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Consensus without consent

By JIM BELL

At the Nunavut leaders’ summit in Cambridge Bay last weekend, the Government of the Northwest Territories managed to erect yet another proud milestone along the long road to Nunavut.

For the first time in Nunavut’s history, non-Inuit representatives of a non-Inuit government prevented Inuit from talking about the future of their new territory.

What we’re referring to, of course, is how Justice Minister and Kitikmeot MLA Kelvin Ng, the chair of the Cambridge Bay gathering, refused to let members of the Nunavut Implementation Commission speak at that gathering.

We hope Ng’s friends in the territorial cabinet are proud of what he accomplished in their name last weekend, because several observers who watched this happen told us they’ve never seen Nunavut and Inuit leaders treated in such an insulting manner

He and his friends in the territorial cabinet have also managed to demonstrate a new way of abusing the idea of consensus – by imposing the phony appearance of agreement where none really exists.

For us, along with many other bemused observers in Nunavut, it’s hard to figure out why the GNWT’s leaders think the short-term gains they made in Cambridge Bay last weekend will produce long-term gains for the people of Nunavut.

It’s not as if the GNWT doesn’t have the right to have a say. The Yellowknife government is one of the three parties that signed the Nunavut accord in 1992. That gives them a roughly equal say with Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. over the creation of Nunavut.

It also makes them one of the three parties to whom the Nunavut Implementation Commission reports.

But Don Morin, the man who got the NWT premier’s job mainly because two better qualified candidates weren’t electable, has apparently decided that it’s not his place to provide any leadership to the GNWT on division issues.

Instead, he’s turned the matter over to the Nunavut caucus – a body that has no status under the the Nunavut Act or the Nunavut accord. Despite that, however, all 10 MLAs in the Nunavut caucus apparently enjoy the right to speak – provided, it seems, that they all read their speeches from the same script book.

So two or three days before the Cambridge Bay gathering, Nunavut’s MLAs dutifully performed the GNWT’s dirty work.

Aivilik MLA Manitok Thompson did her part by making some silly allegations accusing NTI President Jose Kusugak and NIC Chief Commissioner John Amagoalik of making racist comments on the radio. She did not, of course, refer to comments of her own that caused other people to make the same kind of silly allegations about her in the fall of 1995.

Kitikmeot MLA Kelvin Ng did his part by getting up in the assembly to say he wants a plebiscite on the NIC’s two-member constituency proposal.

And Baffin South MLA Goo Arlooktoo did his part by saying what a bad thing it is to have a power struggle among Nunavut leaders, and without explaining how, he blamed Nunatsiaq News for having caused a lot of it.

As for the other Nunavut MLAs, they did their part by keeping their personal opinions – if they have any – to themselves.

So when the contentious issue of two-member, one-man, one-woman constituencies came up at the Cambridge Bay summit, those MLAs who had supported the idea at an earlier leader’s gathering in Iqaluit were strangely silent.

Is this because they’ve finally been browbeaten and armtwisted into all the nonsense about “collegial” government that Don Morin spouts every time an assembly session opens?

Meanwhile, Keewatin Central MLA John Todd, the real boss of the Nunavut caucus, the de facto premier of the Northwest Territories, and the chair of the territorial cabinet’s division committee, was able to sit back and enjoy the show.

And why not? He’s now got every member of the Nunavut caucus sitting in his lap, purring with contentment now that they’ve earned the master’s approval.

In any event, that tainted gathering in Cambridge Bay has produced a tainted result: yet another unnecessary plebiscite, this time on the NIC’s two-member constituency proposal.

It’s no wonder that NTI President Jose Kusugak afterwards called the meeting a failure.

There is, of course, no date and no plebiscite question. Nobody’s said anything about an information campaign to tell voters what the plebisicite’s about – although it’s a certainty any information campaign designed by the GNWT will fail.

And there’s no sign of any alternative ideas, should voters reject two-member constituencies and a boundaries commission be given the virtually impossible task of dividing Nunavut’s 10 constituencies into 20 or 22.

With the plebiscite idea the GNWT and the Nunavut caucus have paid lip service to democracy. But they’ve done so by imposing a phony consensus – a consensus with no consent.

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