As sitting approaches, Nunavut MLAs want answers on cannabis
“There was no meat, no substance,” MLA George Hickes says of government’s performance at last sitting of the legislature
It’s now time for the third sitting of the current Nunavut legislature, starting Thursday, May 24 in Iqaluit.
Nunavummiut can expect to hear Finance Minister David Akeeagok give his 2018-19 budget speech. The territorial government’s main operations budget is usually tabled during winter sittings, but last fall’s territorial election delayed it until the spring,
In addition to the main estimates bill, which contains the 2018-19 budget, the territorial government will introduce a supplementary capital appropriation bill.
Three bills, which received first and second reading this past March, now sit before the standing committee on legislation:
• Bill 1: a new Corrections Act that provides for an appeals and grievance mechanism for inmates and an independent investigations officer.
• Bill 2: The Chartered Professional Accountants Act, aimed at regulating the accounting profession in Nunavut.
• Bill 3: Cannabis Statutes Amendment Act, a housekeeping bill that makes a few changes to territorial motor vehicle and tobacco legislation in advance of the legalization of recreational cannabis. This bill, however, does not contain Nunavut’s main plan for regulating the distribution of legal cannabis, which the GN has yet to reveal.
“I cannot say for certain if any of these three bills will proceed to the committee of the whole for clause-by-clause review and hence third reading,” John Quirke, the clerk of the legislative assembly, told Nunatsiaq News.
MLAs want to talk about cannabis
But it’s Nunavut’s plan for regulating legal cannabis that MLAs who spoke with Nunatsiaq News last week want to hear about.
Compared with the rest of Canada, Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main called Nunavut “dead last” on being ready for the federal government’s planned legalization of cannabis.
“It’s safe to say that we’re going to have to put in a lot of work to get up to speed in terms of legalization,” Main said.
“The biggest one for me is the cannabis legislation,” said Hudson Bay MLA Allan Rumbolt.
“We know the federal government is coming out with it, so our government needs to come up with [a policy] as soon as possible, so we can bring it into force at the same time.”
Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone said he wants to make sure any new rules for cannabis will focus on protecting youth.
He said he wants education policies, and safeguards on second-hand smoke written in to any new legislation.
“I’ve heard of second-hand smoke drifting into homes,” Lightstone said. “In the Tobacco Act, there is no protection for residents who live in apartments or row homes.”
The federal Liberal government’s Bill C-45, which would legalize the possession and sale of recreational cannabis, passed second reading in the Senate on March 22.
Senate committees are currently reviewing that bill, but it’s not clear when it will become law.
“It’s not a good drug, you know what I mean,” said Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser. “There are a lot of questions raised on impaired driving, and we have no treatment facilities.”
Will the GN introduce an education bill?
Besides cannabis, Netser said education, and the quality of it, is another area that he wants to see discussed during this sitting.
Secondary students in small Nunavut communities, such as his home community of Coral Harbour, are not graduating with the skills they need to succeed in post-secondary programs, he said, even if they choose to study in Nunavut.
“There are students that are graduating in our schools who are not meeting the college requirements of our own Arctic College programs,” Netser said.
In the final sitting of the previous legislature, Paul Quassa, then the education minister and now the premier, championed an education bill—Bill 37—that died on the order paper after MLAs refused to debate it.
There has been no word from Education Minister David Joanasie on whether an education bill will be brought back to the legislature.
MLAs will follow up
Iqaluit-Tasiluk MLA George Hickes, a former Nunavut health minister, said one of his first questions will be on the status of a program review conducted by the previous government.
Every government in Nunavut’s history has reviewed their programs, he said.
“Nothing ever gets changed.… How many reviews do we need to do to understand what programs are working and what needs to be more efficient, or streamlined, or invested in?” Hickes said.
In the last sitting, Main asked more than once about GN spending choices, including money spent on a “Nunavut Night” celebration held in Ottawa during the Northern Lights trade show.
He also flagged a fuel rebate program that’s supposed to help hunters that’s been found to be ineffective.
“This is a huge issue, the allocation of funds and government waste,” Main said. “It’s always important when you are talking about these huge issues to tie them to the real world.”
MLAs also want information on infrastructure upgrades, homeowner support, and a decision on the Qulliq Energy Corp.’s recent rate proposal.
“There was no meat, no substance,” Hickes said of the first sitting.
“I found in the last session most of the ministers were agreeing with the issues we were bringing forward, but there was an obvious lack of action.”
Nunavummiut need to be told what their government is doing “behind the scenes” if they’re going to have confidence in the departments, Hickes said.
Lightstone said his fellow MLAs asked new questions in that last sitting that previous members haven’t asked.
“We may have caught some of the ministers off guard,” Lightstone said.
“I’m hoping they’ll be in a better position to answer some of our questions this time around.”
Nunavut’s government is “off to a good start,” Main said, but now he said he wants to see how the priorities laid out in the Turaaqtavut mandate are going to be met.
Netser wasn’t so forgiving.
“If it’s anything like the winter session … it was quite disappointing in getting answers from the ministers. I hope they’ve done their homework,” he said.
Starting Thursday, at 1:30 p.m. you can watch what’s going on inside the assembly on local cable television and on direct-to-home satellite services on Bell channel 513 and Shaw channel 289 or 489.