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Ottawa won’t build Nunavut legislative assembly

On April 1, 1999, Nunavut’s first premier will welcome visiting dignitaries and politicians to an office building ­ not a legislative assembly building.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

ANNETTE BOURGEOIS

There are no plans yet to construct a permanent legislative assembly building for the first Nunavut government.

Federal officials told members of a Town of Iqaluit committee this week that the Nunavut government will have to decide whether it wants to construct a distinct building to house the legislative assembly.

“The building of a legislative assembly is a cornerstone of a government’s presence in a province or territory and the elected leadership of that government should be making those decisions,” said Wilf Atwood, implementation and operations director for the Nunavut Secretariat for the federal department of Indian and Northern Affairs.

Ottawa is overseeing the incremental construction needs of Nunavut until the government is in place in 1999. Those immediate needs don’t include a permanent legislative assembly building.

“One shouldn’t prejudge the what the government of Nunavut would want by way of a legislative assembly before it’s elected,” Atwood said.

Assembly in an office

Nunavut is getting only the bare bones to get the government up and running by April 1, 1999.

In plans unveiled at the meeting, DIAND official Jim Davidson said a new office building will house the legislative assembly on an interim basis.

The assembly and its functions would take up about two-thirds of the space in the new building. Nunavut government employees would work in the remaining one-third of the space.

“We would certainly anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of discussion down the road, and perhaps not that far down the road, around exactly what and when a unique type of legislative facility might be required here,” Davidson said.

For now, though, the priority is to lease or build space for the infusion of hundreds of workers into Iqaluit and 10 other Nunavut communities as the decentralization model of government takes shape.

No federal money

Contrary to what people may have heard, the federal government does not have specific dollars earmarked for the construction of a legislative assembly building for the Nunavut government.

Davidson said the figure of $5 million being kicked around was a number used during a call for proposals for architects as an anticipated construction value of the new office building.

“It’s nothing more than that,” Davidson said. “That’s not a federal contribution to anything.”

Davidson said, however, the federal government has earmarked money to lease space in the new building.

Make us proud

Lazarus Arreak, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, wants a legislative assembly building to reflect Nunavut. That won’t happen, he says, if it’s housed in an office building.

“Representing the region the capital’s going to be located in, some of our concerns include having a proper legislative building, something we can be proud of, something we can say this is ours, something that shows pride to our visitors and tourists.”

Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco said there’s no guarantee the Nunavut government will have money to spend on a new building.

“The reality of the day is we still don’t have a good idea or any indication what the gross expenditure base for Nunavut will be,” Picco said.

“So after saying that, you don’t know how much money will be available for the Nunavut government to do things like build a legislative assembly.”

John Amagoalik, chief commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission, doesn’t doubt there will be a legislative assembly building ­ someday.

“I’d like the building to be identifiable to Nunavut,” he said.

The NIC Footprints reports didn’t devote much space to discussing a legislative assembly building.

“There was a recognition that the design of the building, the financing of the building and the actual construction of the building was really out of our hands,” Amagoalik said.

Public consultation began when several Baffin business organizations got together and commissioned a report asking what Nunavut residents want to see in their legislative building. They were reacting to the absence of discussion on the topic.

Derek Rasmussen, acting director of Iqaluit Trade and Promotions, presented that report to council along with Gela Pitsiulak, president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce and Nunavut Chamber of Commerce.

He said if leaders can make decisions determining the makeup and election process of a Nunavut government, why can’t they decide to construct a distinct building to house it.

“We don’t need some grand edifice like Yellowknife has that will put us in debt,” Rasmussen said. “I’m surprised it’s not of concern to the community that officials from Ottawa are telling us what we can and can’t have.”

Rasmussen said people need to speak up and tell the officials what they want.

“Assumptions are being made on their behalf,” he said. “I don’t think the people have been consulted about what form the legislative assembly will take and where it will be built.”

In the meantime, plans are going ahead. Public meetings are planned for this summer with construction to begin on the office building in the summer of 1998.

“We’ve planned for a space for the legislature on an interim basis that will be fit up to a nice, quality standard that will basically be in an office-type facility,” Davidson said.

The temporary housing will include space for a legislative chamber, meeting rooms, offices for MLAs and staff and a small law library. This space would likely revert to offices when an assembly is constructed.

Mayor Joe Kunuk said the consultation process is vital.

“We don’t want the same mistake we went through with the U.S. military in the 1950s when they plunked down a bunch of buildings in this community,” Kunuk said.

“We’re still trying to correct that mistake.”

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