Conservatives name candidate in Nunavut

“I like to provide an alternative for people,” candidate says


Duncan Cunningham of Pond Inlet, a well-known government senior manager and small business owner in the Baffin region, will carry the Conservative Party of Canada’s banner into Nunavut in the next federal election.

“The reason I’ve been involved in politics in Nunavut, right from the beginning, is I like to provide an alternative for people. Like southern Canada, Nunavut has become somewhat of a one-party state and there has been no viable alternative, and I’d like to present one,” Cunningham said.

Nunavut’s Conservative riding association confirmed Cunningham’s nomination last weekend.

The new, reinvigorated Conservative party is now daring to dream of victory in the next federal election, which is likely to be held this spring. Paul Martin’s scandal-ridden Liberal government is falling sharply in popularity across the country, and the now-united Conservative party hopes to takes dozens of seats away from the Liberals in Ontario and other parts of the country.

“I feel we have a pretty good chance of forming the next government, so to have a northerner there with experience, who can maybe even be a cabinet member, we’re really excited about that,” said Allen Hayward, president of the Conservative riding association in Nunavut.

The Conservative Party of Canada came into being on Dec. 7 last year, in a merger of the former Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties. Last weekend, Stephen Harper, the former Alliance leader, easily defeated Belinda Stronach and Tony Clement to win the new party’s leadership.

Cunningham, a long-time Progressive Conservative supporter, says his party and his candidacy offers the best chance of breaking the Liberal party’s 16-year stranglehold on the federal Nunavut riding.

The 11-year-old Liberal government, Cunningham says, has never taken Nunavut seriously.

“Nunavut coming into Canada should have been looked upon as a nation-building exercise. I don’t think it was. I think it was just a very minor thing for the Liberal government,” he said.

In contrast to its treatment of Nunavut, the federal government provided the new province of Newfoundland with generous support when it entered Confederation in 1949 as Canada’s tenth province, Cunningham said.

“There was heavy involvement by the federal government, six years of transitional payments, forgiveness of debt. It was a major, major thing. But here in Nunavut we have a Liberal government who is fighting a constitutionally-protected land claims document.”

He said the Liberals have a poor record in implementing the federal government’s obligations under the Nunavut land claims agreeement since they came to power in 1993, just after the deal was signed and proclaimed in the final days of Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative regime.

“They’ve had plenty of time to implement it, but despite the fact that we’ve had a couple of Liberal MPs, this hasn’t happened,” Cunningham said.

Besides its foot-dragging on the Nunavut land claims agreeement, Cunningham said the Liberal government has failed to give Nunavut a fair share of its offshore fish-stocks, and have failed in helping Nunavut develop its fishery.

“It’s been 20 years now in Nunavut, and the Canadian principles of adjacency don’t seem to apply to Nunavut and the Liberal party is making decisions on who gets licences. This is wrong and that has to be changed,” Cunningham said.

Other Liberal failures include the lack of an economic development agreement for Nunavut, inadequate support for health care, and the hugely unpopular federal firearms registry, Cunningham said.

Last October, Cunningham, 48, left his job as Baffin regional director with the Department of Sustainable Development to work as a “stay-at-home-dad,” and to prepare himself for the Conservative candidacy in Nunavut.

He now lives in Pond Inlet with his wife, Rhoda, and two of their three children, Ryan and Alexandra. Their oldest daughter, Leia, is attending university in northern Ontario.

In the last federal election in 2000, a well-funded and well-organized Nunavut Liberal association helped the incumbent MP, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, roll to an easy victory.

In contrast, the Progressive Conservative, New Democrat, and Green candidates all ran weak campaigns organized at the last minute on shoe-string budgets.

Two candidates are contesting the Liberal nomination in Nunavut: Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the incumbent, and Manitok Thompson. Liberal members will decide on a candidate March 30.

New Democrats in Nunavut will choose their candidate by April 15.

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