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The director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and development at the University of Saskatchewan sees the provincial election campaign as an opportunity to further the cause of Northern Saskatchewan and the province’s growing aboriginal population.

Professor Ken Coates says there is no big divide between the parties, but he says there is a great opportunity to maintain the momentum gained during the federal campaign and the urgency demonstrated by the tragedy at La Loche.

Coates is a keen political observer, historian, author and an expert on aboriginal issues. He says a lot of things have happened over the past few months that give a new perspective to what is going on in the north.

He says the school shooting in La Loche attracted global attention on the remote aboriginal community and some of the social issues facing northern Saskatchewan.

He says to their credit, politicians worked together to put people before politics to find solutions.

“It’s fascinating to me and I think it is a credit to all people involved,” he says. “There has not been a sharp politicization of the social-economic tragedies of the north but there has been real serious attention given to the fact that current arrangements are not working and that provincial governments – working with their federal colleagues –  have to do something different and something more.”

Coates says social issues, isolation, and northern development will be addressed during the campaign, but he doesn’t see them as central campaign issues.  He does expect aboriginal groups will make sure their voices are heard.

“I think we are going to see a fair bit of lobbying by aboriginal people,” he says. “We’re going to see a real effort I think by the aboriginal community to get their communities to vote and to vote for parties and candidates that have a strong platform on aboriginal issues.”

Coates says the Liberals will likely attempt to push harder on aboriginal issues, but he says both the Saskatchewan Party and the provincial NDP have made inroads to address Northern and aboriginal issues.

He expects the riding of Cumberland to be the one to watch. The riding has been held by the NDP’s Doyle Vermette since 2008.  He is up against the SaskParty’s Thomas Sierzycki, who has been mayor of La Ronge since 2009.  The Liberals’ George Morin and the Green Party’s Michael Lessard are also in the riding.

The other northern riding is Athabasca, which has been held by the NDP’s Buckley Belanger for more than 20 years.  Belanger’s opponents are the SaskParty’s Phil Elliott, the Liberals’ Michael Wolverine and the Green Party’s Max Morin.