Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 13, 2018 - 5:00 pm

Following censure plans, Nunavut waits for word on premier’s place in cabinet

Lawyer, commentator Anne Crawford weighs in on censure process

Lawyer and longtime Nunavut political commentator Anne Crawford says a pending motion to remove Nunavut's premier from cabinet reflects a fundamental practice of consensus government. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Lawyer and longtime Nunavut political commentator Anne Crawford says a pending motion to remove Nunavut's premier from cabinet reflects a fundamental practice of consensus government. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)
Tomorrow's sitting of the Nunavut legislature could see a motion, along with discussion and a vote, to remove Premier Paul Quassa from his leadership role just over seven months into his term. (BETH BROWN)
Tomorrow's sitting of the Nunavut legislature could see a motion, along with discussion and a vote, to remove Premier Paul Quassa from his leadership role just over seven months into his term. (BETH BROWN)

Will Aggu MLA Paul Quassa still be premier of Nunavut by dinnertime tomorrow night?

That’s the question that’s been on the minds of many Nunavummiut since yesterday, June 13, when Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main gave notice of a motion to remove Quassa from the assembly’s executive council, also called cabinet.

That motion should come forward in the legislative assembly tomorrow, June 14, where MLAs may then make known publicly their doubts about the premier.

Right now, all we know is that this is a “non-confidence” motion, made by Main because he is the chair of the regular members caucus.

The motion is still in a notice period, but should it come forward, a vote would be held in the assembly and each MLA’s vote would later be registered by name. When mid-term reviews of cabinet take place, those votes are not made public.

While ministers have been removed from cabinet before, and past premier Paul Okalik’s resignation was called for in 2007, there’s never been a formal motion brought forward to dismiss a Nunavut premier.

Still, there are many variables at play with this motion.

“It isn’t just ‘he leaves, he stays,’” said Iqaluit lawyer Anne Crawford.

Quassa could be censured without being removed, or the motion could be rescinded if the assembly makes a resolution or compromise, she said.

Besides being Nunavut’s first cabinet secretary, Crawford also acted as commissioner for a conflict of interest inquiry held into the premiership of N.W.T. Premier Don Morin in 1998, before the division of the two territories.

She called this kind of move by MLAs a fundamental part of consensus politics, and a measure that “isn’t present in a party system.” Regular members outnumber the executive council precisely so they can hold cabinet accountable.

“(MLAs) are exercising one of the power mechanisms in consensus government that is rarely exercised,” Crawford said. “This effectively gives them a steering wheel, or set of brakes, to impact what the executive is doing…. The regular MLAs are in the driver’s seat.”

But when does a motion like this usually happen? Typically, when the members feel the executive is out of control, Crawford said—be it related to conduct, approach, respect, collegiality, etc.

MLAs would decide on the motion during a regular members caucus meeting, a frequent behind-the-scenes meeting of MLAs, to which cabinet ministers are not privy.

Those meeting are also where MLAs meet to discuss ideas and strategize, Crawford said.

In the current sitting, questions on the same theme raised by regular MLAs show that there could be a lot of collaboration taking place in those meetings.

“In the past, maybe two or three members have come together to organize questions. In this assembly it looks quite clear that a whole series of members have come together to organize questions,” Crawford said. “That’s a strong suggestion that the regular members caucus has become organized in a way that we haven’t seen in previous assemblies.”

Because the government is currently in session, any vote to oust Quassa from the executive council would lead the assembly immediately into a leadership forum where a new head of government would be elected.

“It would precede the budget, it would precede the legislation that they are looking at, and would precede the proclamation of anything that’s been to third reading,” Crawford said.

Holdups of legislation and the budget could lead to missed sealift schedules and delayed capital projects.

“I’m sure members are weighing all of those things…. Those regular members have to answer to their communities.”

But the MLAs might not even get to the point of voting, Crawford said.

In some cases when a member is up for censure, there will be an unofficial vote called a straw vote where members will make their vote intentions known to cabinet.

“In the case of Premier Morin, he resigned after the straw vote. They didn’t go through with the censure,” Crawford said. “He took the message.”

If the motion is made only against Quassa’s individual actions as premier, then cabinet members would be able to vote in favour of his dismissal.

But if measures in the motion deal with decisions made by cabinet as a whole, then cabinet ministers would be required to support the decisions made by their government, through a principle known as “cabinet solidarity.”

“Members of cabinet are expected to support in the assembly measures that cabinet has supported,” Crawford said. That would mean voting in Quassa’s favour.

Should Quassa be removed from the executive council, he would return to the role of regular MLA.

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(21) Comments:

#1. Posted by IQ Principles on June 13, 2018

Aajiiqatigiingniq: consensus decision making.

Good move.

