The Saskatchewan NDP hopes La Loche Mayor and former MLA Georgina Jolibois can reclaim the party’s seat in Athabasca in next month’s by-election, but she will have to resist a challenge from the Saskatchewan Party candidate Jim Lemaigre.
Last August, the longest-serving MPP, Buckley Bélanger, resigned his seat to run for the federal Liberal Party. Bélanger had held the seat since 1995, first as a Liberal and then as a New Democrat from 1999 to 2021.
The by-election is scheduled for February 15.
Since 1908, the Northwest Saskatchewan riding has only been held by the NDP, Liberal Party or CCF.
The NDP aims to keep this streak alive and retain the 13 seats it claimed in the 2020 election.
Jolibois was elected to Parliament in 2015 in the riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. She lost in her re-election bid in 2019.
On Wednesday, Jolibois and party leader Ryan Meili held a press briefing via video.
She said COVID-19 and its effects remain a “significant issue”.
Jolibois said the pandemic has caused difficulties for seniors and families to get the medical appointments they need, wait for surgeries and deal with mental health and addiction issues.
Besides COVID-19, Jolibois said the issues she is focusing on include housing, employment and road conditions.
“Every time we get off the highway we are taking a risk and it takes attention.”
Jolibois said people in the North West are economically lacking.
“We want the same opportunities as our friends and family when they live elsewhere. We want opportunities to find employment. We need the proper training. We also need to benefit from education programs.”
Jolibois is a member of the Clearwater River Dene Nation and mayor of La Loche for five terms.
“The Saskatchewan Party has neglected northern Saskatchewan since its inception. They haven’t done the work necessary to make sure we create economic opportunity for northerners,” said NDP Leader Ryan Meili.
Meili also questioned the timing of two announcements made recently by Premier Scott Moe.
Last week Moe was in the North West announcing a new school project in La Loche. On Monday, the government promised to complete nine kilometers of Highway 956 to the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. Moe sent a letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney asking for his cooperation in building the highway that would connect Fort MacMurray to La Loche.
“There is simply no doubt that these announcements were intended to try to alter the outcome of this by-election,” Meili said.
Saskatchewan. Party candidate says Northern voice needed in government
Jim Lemaigre said northern leaders contacted him and encouraged him to run for the Saskatchewan Party.
Lemaigre is a member of the Clearwater River Dene Nation and grew up in La Loche.
He spent 14 years as an RCMP officer before working for the provincial government as a manager of First Nations and Aboriginal policing and programs.
“We have the opportunity to have a voice within the government in place.”
Lemaigre said he believes Sask. The party has gained ground since 2020.
Bélanger had been re-elected regularly, obtaining 60% of the vote or more. The 2020 election was the closest to Saskatchewan. Party came to take the seat, losing by 618 votes.
“There is a shift in thinking because we know who is in government. The leaders I talk to, the mayors and councils, and they deal directly with government and they understand and recognize the benefit of having a deputy in the current government.
When asked what the biggest problem in the area was, Lemaigre said road conditions kept coming up in discussions with local leaders. He said people want to see more economic opportunities for the region.
He said the recent announcement regarding the location of the new school in La Loche and the completion of the Highway 956 road project are proof of the government’s investment and commitment to the north- western Saskatchewan.
The Chief Electoral Officer encourages postal voting
The by-election will be the first since 2018 in Saskatchewan.
Nominations close January 29.
Jolibois and Lemaigre are joined on the ballot by independent candidate Darwin Roy.
Roy lost the NDP nomination to Jolibois in December.
“As an independent, we will have the freedom to follow the advice of citizens where I will represent our people in what is truly important to our region,” Roy wrote on his campaign Facebook page.
Roy launched his campaign on January 3 and is a member of the Canoe Lake Cree Nation.
An independent candidate has never won a contested by-election in Saskatchewan.
The deadline for registering to vote by mail is February 2. Advance voting will take place from February 9 to 13.
Saskatchewan Chief Electoral Officer Michael Boda encourages people to register for a mail-in ballot.
“No one knows if or when they will be affected by COVID-19, or even if the winter weather will make it difficult to get to their polling place. Postal voting is a good option and I hope all voters l ‘will consider,’ Boda said.
There are currently 9,293 registered voters in Athabasca.