NDP candidate offers a “strong, critical voice” in Ottawa

Bill Riddell, justice of the peace, wants to be Nunavut’s first non-Inuk MP



Bill Riddell, Nunavut’s federal NDP candidate, shoots back a quick response when asked how he can represent people whose language he can’t speak.

“I’m a good listener,” Riddell said shortly into his campaign. “I listen to people, I network with people. [And] I think I have demonstrated that I am sensitive to people’s needs.”

Riddell, a well-known volunteer and housing advocate in Iqaluit, emerged at the last minute as the NDP’s latest hope for breaking the Liberal stranglehold on Nunavut. He said he entered the race shortly after the election was called on May 23 because he believed the Liberal party has failed to meet the territory’s needs.

“Traditionally, Nunavut people have voted for the person in government and it hasn’t done any good,” Riddell said, referring to the government of Nunavut’s on-going struggle with inadequate federal funding.

“I believe there needs to be a strong, critical voice in Ottawa.”

Although he hasn’t run for office before, the 66-year-old points to a long list of experiences, such as helping Nunavummiut with housing problems, which he believes has prepared him to become Nunavut’s first non-Inuk MP.

Riddell moved to Nunavut from Ontario 22 years ago, and taught social work at Nunavut Arctic College. Eventually, he became a justice of the peace, dealing with the outcomes of the territory’s social problems, and then a residential tenancies officer, handling conflicts between landlords and tenants.

But Riddell also highlights his years as the mental health coordinator of a drug and alcohol drop-in centre in Iqaluit.

In three months, Riddell said the centre helped 10,000 clients.

But the centre closed its doors after the federal government demanded staff sign a contract saying they couldn’t drink alcohol at any time. Riddell and other staff refused.

Riddell now holds the incident up as an example of how the federal government doesn’t respect Nunavummiut as equals, and how he can sympathize with the region’s history of being controlled by people who don’t live here.

“I didn’t move out, I stuck it out,” he said. “When you live in Nunavut, you have to go through what everyone goes through, and that is deal with the paternalism and dependency that’s here.”

If elected, Riddell plans to make a priority of changing Nunavut’s relationship with the federal government. He wants to lobby Ottawa to hand over control of resources, such as the fisheries, before Nunavut takes on more responsibilities in services.

Riddell said Nunavut needs to be able to raise more funds, independent of federal transfers, so the territory can afford to fund new programs handed over by Ottawa in the future.

“It’s always been the other way around,” he said. “We [in Nunavut] spend all kinds of money on health, and we should spend money on health. But that’s an expenditure. That’s not where you make money.”

Riddell said raising funds for the campaign has been difficult, but he plans to visit several communities. He said he knows people in almost every community who will act as interpreters for him.

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