Gender parity to be decided by plebiscite

NIC recommendation gets no support from Nunavut caucus



The people of Nunavut will be asked to decide another major issue, as leaders failed to reach an agreement on the Nunavut Implementation Commission’s gender parity proposal last weekend.

The three partners of the Nunavut Political Accord decided to put the decision in the hands of the people after talks ended in a stalemate at the Nunavut leaders’ summit in Cambridge Bay last weekend.

Although Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Ron Irwin, who originally opposed the idea, and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Jose Kusugak supported gender parity, the GNWT strongly rejected the idea.

Residents, therefore, will be given the task of deciding whether Nunavut will have two-member, one-man, one-woman constituencies. It’ll be the second Nunavut-wide vote since the land claim agreement was proclaimed in 1993.

In December, 1995, Nunavut residents were called upon to choose a capital.

Thompson a driving force

Aivilik MLA Manitok Thompson, the minister of municipal and community affairs and the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, was the driving force behind the opposition to gender parity.

She led the Nunavut caucus in rejecting the idea, which halted any hope of reaching agreement before the summit wrapped up Monday. She called for a plebiscite.

“This has to go out to the public,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls from my communities and also outside my communities telling us this is the way to do it, by plebiscite, because they need to have their say.”

Thompson, said the majority of phone calls she’s received are from women opposed to gender parity. Those calls have been from individuals, she added, not specific women’s groups.

Thompson said gender parity places too many restrictions on women and men during their political careers.

“I, for one, do not believe that it is right to put me, as a woman, in a position where, for the rest of my political career, I will only be able to run against women, because that is what gender parity means,” she told the summit leaders Monday.

She commended NIC for its work in both Footprints reports, but added that the commission may have misled some communities.

“I know in some communities the message was that it’s going to be gender parity, and it wasn’t a question of what people thought about it,” she said. “The public is saying they have not been consulted properly, that’s it’s just a one-sided opinion that’s already going to be happening.”

No support: Ng

Health and Social Services Minister Kelvin Ng, Kitimeot MLA and chair of the summit, foreshadowed the deadlock in a statement he made in the Legislative Assembly Thursday, prior to the weekend meeting.

“No matter how well intended, the proposal for dual member constituencies based upon equal gender representation does not have the support, either from men or women, that the NIC seems to suggest,” Ng said. “In fact, after extensive discussions with leaders and individuals in my constituency, there are obvious and serious concerns about this proposal.

“I believe that if we are to create dual member constituencies, we should hear from all citizens of Nunavut. This should happen by way of a referendum held after division. As a Nunavut political leader, I believe this issue is fundamental and that it would be wrong for us to impose this model of Assembly structure on our constituents without the clear indication of support that a referendum would bring.”

Kusugak argued that the communities have already been consulted about gender parity and other issues by the Nunavut Implementation Commission, which reported its findings in its two Footprints reports.

A costly consultation

He said a plebiscite is not only expensive, but causes unnecessary time delays. He said the issue must be decided quickly in order to allow a boundaries commission enough time to complete its work before the first election.

NIC commissioner Peter Ernerk, who attended the leaders’ meeting, was disappointed gender parity was rejected by the Nunavut caucus.

“The whole idea is to return equal partnership responsibility to both men and women in Nunavut,” Ernerk said. “Everybody keeps saying that they want a government, a legislature, that’s made in Nunavut. Well, this definitely is.

“Let’s hope the voters in Nunavut will call MLAs and indicate this is a good things for Nunavut, something the people of Nunavut want and change their minds and support gender parity.”

But the Nunavut caucus isn’t the only group opposed to gender parity. Nunavut youth haven’t embraced the idea, either.

Jimi Onalik, the youth co-ordinator for the Kivalliq Inuit Association, co-authored the N-Files youth report, a compilation of youth opinions on a variety of issues including gender parity.

Onalik presented the report, the result of a Nunavut-wide questionnaire in December and January, to the leaders last Sunday.

“The majority of youth who responded to the N-Files were not in favor of the gender parity proposal,” states the report in rejecting NIC’s recommendation.

No solution to sexism

“The proposal asks individuals to choose the best female and the best male,” states the report. “It does not ask individuals to choose the two best people. Creating a government where the number of women and men are equal will not solve the underlying problem of sexism.”

Onalik said, however, that many youth don’t support gender parity because they’re not well informed on the issue. He said in those areas where youth had had the opportunity to talk with NIC commissioners and staff, such as in the Kitimeot region, they were in favor of the proposal.

“We found the Kitimeot was overwhelmingly in favor of gender parity,” Onalik said. “We drew a link that youth who’d spoken to NIC were better informed on the issue and had had a chance to debate and see what the pros and cons were.

“For a lot of other places that (the N-Files questionnaire) was the first time anyone had heard about it in detail and the debate was just getting started.”

Details of when and how the plebiscite will be held haven’t yet been decided.

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