A tainted appointment


Earlier this week, we all heard the long delayed news.

Nunatsiaq MP Jack Anawak now has an important new task. Ottawa has just handed him one of the toughest jobs in Nunavut ­ interim commissioner.

Anawak must produce an Inuit hiring and training plan for the Nunavut government, participate in negotiations for many crucial intergovernmental agreements, and oversee the birth of Nunavut’s embryonic government.

He’ll need all his energy and talents and a big qamutik load of good luck to get all that done by April 1, 1999.

So we wish Anawak all the best and we congratulate him on his new job. We sincerely hope he does well in it.

But having said that, we must also acknowledge what the Liberal party would rather you didn’t talk about: the tainted process that led to their appointment of Jack Anawak to Nunavut’s top job.

That’s because it smells like the kind of old-fashioned patronage appointment the Liberals promised they would do away with in the famous Red Book list of election promises they unveiled to Canadians in 1993.

They know now that Canadians, and Nunavut residents, expect their governments to make such administrative appointments on the basis of merit ­ and not because the appointee happens to belong to the governing political party.

But consider this: When the Liberal government’s gun control bill came before Parliament a couple of years ago, an overwhelming majority of people in Nunavut opposed it.

Like aboriginal people all across Canada, Inuit considered much of the new law to be an odious intrusion upon the aboriginal right to hunt. Most Inuit leaders told Anawak to fight it and to vote against it.

But like his aboriginal colleague in the Western Arctic, Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Anawak did no such thing.

When the time came to stand up and be counted, Anawak stood ­ but not on behalf of his constituents. He stood up in the House of Commons to vote the way the Liberal party’s big bosses told him to vote.

Yes, the Liberals did make some last-minute changes to the gun law that claim to acknowledge the aboriginal right to hunt. And yes, they even let Anawak stand up in the House to claim credit for those amendments.

But that didn’t fool Nunavut Tunngavik and a long list of organizations and governments who have gone to court to challenge the new law on a variety of constitutional grounds.

And most Inuit leaders never forgave Anawak for committing what they perceived to be a betrayal of the Inuit. At one l995 gathering in the Kitikmeot, some Inuit leaders walked out in protest when Anawak came to speak to them.

No doubt aware of the problems that they created for Anawak when they forced him to toe the party line, the Liberal party’s bosses recognized, apparently, that they owed him a debt.

But if party politics played a part in Anawak’s appointment, what does this say about the elaborate recruitment process that the three parties to the Nunavut accord entered into last fall?

They hired a national executive hiring firm called the Caldwell Partners to scour the country for interim commissioner candidates. The parties to the Nunavut accord also submitted the names of many potential candidates.

Officials met several times to review the names and produce a short-list of candidates, and even flew to Nunavut to interview some candidates.

But after all that effort, the best candidate they could find for the toughest administrative job in Nunavut is a former Liberal MP with little administrative experience.

And for having voted against the wishes of nearly everybody in Nunavut, Anawak is being rewarded with Nunavut’s top job.

The GNWT, who nominated Anawak and lobbied fiercely for his appointment will no doubt be pleased.

With their man in charge of Nunavut, the Morin-Todd government will now have a means of reasserting control and influence over the Nunavut process, control and influence that they lost largely through their own ineptitude.

But Jack Anawak is not Nunavut. There are close to 25,000 other people in Nunavut ­ Inuit and non-Inuit alike ­ who will be there to make sure the job’s done right.

After all the years and all the toil, Nunavut will survive even this cynical turn of events.

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