Small town girl makes big plans as Cambay mayor

Cambridge Bay needs a liquor store, Michelle Gillis says



Michelle Gillis, 26, has come a long way since being booted out of high school in her senior year.

She’s held a string of government jobs, raised two young sons, won a seat on council — even earned her high school diploma. And, in December, she became Cambridge Bay’s new mayor, beating three opponents, including long-time incumbent Terry McCallum.

She says her local-girl appeal, as someone born in the town’s old nursing station and raised in the community, helped her connect with voters.

“I’m from here. I went to school here. Everybody knows me here,” she said.

She also managed to “fit in the middle,” she says, being young enough to relate to the town’s exploding number of youth, but mature enough as projects manager for the housing corporation to show she can handle responsibility.

Still, Gillis expects her age will be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome.

“I don’t want people to judge me first off that I’m immature or stupid,” she said.

“I think people will realize in time it was a good decision.”

Among her goals as mayor is to call on the Government of Nunavut to rethink its policies on booze.

She said money spent on flying alcohol from Rankin Inlet to their community could be spent on wellness programs instead, if they had a local retail store. She adds that without a local store, alcohol consumption hasn’t been curbed, but bootlegging has thrived.

“It’s outrageous. People can make a decision for themselves,” she said.

Booze is a divisive issue in some communities, where it’s regulated or banned. But Gillis said that’s not the case in Cambridge Bay, and that she never encountered anyone during her election campaign who had problems with a liquor store opening.

Gillis is busy. Last week the Nunavut Impact Review Board met in town to discuss Miramar’s proposed Doris North gold mine. This week, Cambridge Bay’s trade show kicked off.

And this could be a sign of things to come: Cambridge Bay could become Nunavut’s next boom town, with mines potentially sprouting up around it over the next few years.

“We want people to benefit when the mines open, and we want people to benefit when the mines leave,” she said.

Gillis says the hamlet has begun to draft an economic plan to guide the community as it grows, but will depend on companies and residents taking the initiative to become homeowners.

She’s also counting on the GN following through on plans to pave the community’s airstrip. “We need it,” she said.

Cambridge Bay also needs more recreation activities for its youth, Gillis said.

The newly-reopened community hall will help address that, but she said she’d like to see a pool open year-round, rather than just during the summer.

She admits that Cambridge Bay residents sometimes feel ignored by bureaucrats located in Iqaluit. “Sometimes we’re so far west we get left out,” she said.

“We’re a growing region, we’re an important region, and we have a lot to offer.”

Gillis said she spends most her free time raising her two boys and sitting through meetings. But she also admitted she’s a bit of a card shark when it comes to poker.

“I can sit with the boys and take their money,” she said, laughing.

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