Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal majority government.
“I think the Liberals and I are in agreement on a lot of issues, and I’m confident I’ll have the ability to work with them,” he said.
“They’ve said they set up an inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women, and I’m going to push them on that promise.”
Saganash said he’ll be watching how the Liberal government delivers on its promises to renew Ottawa’s relationship with the country’s Indigenous peoples.
“[The health of] our economy and environment are so dependent on the government’s relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Métis,” he said.
“We have to continue on that path.”