Iqaluit candidate George Hickes Jr. asks voters about their Nunavut priorities
First time MLA hopeful says this run is “my turn to give back”
Nunavut faces many challenges, and all of them are visible in Iqaluit, says George Hickes Jr., who hopes to find solutions for them if he’s successful in the Oct. 28 territorial election.
The first-time candidate is contesting the Iqaluit-Tasiluk riding, where he and his family live.
Hickes, 44, hit the campaign trail running on Sept. 28, just a day after the deadline for candidate declarations, going door-to-door to visit tenants and homeowners in his riding.
“I think that’s the best way to get information and identify issues that are concerns,” he told Nunatsiaq News. “I’m not there for me, I’m there to represent the populace.”
As Hickes sees it, the next government has a series of priorities to cover, each connected to the next. It all starts with affordable housing.
“When I was door-knocking over the weekend, I was talking to one teacher,” Hickes said Oct. 1.
“She said one of her students was falling asleep on the desk. ‘You should go to bed earlier,’ she said, and got ‘I couldn’t, my grandma needed the bed until midnight.’
“He’s going to bed at midnight so grandma can get some sleep in a bed, the house was so crowded. So there’s not only the sleepiness part of things – but where does he do his homework?” Hickes said.
“Education is the key to our future,” he said, which sets up priority number two.
“With a better education system, we’re going to have a better, skilled workforce, which can only enhance future economic development opportunities for Nunavummiut,” he said.
Training for professional-level positions and trades is lacking, Hickes said, leaving Nunavut forever dependent on importing the labour it needs.
“We can’t keep importing people that are here on a short-term,” he said. “Some people are only here for a couple of years, and we lose that knowledge every time we leave.”
Better education will lead to economic development that sticks, he said.
Born in Churchill, Manitoba, and raised in the northern Manitoba community as well as a rural town near Winnipeg, Hickes is the son of George Hickes Sr., the first Inuk member of a provincial legislature and a veteran Manitoba politician.
Hickes Sr., who represented the north Winnipeg riding of Point Douglas for the NDP, served as his party’s whip in the Manitoba legislature and was elected speaker in 1999.
Hickes Jr. left an early career in banking for Iqaluit with his wife and family in 2004, to take a position as senior financial officer with the Department of Economic Development and Transportation.
He has since worked as a policy officer with the Department of Education, and had his first experience in politics as executive assistant to his cousin, Hunter Tootoo, when Tootoo served in cabinet.
Hickes recently finished a two-year term position as communications manager for the Qulliq Energy Corp.
On housing, Hickes said a top priority is to “keep the inventory that we do have in good shape,” to keep housing prices at affordable levels.
A homeowner himself, he said house prices have ballooned in Iqaluit due to demand. High power rates contribute to this.
And the best answer is Qulliq’s proposed hydro project, which is another highlight in the candidate’s priorities, Hickes said
“If we do get hydro development here, it would offset 30 per cent of diesel fuel costs in the whole territory,” he said, not to mention cut back on greenhouse gas emissions — an added benefit for the environment.
“So it would benefit all Nunavummiut, not just Iqalummiut.”
Also on Hickes’ priority list is improved health care and palliative care for the elderly, who too often are sent south for their treatment. Once there, many spend their final days in a foreign environment, he said.
“We’re paying other jurisdictions ridiculous amounts of money to look after our problems. I think we’ve really got to develop that knowledge and those positions in-house, so that we can care for our own.”
Finally, Hickes said it is time Iqaluit built itself a deep-sea port, much like the one in his childhood community of Churchill.
“As a capital city, we could definitely be a more centralized shipping hub for the eastern Arctic,” he said. “If we can get the infrastructure and the jobs it would create, it’s nothing but a positive.”
Hickes’ decision to run in the election was a logical step for a man whose family is steeped in politics, he said.
The connection was rekindled through Tootoo, who is a cousin by way of George Hickes Sr., and their extended family in the Kivalliq region.
The candidate counts many other family members as influential in his decision to run, including uncle John Hickes, who served as mayor of Rankin Inlet, and cousin Jordin Tootoo, whose professional hockey career has made him a role model.
All of them have been “great influences on me through most of my life,” Hickes said. “I just think it’s my turn to give back.”