Candidates take aim at the Okalik government

In Iqaluit, it's seven against one on Oct. 27

By JIM BELL

For seven of the eight people contesting Iqaluit's three seats in the Oct. 27 territorial election, it's all about running against the Government of Nunavut and the man who's held its top job since 1999: Paul Okalik.

But for Okalik, it's all about defending his government's record.

"I'm very proud of what we've accomplished so far," Okalik declared at a two-and-a-half-hour all-candidate's forum held Oct. 20 at Iqaluit's francophone centre.

Organized by Nunavut's francophone association, the event was broadcast live over the CFRT radio station and featured questions from a panel of local print and broadcast reporters, as well as members of the public.

Okalik, who said he'll seek a third term as premier if he's re-elected to his seat, faces a strong challenge from Iqaluit's popular mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik.

"I believe it's time for a change, for a different type of leadership, for a different type of representation," Sheutiapik said in her opening remarks.

And even those candidates competing in the other two constituencies echoed Sheutiapik, backing their messages with lacerating comments about the quality of Okalik's administration.

"No one is being held accountable… We must have strong leadership in place," said Iqaluit Centre candidate Madeleine Redfern, referring to ex-finance minister David Simailak's recent corruption scandal.

Redfern said it's outrageous that Simailak, who was found to have committed numerous breaches of the Integrity Act, got off with a $5,000 fine and is still able to seek re-election in Baker Lake.

And Hunter Tootoo, who is standing for re-election in Iqaluit Centre against Redfern and Joe Sageaktook, took a direct shot at the Okalik administration's leadership style.

"I believe the Government of Nunavut should lose its climate of fear and intimidation," Tootoo said.

Tootoo also blamed the GN for the administrative and financial collapse of the Nunavut Business Credit Corp., and took aim at one of Okalik's most cherished policies: job decentralization.

He said the NBCC imploded because the organization couldn't find qualified people willing to work at its decentralized office in Cape Dorset.

"The government failed that organization by refusing to listen to the [NBCC] board," Tootoo said.

Sageaktook, however, called for a different type of change that would transform the way Nunavummiut light their houses and heat their homes: the use of nuclear power.

An employee of the Qulliq Energy Corp., Sageaktook said Nunavut should use its uranium reserves inside the territory to generate clean, cheap power, rather than export the mineral to the outside.

And he said Nunavut should build a nuclear power plant in the Kivalliq to export electricity to southern Canada and generate income for Nunavut.

In Iqaluit East, each of the three candidates running there also took shots at the GN and past decisions of the Okalik cabinet.

Glenn Williams, who is also an Iqaluit city councillor, blamed the GN for undermining Iqaluit's lobbying campaign for a deepwater port.

"The problem is the GN. When the mayor and myself went to Ottawa to lobby for a deepwater port, federal officials told us the GN said they want a road and port to go to Kimmirut. A port in Kimmirut is not even supported in Kimmirut," Williams said.

And Williams also warned that Nunavut's country food harvesters are suffering from this year's escalating fuel prices.

This, in turn, is depriving families of a valuable source of nutritious food, he said.

"We do not realize the importance of country foods in the our communities… Only half as many guys are going out, for half as much time," Williams said.

Eva Aariak, Nunavut's former language commissioner and owner of a local gift shop that specializes in Inuit arts and crafts, made a strong plea for full implementation of Nunavut's recently passed language laws.

"Language and culture is very important to us. That is the reason that Nunavut was created. Sometimes we forget why Nunavut was created," Aariak said in response to a question posed in Inuktitut by Iqaluit resident Mary Wilman.

Switching to English part-way through her answer, Aariak alluded to the English-dominated all-candidates' forum and cited it as an example of how the Inuit language gets short shrift in Iqaluit.

"Here I am again, going up against this ongoing barrier," Aariak said.

Williams responded that culture, expecially the knowledge of how to hunt on the land, is at least equally important.

"We need more than just language. Where are the land skills programs? We've got to expand this beyond just language," Williams said.

Kakki Peter, who at 26 is the youngest of Iqaluit's eight candidates, said Nunavut needs a strong implementation plan for its new language laws.

He also said in his opening remarks that he's running to give youth a voice, saying that Nunavut's older leaders often don't understand the younger generations.

"We really need to figure out how our government is going to get things done and have good youth participation," Peter said.

On the language issue, Okalik made a strong pitch for francophone votes by speaking part of his introduction in French and declaring that his dream is to see a "trilingual territory."

Sheutiapik, on the other hand, said that in implementing language laws, Nunavut must give priority to Inuit elders who speak neither English nor French.

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