Northern Manitoba has long been NDP territory, with three provincial ridings that the party has held for 35 years or longer, but Flin Flon Liberal candidate Leslie Beck points out that hasn’t necessarily been a benefit to the region.
“We have the highest child poverty rate in Canada and so I would have to say that that in itself is an overwhelming statement of what’s been happening to us under the leadership, not just under the NDP but under the Conservatives as well,” says Beck, a former RCMP officer for 26 years – 21 of those in Flin Flon, where she also served briefly as a city councillor before resigning that position to take a shot at being elected MLA. “Having communities that do not have clean drinking water with those kinds of poverty rates, in this country? I’ve listened to Chief Clarence Louie and he said that when you walk down a street and you see people that are unemployed in places like Flin Flon and Thompson, that should be a concern and a wake-up call to everyone. Why is that happening?”
This election, Beck says, there’s a real opportunity for Flin Flon voters voters seeking change to see that ambition realized, with four candidates in the riding, including NDP and Progressive Conservative representatives as well as former NDP MLA Clarence Pettersen, who is running as an independent after losing his former party’s nomination to Tom Lindsey.
“It’s exciting for them because they actually have a choice and they get to sit down and actually look at the party platforms and make a decision,” she said. “I think our community and, I hope, as well as all the other communities in the north are really seriously thinking, ‘OK, NDP, they’ve done things, yes, and other things, no,’ but now they have other people that have maybe some other ideas.”
Beck has been through much of the massive riding – which goes from Cranberry Portage north to the Nunavut boundary and as far east as South Indian Lake – through the course of the campaign, apart from the areas that do not have year-round road access.
“The only areas that I haven’t been successful to get to are Brochet, Lac Brochet and Tadoule Lake and I don’t know that I’m going to,” she said. “I’m going to try to reach out to them as best I can but I wasn’t able to do it by ice road and it’s a bit cost prohibitive to charter [an airplane].”
That isolation, Beck feels, can explain why some of the communities in the riding have low voter turnout.
“It’s because they don’t think anybody cares and I’m not sure that I disagree with them at this point,” she said. “When I went on my travels to find out that half my riding doesn’t have clean drinking water I had to take a bit of a step back and say, ‘Really?’ We’ve got communities like Lynn Lake that are on boil water advisories and nobody that seems to be really too concerned about that.”
Beck said in a March 27 press release that she and the Manitoba Liberal Party would work to bring more training and a more active role for indigenous people in Northern Manitoba’s economic development if elected April 19.
“In these tough economic times it is important that new mineral deposits be discovered,” Beck said at that time. “ The answer to Northern Manitoba’s lack of new deposit prospects is having prospectors on the ground. Indigenous people know the land they live on and are in the best position to find new deposits at the grassroots level. Training indigenous people in prospecting techniques and connecting them with the existing natural resources is key to finding new deposits.”
To do that, she said, more funding must flow to grassroots prospecting to enable people who are interested in pursuing that path.
“I work as a service provider for the Northern Manitoba Mining Academy (NMMA) where prospector training has been developed,” she said. “Unfortunately, three intakes in the past year have been cancelled due to the high cost and lack of student housing. The NMMA recently became aware of a fully stocked, 24-person mining camp that was not being utilized. Inquiries have been made and the NMMA would like to bring the camp to Flin Flon to provide students with a learning opportunity and I will advocate for this.”
Beck became interested in running for the Liberals through her experience in municipal politics.
“As a councillor I would attend the Association of Manitoba Municipalities [meetings] and when I was in Brandon this last fall they had a debate between the three parties and after listening to [Manitoba Liberal leader] Rana Bokhari speak I felt that for myself it would be a good opportunity to bring the values and the concerns of our north through her because I believe that she is something new and different,” Beck says. “We’re kind of stuck in a rut up here in the north. We’re always on that path with the NDP and I felt moving maybe a little bit to centre would be a good avenue to move forward.”
Part of the plan to develop Manitoba’s northern communities – and the province’s other communities as well – is to provide stable municipal funding.
“This is really exciting for them that a government wants to give them one per cent of the PST per capita with no strings attached,” she said. Currently, municipalities are only receiving about eight to 10 cents per dollar of the tax revenues that the higher levels of government receive.
Even though she can’t make it to communities without road access, Beck says they are still on her radar, noting March 30 that she was trying to find out the results of the Sayisi Dene First Nation vote on a $33.6 million settlement for the federal government for their forced relocation to Churchill in the 1950s, which took place the previous day.
“These settlements, as they happen, are, for them, empowering,” she said. “They’re going to benefit from the money now but for every day moving forward as well so we should be talking about that because it certainly could be an opportunity for the other communities. They could be the ones leading by example.”