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'All the other issues come from lack of housing.'

NDP contender says shelter is top priority


Paul Irngaut chuckles at the suggestion he should paint his red pickup truck orange.

But Nunavut's New Democratic Party candidate doesn't really care what colour his truck is.

"I wear red shirts, blue shirts and green shirts, but orange is the colour of our party," he said inside his new campaign office in the old Hunters and Trappers building at Iqaluit's Four Corners intersection.

Irngaut and Liberal Kirt Ejesiak both launched their campaigns for the Oct. 14 federal election last week.

Leona Aglukkaq, the MLA for Nattilik and Nunavut's health minister, announced Sept. 10, in a statement in the legislative assembly, that she will resign from the Nunavut cabinet effective Sept. 11 to run for the Conservative Party of Canada.

The Conservatives have been courting Aglukkaq, who until now was touted as a possible candidate for the Nunavut premier's job, for the past several weeks.

As for the Green Party, Peter Ittinuar, who served as MP for the old Nunatsiaq riding between 1979 and 1984, said last week that he's still "contemplating" a run for the Greens in Nunavut.

For Irngaut, 48, the main issue in this campaign in Nunavut's endemic housing crunch. While he acknowledges the $200 million the Conservative government spent on housing here from the 2006 federal budget, he says it's not enough.

"All the other issues come from lack of housing," Irngaut said. "All the social issues, all the health issues. So that's one of the priorities of our campaign is to raise that issue."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's now-famous "use it or lose it" mantra is proof the Conservative are out of touch with Nunavut's social needs, Irngaut suggests. While the Conservatives have announced millions in new military spending for the North, Irngaut said the Nunavut land claim means Canada can't "lose it."

"It may look good to the outside world, but you have to do more for the people inside the territory," he said. Instead, Irngaut promises to balance job creation and the protection of the environment.

Irngaut, a former CBC reporter and communications manager of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s wildlife division, faces an uphill struggle to wrest the Nunavut riding away from the Liberal Party who have held it since Jack Anawak won the seat in 1988.

He says Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the outgoing Liberal MP who won the seat four times between 1997 and 2006, toed the party line while her party was in power.

Visiting all of Nunavut's communities during a 36-day election campaign is difficult and expensive, so Irngaut's campaign plans to rely heavily on reaching voters via telephone and community radio. Irngaut also plans to use his contacts at hunters and trappers organizations, cultivated during his 10 years at NTI to get the message out.

Nunavut's mayors are also key contacts, he said.

"They are elected representatives of each community," he said. "They know the issues. They're the ones who deal with what's happening in their communities."

One of the key Liberal strategies in this campaign is to convince disaffected voters not to cast their ballots for the NDP or Greens, which could let the Conservatives come up the middle and win close seats.

The Conservatives will likely argue that Nunavut will benefit from having an MP in the government benches. But that's an argument Irngaut rejects.

"You have that argument where you have to be in government to get things done. It's crap," he said. "They haven't done it."

Nunavut has been the subject of much NDP attention over the last year, with party leader Jack Layton making two visits here with several of the party's MPs in tow.

Michael Byers, a Vancouver academic and frequent commentator on arctic sovereignty issues, has also passed through the territory, and is running for the party in Vancouver Centre.

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