Boundaries commission starts Nunavut tour

A commission touring Nunavut wants to know what people think about how the Nunavut legislative assembly’s electoral districts should be organized. But don’t tell them what you think about gender parity ­ they don’t want to know.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

Setting up the boundaries for the Nunavut legislative assembly’s first electoral districts began this month.

The Nunavut Electoral Boundaries Commission has started its work on figuring out how Nunavut’s new constituencies should look. The commission has just three months to do the job.

Justice Ted Richard, a former territorial MLA from Yellowknife, is heading up the three-member commission, which includes Sandy Kusugak and former MLA Titus Allooloo.

The NWT Legislative Assembly gave the commission its mandate last month to recommend not only the boundaries, but also the names for Nunavut’s electoral districts. That report must be completed by the end of June.

The commission will hold its first round of public meetings in the Keewatin beginning the week of April 21.

From there it will move to the Kitikmeot region the week of May 5, to south Baffin the following week and then on to communities in north Baffin.

Lots of questions

It’s a daunting task, because questions such as how many MLAs will represent Nunavut, and whether the political ridings will be single or dual memberships haven’t been answered.

Nunavut leaders agreed at the Cambridge Bay meeting in February that the Nunavut legislative assembly will have no less than 20 MLAs and no more than 22.

Whether those MLAs will represent an area alone, or whether they’ll share that responsibility with another MLA hasn’t been decided.

That means the commission must come up with two electoral maps, with two boundary designs each, one for 10 or 11 dual-member constituencies, and one for 20 or 22 single-member ridings.

No time to waste

Sandy Kusugak said three months isn’t much time to complete that task, but neither is there time to delay setting the political boundaries for Nunavut.

“There’s a lot of things that have to follow after the commission does it’s report,” Kusugak said.

“There’s another time line in place preparing for the first Nunavut election and the first Nunavut legislature, so I think this has to appear on a timely basis for the election to happen.”

Don’t ask about gender parity

The number of electoral districts may depend on the outcome of a plebiscite set for May 26 which will ask Nunavut residents if the first legislative assembly should have an equal number of men and women MLAs elected under a dual-membership riding system.

But however Nunavut residents decide on the issue of gender parity and however that decision influences the makeup of Nunavut’s legislative assembly, it isn’t on the boundary commission’s agenda.

Justice Richard wants to make it clear that the commission will not hear debate on that topic during public hearing scheduled for several Nunavut communities.

The business of the commission is to set boundaries for Nunavut. And setting or changing electoral boundaries isn’t new to people in the territories.

Within the past several years there have been a number of changes, most notably when the NWT Legislative Assembly increased its size from 22 to 24 seats and when the Pine Point constituency disappeared.

“This process has happened a few times in the last few decades,” Richard said. “It’s not new.”

Want to hear from public

Though the commission doesn’t want to hear about gender parity, it does want to hear what people think about boundaries. The commission plans to send out information packages to the communities it’s been requested to visit.

“We’re trying to make it as accessible as possible, to let everybody know what some of the issues are, what some of the things are they should be thinking about,” Kusugak said.

“We can’t know what matters most in communities – whether it’s language and dialect issues that are important or whether it’s size that’s important,” she said.

There are currently 10 MLAs representing Nunavut in the NWT Legislative Assembly. Those members are elected in five districts in the Baffin region, three in the Keewatin and two in the Kitikmeot

“They’re a basis which we work from and also a basis people can resort to, to say we need something better,” Commissioner Allooloo said.

When he was Amittuq MLA, Allooloo was criticized by some Igloolik residents who felt he didn’t visit there often enough.

Allooloo said people may want to see those boundaries changed to better represent historical ties with neighboring communities or modern transportation routes.

Double the MLAs?

Having dual-member ridings could mean adding another 10 or 11 MLAs within the current boundary system with very little change. But having two MLAs represent one political district isn’t a popular choice for governments in Canada.

In fact, until last year’s provincial election, Prince Edward Island residents were the only ones in Canada electing their MLAs in shared ridings.

The 16 dual-member system was cast aside in favor of 27 single-member constituencies as a cost-saving measure in the country’s smallest province.

Redrawing boundaries also addressed the problem of electoral districts which didn’t fairly represent the population they served.

Who won’t get an MLA?

But while northerners may be more familiar with single-member constituencies, implementing that system with 20 or 22 MLAs in Nunavut would be a dramatic change. Justice Richard said it could lead to many small communities asking for their own MLAs.

“That, as I see it, will be the main problem,” Justice Richard said.

He said the commission also expects residents in larger communities, such as Iqaluit, to request that the boundaries fairly reflect the population. He added, however, that the commission isn’t bound by law to divide boundaries along strict population lines, something that’s never been done within the territories.

After the commission completes it’s report, the assembly will debate it and make its recommendation on which design it wants. The three members of the Nunavut Political Accord will then agree on a system.

The assembly reconvenes Tuesday, May 27.

“They obviously want the report from us, but whether that means they’re going to deal with it right away I don’t know,” Justice Richard said.

The commission will accept written submissions until May 5. People can contact either the commission office in Iqaluit (1-888-655-1333) or Yellowknife (1-800-661-0872) for more information.

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