“She should know,” Nunavut premier says of former minister’s breach
Motion to censure executive council expected today for vote by regular members
At the bottom of the document read aloud in public last week inside the Nunavut legislature by former cabinet minister Pat Angnakak are the words “strictly confidential.”
The document in question—the sharing of which led to the removal of Angnakak’s portfolios and her ensuing resignation from cabinet—was a record of decision.
Papers like it are usually kept in a locked file, after being delivered by hand to a minister by a staff member. Those documents don’t get sent through the mail.
To Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq’s knowledge, it’s the first time a Nunavut cabinet minister has ever read from that type of document at the legislature.
The incident occurred last week, on Oct. 23, when Angnakak spoke in response to a question about staff housing. She afterwards said she believed she had permission to read from the document, and that she did so in order to be more transparent and to give better information than could be found in prepared answers.
The following day, Savikataaq announced the removal of her portfolios, and on Oct. 25 Angnakak resigned in an exit speech in which she denied the breach and challenged Savikataaq’s leadership as premier.
“If she had read the whole thing, right down to the last line, on the bottom of the paper, it says ‘strictly confidential,’” Savikataaq told Nunatsiaq News in an interview on Monday morning, Oct. 29, when he responded to Angnakak’s speech.
Because Angnakak had worked previously for the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, and as an executive assistant to a number of cabinet ministers, Savikataaq said she should have been familiar with the nature of those documents.
“It would be understandable if it was the first sitting and a new minister,” he said. “She should know these documents are secure.”
This afternoon, the legislature’s order paper states a motion will be made to censure the Nunavut cabinet. Notice of that motion was made on Friday, Oct. 26, by Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie, and was seconded by former premier Paul Quassa.
Savikataaq said he couldn;t speak to the coming motion yet, because he didnt have any information on what it would be about.
“They have not informed us why they are censuring us,” he said.
But if that motion has anything to do with the different way in which cabinet dealt with Angnakak’s breach in comparison to a September breach by the Education Department, Savikataaq said his answer will be the same as it was last week, when he called the two breaches completely different.
“The only common denominator was that there were two breaches,” he said.
The censure motion applies to the cabinet as a whole.
Angnakak continues to deny the breach, saying she felt she had the premier’s approval.
Savikataaq said Angnakak did come to his office with the confidential document prior to the sitting that day, and he did suggest that she develop speaking notes with staff members who knew what “high-level” content should be shared.
“At no time did I give her instruction to take that confidential document and stand up in the house and read it. It was confidential advice that was given to cabinet,” Savikataaq said.
While there are “grey areas” in government, and there should be “give and take,” he said the choice that Angnakak made left him with little choice.
“This is a blatant breach of cabinet confidentiality and a breaking of oath. She chose to take the document out of her office and down to the house and read it on TV…. It puts me in a difficult situation,” he said, adding that it “weighed on his mind” that Angnakak had voted to make him premier in June.
In August, Savikataaq reassigned Angnakak’s portfolios, moving her from health to take responsibility for both the Nunavut housing and energy corporations.
“We are an open government, but there is some information that has to be kept close to the chest,” Savikataaq said. “We need to be able to make decisions in confidence until the decision and outcome is made public. We don’t make it public how we got to that point.”
Sworn to cabinet confidentiality himself, Savikataaq said he is choosing not to respond to what he calls “half-truths” contained in Angnakak’s exit speech.
“I’m sworn to secrecy too, it’s our system… I can only say so much,” he said. “I’ve chosen to take the high road.”
He reiterated that Angnakak’s dismissal had nothing to do with her gender. “It’s not a gender problem, it’s an operational problem,” he said.
Angnakak told Nunatsiaq News last Friday that women “still have a long way to go” in Nunavut politics.
A leadership forum is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 2, at 2:30 where MLAs will choose a cabinet minister. The premier will later assign a portfolio to that new member of cabinet.