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The struggle from within


Science tells us that nature abhors a vacuum.

And wherever there’s a vacuum, air rushes in to fill it up.

By studying the pre-election tea leaves, and by dithering over the appointment of his old pal Jack Anawak as interim commissioner of Nunavut, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has created a power vacuum in Nunavut.

With no one in charge of the process of creating Nunavut, hot, foul air will keep rushing out of our leaders’ mouths until the vacuum is plugged.

It’s not the type of struggle that has much of an impact right now on the day-to-day lives of most Nunavut residents, but the outcome of the struggle could have a big impact on their future.

What’s at stake are competing visions for how Nunavut’s government should be designed, governed and paid for.

On one side is the GNWT, strong backers of Anawak’s appointment. On the other is Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., who are less keen on seeing Anawak get that job.

Meanwhile, Ottawa watches silently from the sidelines.

The Nunavut Implementation Commission – which has tended to have good relationships with NTI, and a stormy one with the GNWT – could be the big loser. That 10-member appointed commission has been carrying the ball on Nunavut for several years. They are the only group that has done a credible and consistent job in designing, costing, and revising plans for a Nunavut government.

The problem with the NIC is that they’re not elected. Without that mandate, elected officials can always slap the commissioners down when they get too uppity.

But to be elected is only one measure of political legitimacy. If you held a plebiscite in Nunavut today and asked the people who they want to run and manage the process leading up to Nunavut, it’s likely most residents would favour giving the commission, led by chief commissioner John Amagoalik, a strong role, perhaps even the lead role.

But despite the moral force that Amagoalik and the NIC still carry, Chrétien must soon hand the ball to an interim commissioner.

And Nunavut leaders must also reach consensus on a variety of key issues.

Will the government be decentralized? Will the two-member constituency model be adopted with gender parity? Will Nunavut’s government better reflect the wishes and beliefs of the Inuit majority? Will Inuit finally get a chance to get served in Inuktitut by their government? Will Inuit fill the ranks of the public service or will all existing GNWT staff get to keep their jobs?

Even if Nunavut’s leaders can reach consensus on most of those issues at their meeting next week in Cambridge Bay, they still have to consider how it’s going to all be paid for – especially a decentralized government administration.

Fiscal conservatives, who would prefer being called fiscal realists, say that Ottawa is broke, the GNWT is in debt, and there just isn’t enough money to pay for the type of government Nunavut residents have been promised.

That’s the kind of message often delivered by NWT Finance Minister John Todd, who wields a fiscal sledge hammer over both new territories.

But why is our finance minister -who should be our chief lobbyist in Ottawa – acting as broker of bad news for the federal Liberal Party?

If that’s the message from Ottawa, then let Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Ron Irwin, Paul Martin or the Prime Minister himself come to Nunavut and deliver it.

It’s likely that planners in Ottawa have no idea how much it will cost to fund two new territories, and that’s why it’s up to Nunavut’s leaders to develop a model, and then descend upon Ottawa together to make their sales pitch.

At next week’s Decision ’97 gathering in Cambridge Bay, it would sure be helpful if Ron Irwin said something to clarify exactly what incremental costs Ottawa will pay for, and what Ottawa won’t pay for.

That way, Nunavut leaders will have more guidance on how far they can go on issues like decentralization.

But if Ottawa tries to fund Nunavut on the cheap, leaders can threaten to spoil Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Nunavut-creation party on April 1, 1999 by claiming that the Liberals welched on their commitment to the people of Nunavut.

There’s nothing glory-seeking politicians hate more than being upstaged by nasty dissenters. Chrétien already throttled one such dissenter who threatened to spoil his Canada Day party.

Chrétien won’t be able to stand up and boast to the world about the great new territory of Nunavut, and how it reflects the wishes and dreams of the Inuit majority, if his government hasn’t spent the money to make it anything more than a skeleton version of the GNWT. TP

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