Nunavut law students question candidates at inaugural forum
Candidates talk about elder care, FANS, culture and language
Students in Nunavut Arctic College’s new law degree program say they’re looking forward to words matching action from Iqaluit MLA candidates who attended a forum at the college’s newest campus in Iqaluit, Oct. 19, just days ahead of the Oct. 30 territorial elections.
“Once we receive our law degrees, it’ll be four years from now,” said the president of the Nunavut Student Association, Nastania Mullin, who organized the forum with fellow association members Jessica Shabtai, Bonnie Osborne, David Lawson, Colin MacKay and Alana Copeland.
“We’re going to be able to evaluate, as lawyers, to say, ‘Remember what you said to us on our first month of law school?’”
The forum did not include a back-and-forth debate among candidates, but was structured to give candidates five minutes to talk about their campaigns.
That was followed by another two minutes each to respond to questions drafted in advance by the law students, and chosen randomly.
Nine of Iqaluit’s 13 candidates responded to the students’ invitation, including incumbent MLAs Pat Angnakak and Monica Ell-Kanayuk.
Iqaluit-Tasiluk’s incumbent, George Hickes, was attending a meeting of territorial and provincial health ministers in Edmonton as Nunavut’s current minister of health, and was unable to make it to the forum.
The Iqaluit-Sinaa incumbent, lawyer Paul Okalik, missed the forum, after telling the students he would attend, Mullin told Nunatsiaq News.
Okalik said later he’d been given an incorrect start time but when contacted, organizers said all candidates were told the event began at 3:30 on Oct. 19 so they chalk up the absence to miscommunication.
In Okalik’s absence, that left Elisapee Sheutiapik as the sole candidate in attendance for Iqaluit-Sinaa. The two other candidates, Cindy Rennie and Adamee Itorcheak, did not attend.
The strictly-monitored format largely kept candidates on topic, as they fielded questions on issues such as the relevance of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, addictions treatment, child support, language revitalization and tourism.
Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu candidates Pat Angnakak, Anne Crawford and Franco Buscemi each took turns talking about solutions to elder care, after one law student said that witnessing the lack of support for unilingual elders at the Embassy West Senior Living care home in Ottawa was “traumatic” for visitors.
Crawford slammed Nunavut’s outgoing administration and MLAs for “betraying the people” on elder care, which she said in its current form was ripping families apart and putting some of Nunavut’s most vulnerable people in “life sentences of isolation” in southern facilities.
The government could improve senior care by using its contracts as leverage, Crawford suggested, but added that money should not be a factor in the territory’s obligation to its elders.
Angnakak also bemoaned the current funding for elder care and referred to her work outside the legislature as a founding board member for the Sailivik Society, an association proposing to build a 72-bed elders care facility in Iqaluit.
Buscemi admitted he wasn’t aware of the Embassy West Senior Living home, but agreed that the government should pressure its contractors to provide better services or revisit its relationship.
Another issue was the effectiveness of FANS, the Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students funding program.
Iqaluit-Manirajak candidate Adam Arreak Lightstone said amounts of student funding should be allocated on a case-by-case basis, as the financial needs of students studying in Nunavut or in the South can vary widely.
“A student has a right to be educated where they want to be educated,” added Ell-Kanayuk, who also said tuition down payments required from some students before they are eligible to apply for FANS is unfair.
Iqaluit-Sinaa candidate Sheutiapik agreed, saying “you can’t think about school if you’re worried about the cheque coming.”
Okalik Eegeesiak, a candidate for Iqaluit-Manirajak, said strong sales from Iqaluit’s newly opened beer and wine store should be funneled into a treatment centre and holistic programs, but said Inuit communities also need more equitable funding from the federal government.
Jude Lewis, also running in Iqaluit-Manirajak, came out strongly in support of better screening and programing for students with learning disabilities in Nunavut’s public school system.
And Iqaluit-Tasiluk candidate Jacopoosie Peter said more Inuktitut language programming needs to be made available for all Nunavummiut, which he said “will enrich everyone.”
“Inuktitut and the land are so connected,” he said.
Prior to the territorial elections, Iqaluit candidates will meet again at the city’s Francophone Association Centre for a moderated debate, Oct. 25.
Election day is Oct. 30.
If you’re an Iqaluit voter, read more about Iqaluit’s four ridings and candidates in our riding profiles of Iqaluit-Sinaa, Iqaluit-Tasiluk, Iqaluit-Manirajak and Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu: