'I feel I am up to the challenge'

Unopposed, Barnabas joins cabinet as HR boss


Levi Barnabas, MLA for Quttiktuq, will serve as minister responsible for the Department of Human Resources and the Worker's Compensation Board, Premier Paul Okalik announced March 17.

Barnabas landed in cabinet by acclamation on March 13, when members of the legislative assembly met in a special leadership forum to choose a replacement for David Simailak, the former finance minister.

It was all over in seven minutes. The only other MLA to receive a nomination was James Arreak, the MLA for Uqqumiut, who declined.

Barnabas will likely hold office for only about six months. That's because the assembly will dissolve in September for a territorial election to be held Oct. 27.

One MLA was conspicuously absent from the leadership forum: Hunter Tootoo, MLA for Iqaluit Centre.

"I don't have confidence in the government, so why would I want to join it?" he later asked.

With an election date now set, Tootoo said there is little to be accomplished by his joining cabinet, other than giving the government a stronger hand to push through several bills that may prove controversial, such as the new Education Act.

One more cabinet minister means one fewer regular member, who may vote as he or she chooses.

"It's just a numbers game. It's another vote for them," Tootoo said.

But Barnabas said he believes he can better represent his High Arctic constituents from within cabinet. So far, the creation of Nunavut has offered little benefits to these communities, he said, as he listed a number of familiar gripes.

There are few jobs. None of the High Arctic communities of Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord currently benefit from the government's policy of decentralizing jobs to smaller communities.

Infrastructure is crumbling. Most infrastructure money goes to regional centres, Barnabas said, rather than smaller communities.

And travel is expensive and time-consuming. To fly from Arctic Bay to Pond Inlet, it's necessary to fly south to Iqaluit and stay in a hotel overnight. "It's faster to go by snowmobile, maybe even by dog team," he said.

Barnabas said he believes he will better understand how government works by joining cabinet, and that he's prepared for the extra work. "I feel I am up to the challenge," he said during a member's statement following his acclamation.

Barnabas was once Nunavut's speaker, but he resigned in disgrace in August 2000 after he was convicted of sexual assault.

The incident dated back to March of that year, after a long night of drinking in Iqaluit, when a female acquaintance of Barnabas awoke to find him on top of her, fondling her breasts. Her underwear was pulled down and he was trying to penetrate her.

She resisted, and Barnabas soon found himself chased out of the house and down the street in his underwear by her angry husband, who wielded a baseball bat.

After entering a guilty plea, Barnabas served a 12-month conditional sentence.

He first resigned as speaker, then gave up his seat in the assembly. He was re-elected in the 2004 territorial election. Now, Barnabas says he's learned his lesson.

The member who Barnabas replaced, David Simailak, resigned from cabinet in December after it came to light that two companies he partly owned each received $1 million loans from the Nunavut Business Credit Corp., which he oversaw as the minister of economic development.

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