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Assembly plebiscite on May 26?

Plebiscite on two-member ridings could cost $350,000

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

Nunavut residents may go to the polls May 26 to decide whether Nunavut’s first legislative assembly should be made up of two-member, one-man, one-woman constituencies.

That’s the date being discussed as Nunavut leaders flesh out the details of how and when a plebiscite on the Nunavut Implementation Commission’s gender parity proposal will be held.

The GNWT called for a plebiscite after it failed to reach an agreement with Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin and Nunavut Tunngavik President Jose Kusugak at the Cambridge Bay leader’s summit two weeks ago.

NTI legal advisor Lois Leslie said May 26 is a tentative date for the plebiscite, but a final decision isn’t expected until next Friday.

She said that right now, officials with NTI, the GNWT, Ottawa, and the NIC are working out the details of the plebisicite.

They expect to finish that work by the end of this week so that their political bosses can give final approval to their proposed plans by the end of next week, Leslie said.

Under the NIC’s gender parity proposal, Nunavut would have two-member constituencies.

That means voters in each constituency would elect two members to the Nunavut legislative assembly – one from a list of male candidates, and one from a list of female candidates.

All voters – male and female – would choose MLAs from each list.

At last weekend’s Nunavut leaders’ summit in Cambridge Bay, leaders agreed to have mandatory gender parity in the Nunavut legislature for only two terms.

That means Nunavut would be required to have two-member constituencies only for its first two elections.

Holding up process

The issue of gender parity must be decided before a boundary commission can begin to divide Nunavut into electoral districts.

That report needs to be debated, then agreed upon by the three parties to the Nunavut Political Accord – the GNWT, the federal government and NTI.

Since the Cambridge Bay meeting, at which Manitok Thompson, the NWT minister responsible for the status of women, strenuously opposed mandatory gender parity, women’s groups have rallied in support of the idea.

Pauktuutit President Martha Flaherty said she’ll campaign personally to convince Nunavut residents to support gender parity in the legislature.

“Inuit have been fighting for democracy for a long time for human rights, Inuit rights, aboriginal rights. And yet our government is still practicing discrimination against women,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty said people need to be more informed on the issue – even those in the GNWT who’ve been dealing with it since the Nunavut Implementation released its first Footprints in New Snow report.

A misunderstanding?

“I think it’s got a lot to do with misunderstanding this proposal,” Flaherty said. “I was surprised they don’t understand a lot of it. They think it’s a competition between men and women, but it’s not. It gives people more choices. Instead of voting for one, they’re going to vote for a man and a woman.”

Flaherty said she’s determined to see equal representation in the legislature become a reality in Nunavut.

“I’ve been quiet, diplomatic, because this didn’t come from Pauktuutit in the first place,” she said. “I was not part of campaigning. But after what happened in Cambridge Bay I’m going to be in the front lines.”

Flaherty said she’s already been given direction on this issue from the association, which passed a resolution at its annual general meeting in 1995 to support an assembly composed of equal numbers of men and women.

The NWT Status of Women Council has also come out if favor of gender parity.

“The council believes that division of the NWT has created a wonderful opportunity to take a big step toward righting the political inequalities facing northern women,” said President Rita Arey. “The council is committed to seeking equal representation for women in legislatures of both Nunavut and the new western territory.”

Part of Inuit tradition

Arey said gender parity is a reflection of what has always been part of traditional Inuit culture.

“Women’s opinions were respected and sought out because they provided balance and harmony in decisions affecting the well-being of the community as a whole,” she said. “We must regain this balance by making sure that women’s voices are equally heard in the legislature.”

The council pointed out that the GNWT has the worst record in the country for representation by women in the Legislative Assembly, which currently has two women MLAs, only eight per cent of the total.

And as the plebiscite campaign heats up, the GNWT and the federal government are still debating who’ll pick up the tab. That decision should also be made by next Friday.

“We’ll find out one way or another whether one or the other governments is committed to covering the cost of this,” said Leslie.

Based on information from its chief plebiscite officer, the GNWT estimates the cost of the vote will come in between $300-$350,000.

There’s been no suggestion so far that money will be made available for campaigning, as was the case for the capital plebiscite in 1995, or what the spending rules might be.

“Any spending will be done by each group from their own pocket, basically,” Leslie said.

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