O’Brien loses in “squeeze” to Alagalak in Arviat

“Even if it’s a game of marbles you get disappointed”

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

PATRICIA D’SOUZA

Kevin O’Brien, the speaker of the legislative assembly for the past four years, was sitting in his campaign office in Arviat watching election results on TV Monday night, when the phone rang.

It was one of his scrutineers at the polling station and she said she needed a ride home.

“Of course, it was so early in the game – that was about 8:30,” he said, recalling the evening.

“I was quite surprised, and I thought, well, maybe she was tired and wanted to go home early. I didn’t ask any questions and I got a vehicle down to her, and that’s when she told me they had finished the count.

“And it wasn’t in our favour.”

The nine-year veteran of territorial politics came in fourth out of six candidates, with 86 votes, or just 11 per cent of the total.

David Alagalak, the popular wildlife spokesman and former mayor, won the riding with 36.7 per cent of votes.

Peter Alareak finished second with 28 per cent of the vote, and Kono Tattuinee, who O’Brien trounced in the 1999 election, came in third with 14.7 per cent.

“It was a squeeze, and I was on the wrong end of the squeeze,” O’Brien said in an interview on Tuesday. “We thought it was going to be fairly tight coming down the wire. We were surprised the way that it did wash out, but that’s politics, that can happen. You have to accept that and move on.”

O’Brien attributed his loss, in part, to the fact that more than 200 people in the community didn’t cast ballots.

“I think some people thought that we were comfortable and maybe decided it wasn’t necessary to go out in the cold weather and vote. But the bottom line is that’s the way elections are. You win some, you lose some,” he said.

“I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. Even if it’s a game of marbles you get disappointed sometimes,” he said. “But I also felt a sense of relief.”

He struggled with the decision to run, but said he was encouraged by people in town to give it one more shot.

“I finally decided, well, one more time, and that will be enough,” he said.

O’Brien wanted to finish some of the projects he was involved in – the road to Manitoba and the power grid.

“And I wanted to be around when our new school was completed. It’s been seven years working on it to get it to this point. The pylons are in. I wanted to see it finished,” he said.

He also wanted to tackle the community’s – and the territory’s – major struggle to build affordable housing.

“That was going to be my next push. And if I had been successful, I would have liked to have gotten the housing portfolio, and maybe transportation, so that I could run with those two areas,” he said. “That’s sort of where my heart is, I guess.”

But within a day of the election, he said he had already received calls about new opportunities.

“I’m kind of fortunate in one way. I have a bachelor’s degree and I have a master’s degree from the U.S. I have 27 years’ experience working with the government beyond my political experience. So I think I have some skills that are marketable and I just have to sort out in my own mind what I want to do,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t rule out running again.

“I still think I have something to offer. I wouldn’t count myself out of a future return. It’s not at the forefront of my mind, but I never say never,” he said.

“Right now, I’m looking forward to a change.”

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