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Union criticized for ‘us-versus-them’ election survey

Some candidates in this month’s territorial election have criticized the wording of a survey sent out by the Union of Northern Workers.

The union is asking all candidates to respond to a survey containing these five yes-or-no questions:

  1. Will you oppose any cuts of GNWT staff, including boards and agencies?
  2. Will you oppose any further contracting out of government services?
  3. Will you oppose any further use of Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) for GNWT projects?
  4. Will you work to end the policy of Zero Program Growth?
  5. Will you work to ensure the Union of Northern Workers is a full participant in the proposed modernization of the Public Service Act?

Answering ‘yes’ to all five questions scores a candidate an ‘A’, according to the union. Answering ‘no’ to all five will earn an ‘F’.

However, answering ‘no’ to the first question is an automatic ‘F’, regardless of any other answers.

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The UNW says the survey is being distributed “to learn the positions of candidates on issues important to UNW members, and to the users of public services”.

In full: The UNW’s ‘Election Report Card’ survey sent to candidates

Surveys like this one issued by organizations during an election period are common. However, two Yellowknife candidates have taken exception to the UNW survey’s tone.

In a statement late last week, Jan Fullerton – standing in Frame Lake – said the survey would feed an “us-versus-them” mentality by reducing complex questions to one-word answers.

“The survey questions lessen each of these important issues to a black and white debate. These are multi-faceted issues deserving of real discussions; not simple yes and no answers,” read Fullerton’s statement.

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“Any interest group does a disservice to each of its stakeholders when they boil down complex political issues to one-word answers as they have done with this survey. They do democracy a disservice when they attempt to subtly lead candidates in particular directions with threats of bad marks.”

Glen Abernethy, standing in Great Slave, concurred.

“Limiting the response, to these complex questions, to a very restrictive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ fails to allow candidates to accurately express their opinions,” he said in a public letter to the union.

“The structure and parameters you’ve set are encouraging candidates to follow the rules of your questionnaire to get a good grade which they know will be posted publicly, rather than explain their positions, platforms and beliefs.

“Further, because the union is limiting responses to these broad questions, I feel that the UNW grading scale fails to accurately assess a candidate’s commitment to GNWT employees or our individual willingness to work with partners like the UNW towards a healthy and strong public service.”

‘Governments must have flexibility’

Taking the first question – regarding GNWT job cuts – as an example, Abernethy said he opposed such cuts “as a means of controlling budgets”. However, he added, cuts were unavoidable in some circumstances.

“There has never been a budget by the GNWT where some positions have not been eliminated,” he observed. “Many positions within the GNWT are funded by third-party (i.e. federal) dollars for specific projects with a defined timeline. Once the projects are completed and the funding sunsets, positions must be cut/deleted.

“There are programs within the GNWT that were implemented years ago. With evolving government priorities, some of them may no longer be meeting their original intent or have become a part of a larger program. As a result, these programs may need paring down, requiring the positions to be removed. If programs no longer have a purpose or are not meeting their original intent a government must have the flexibility to make those changes to best serve the public interest.

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“Fortunately, in situations where positions are cut, the UNW and GNWT have negotiated very detailed terms of employment outlining how affected incumbents will be accommodated.”

The union declined to comment on Monday, saying it would only speak once the results of the survey are published on Tuesday.

Election day is on November 23.

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