Words of wisdom
Former politicians offer helping hints to Nunavut campaigners

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jan 18/99) - If the world is said to be a jungle, the political world could undoubtedly be likened to the Amazon -- particularly for the vast number of fresh-faced hopeful candidates vying for one of the 19 spots in Nunavut's first legislative assembly.

But never fear -- there's no need to go it alone or unaided. Veteran politician and well-rounded public figure Tagak Curley has come to the rescue with a few tidbits of advice.

"It's difficult today because people are running for many reasons now. I used to think that politics was more than just ego, it was a very serious responsibility," said Curley, an MLA for two terms in the Keewatin region.

So Tagak, running for all the right reasons is the jumping off point of politics, but where should the 71 candidates direct their attention once that's taken care of?

"They must focus on the issues. Sometimes they get lost when focusing on parochial or local matters but they have to think about the priorities of the Nunavut government and in that, local priorities must be looked at. It's finding a balance."

Curley said that voters usually lean towards strong candidates who are passionate and show the most commitment and that they tend to favour those who make the greatest effort to listen to what the people heading off to the polls have to say.

And because many of the ridings are huge and incorporate several different communities, Curley said it was absolutely crucial that candidates make a point of visiting as many electors as possible.

"You must at least reach them once and spend a week or at least three or four days in each location," insisted Curley.

Long-time Iqaluit MLA Dennis Patterson agreed with Curley on the aspect of the personal touch but added that the worse the weather is during home visits, the better it is for the potential politician.

"The secret in the North is going door-to-door. It's very well received here and effective and the worse the weather is, the people love it, it's impressive. People want to know you're hungry and that you want it," said Patterson, whose 16-year term ended in 1995.

While running his own campaigns, Patterson said he didn't place too much stock in the effectiveness of campaign signs because he came to learn that some people displayed signs only because they had been asked to and didn't intend to vote for the candidate. He maintained, however, that if people were considering putting up signs to toot their own horns, it was important for them to plan some sort of sign maintenance program.

"Signs take a lot of attention and a tattered or bedraggled sign is worse than no sign at all," said Patterson.

He noted that election campaigns were stressful and often left candidates feeling exhausted and anxiety-ridden, but it was always important for them to remember to smile and, at the very least, act like they're enjoying it.

"If you look worried and like you're not having fun, it conveys the wrong image to voters. They want to see a happy, confident campaigner."

But he exercised caution for those competitors who might be tempted to take it too far.

"It's a fatal mistake to convey that you have it in the bag. People will punish those they think are taking them for granted."

Patterson said that on Feb. 15 when the majority of Nunavut residents go to the polls, they were going to cast their ballots for those who had worked the hardest and kept their noses clean.

"Especially in Northern politics, no matter what negative attributes your opponent has, it is completely inadvisable to speak inappropriately about them ... and don't allow yourself to get provoked. That's a cardinal rule."