#2. Posted by Monica Connolly on June 13, 2018

No, NOT consensus decision making. This will end up as a simple majority vote. What has happened is that a two-party system has developed, based not on ideals but on who is in and who is out. This means Nunavut is always ruled by a minority government, and therefore government will always be unstable. Consensus decision making means a problem is discussed together, and a mutually acceptable agreement sought. That could still happen, if mature minds prevail.

#3. Posted by the spirit of Inuit on June 13, 2018

The vision of Nunavut is a bright light and some people want to remain on the path of the old GN.  Changes have come with the new GN, after 18 years of going in circles, and the spirit of Inuit is stronger.  We are in support of Premier Paul Quassa because we trust him.  The changes are happening and we want to see the vision of Nunavut become a reality.

#4. Posted by So interesting on June 13, 2018

Thanks Nunatsiaq News this interview and for explaining this unusual situation we are facing. It is helpful.

#5. Posted by Jesus take the wheel on June 13, 2018

The MLAs better know what they are doing. #%*{.

#6. Posted by Uvanga on June 13, 2018

Totally agree with you #3.

#7. Posted by Monica Connolly on June 14, 2018

Agreed, #3

#8. Posted by Subterranean Homesick Alien on June 14, 2018

#2 Good luck with your vision of a mature, consensus driven discussion to save the Premier. This is not the most naive suggestion I’ve seen from you, but it ranks.

Consensus decision making is a nice ideal, but it’s unrealistic in the context of larger and more complex societies, and especially in consideration of personal interests (who holds the power) and even ideals (granted, we could all agree to slow down in school zones and stop at stop signs).

#3 The only “new GN” is the one trying to punt our clueless Premier. I hope they succeed.

#9. Posted by Free on June 14, 2018

Whoa #2 (Monica Connolly) - that’s deep about the perpetual minority government… wow!

#10. Posted by thank you on June 14, 2018

Thank you Nunatsiaq for trying to explain this complex situation. Meanwhile, CBC’s talking about Paul Quassa memes….

#11. Posted by Native on June 14, 2018

We need Paul out and new blood in. Paul’s idea’s are old fashioned and will not help Nunavut grow. Could have helped a lot of people in need with $572,000.

George if you’re reading this please run for premier when they kick out Paul.

#12. Posted by Johnston on June 14, 2018

This is not consensus in the true sense of the word, in english or it’s Inuktitut counter-part aijiqatigiiniq.
In both cases, consensus describes a unified decision reached by working together, discussing ideas, concerns, considering all viewpoints and making concessions.

The MLAs have not provided reasons for their non-confidence, nor the opportunity for Quassa and cabinet to respond. Let alone the opportunity to take into account their concerns and devise a new shared path forward.

I don’t like Quassa or his questionable track record. But I’m also worried these rookie and sophomore MLAs are escalating rashly without full consideration of the consequences or optics.

#13. Posted by Easy there, MLAs on June 14, 2018

How does John Main go from zero to motion of non-confidence? Are there other steps before that?

#14. Posted by Reninder: regular MLAs are not cabinet on June 14, 2018

Does John Main know that even though we have a consensus government it does mean that regular MLAs are not Ministers? I don’t think he knows that.

#15. Posted by iThink on June 14, 2018

#14 What is your point? ‘Regular ministers’ have a say in a vote of non-confidence.

Either way, Quassa is out. Good.

#16. Posted by Easy there, confused citizen on June 14, 2018

It is not John Main’s decision. He’s the chair, it’s his job to bring up the issues that other MLA’s want to discuss. Don’t shoot the messenger.

#17. Posted by Uqurmiuq on June 14, 2018

Hey Paul, if you are going please take Uqummiut MLA with you.

#18. Posted by This is a bit extreme on June 14, 2018

#16: I agree with #13. Are there other actions the regular MLAs could have done before notice of motion to remove?

#19. Posted by Monica Connolly on June 15, 2018

#18 - quite a few other actions. I would have expected individual members to have spoken to Paul privately first as individuals, then as a group, then to have debated their disagreements very specifically and publicly in the House, IQ does not start by “shunning” individuals. It starts by making sure that the individual clearly understands why what they are doing is unacceptable. It debates alternatives at length, looking for common ground. There are other legalistic steps, too, from motions against some proposed action, to a motion of censure.
Previously, about two years into a session, a leadership review is undertaken, and some executive members could theoretically face removal. A crisis might bring about a removal, as happened once when Jack Anawak found an irresolvable conflict between his duties to cabinet solidarity and his role as an MLA.

#20. Posted by Joni on June 18, 2018

hey Monica, are you an IQ expert too?

#21. Posted by Monica Connolly on June 18, 2018

#20 Expert? No. But I was a journalist up there when consensus government was forming, and I still have a lot of Inuit friends, some of whom really ARE experts on IQ.

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