La Loche Mayor Georgina Jolibois says more inclusion and support for northern and Indigenous communities is key to surviving the pandemic.
Jolibois handily won municipal elections in the northern village with 60 per cent of the vote in a three-way race when results were confirmed on November 10.
Incumbent Robert St. Pierre announced in October that he would not seek reelection and retired from politics.
“I'm very humbled and thankful for the support that I got. This election I saw a lot of young people in line to go vote,” Jolibois told the Daily Herald.
Jolibois brings 12 years of mayoral experience to the table having previously served as mayor of La Loche from 2003 to 2015.
She then served as NDP MP for the riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River until 2019 when she lost her bid for re-election to Conservative Gary Vidal.
Jolibois said she will ensure that the community gets the support it needs to survive the pandemic and that issues facing La Loche, such as access to healthcare and economic opportunity, are part of a bigger problem in northern Saskatchewan.
“Right now I am the mayor of La Loche and I represent the Northern Village of La Loche. However, the concerns that we have here, the issues that we have here, are similar throughout the north. Government ministries, provincial and federal, still have to do their part and support northern Saskatchewan,” Jolibois said.
Jolibois said she’s concerned that conspiracy theories and misinformation about the coronavirus are taking a toll on her community, as they have throughout Canada and the United States.
“The challenge that we face is that it's everywhere on social media, the conspiracy theories and the misinformation floating around saying that COVID-19 is not real, that is false. COVID-19 is very real,” Jolibois said.
“There are people who are ill with COVID-19. And there are people who are in self isolation because they had contact with someone and those people in isolation and those people who are in recovery require support to ensure that they make it through and recover. The onus is on each individual to do their part to slow the spread and stop the spread of COVID-19.”
She said she’s taking a teamwork approach with the health authority and regional leaders to tackle the problem.
“It is very important for every leader to take this seriously. To take precautions as necessary. We're inundated with information on our TV channels, social media, YouTube, everywhere else. Precautions do work, wash your hands, wear a mask, maintain physical distance. So far in the community I support people who are taking this seriously, who are self-isolating and doing their part and who are recovering from COVID-19,” Jolibois said.
“There are people who don't wear masks, there are people who don't believe that COVID is real but it's everywhere. So the message is that the government has to be consistent.”
Unnecessary travel south is being discouraged, but Jolibois hopes that discrimination against northerners who do need to make trips south will stop.
“The challenge that we faced in the spring, the horrific backlash that the community faced. I didn't appreciate the racism and the discrimination that people faced. We were denied appointments, because we were from La Loche or the northwest,” Jolibois said.
“I felt that no one came to the community’s aid to say that discrimination is happening, racism is happening, let’s stop this. Many people feel and felt that that didn't happen. That was the labeling and negative impact. Now in Saskatchewan every region is a hot zone. Every region has COVID-19.”
Jolibois said that poverty as a social determinant of health could be alleviated if more investments by government and industry circled back to where wealth is generated.
While industries that operate in the north are “making Saskatchewan and Canada wealthy” she said that wealth isn’t being distributed the way that it should.
“It is nice to get a few social programs, but other things are required. Like dollars for infrastructure, building facilities, employment, not just at the entry level, but the most senior levels,” Jolibois said.
“It is important to acknowledge that there are First Nations and to also acknowledge there are Métis in our communities, and also to acknowledge northern municipalities. All three play a critical role in our communities. But when it comes to the government, ensuring that industry directly work with all three levels of government, it’s hit and miss.”
Jolibois said that in order to prosper there needs to be an equal seat at the table for the north in Saskatchewan.
“First of all, the government really should acknowledge that northern Saskatchewan is part of Saskatchewan. And show us that you really do mean working with us by providing us with the appropriate resources. To be at the standard of the rest of Saskatchewan,” Jolibois said.
“It's important for northern Saskatchewan to have voices, and to speak to issues, Indigenous issues and other issues. It's important that our language and culture is protected. Our cultural identity and being Cree or Dene or Métis, First Nation or Inuit. It is important that truth and reconciliation happens for all of us. It's important for all of us to work toward betterment in our communities.”
Michael Bramadat-Willcock, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Northern Advocate