'If I had your job I probably would have quit a long time ago.'

Health minister basks in rare praise


Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq got some rare words of praise and encouragement this week from Resolute Bay's mayor, Susan Salluviniq.

"I know if I had your job I probably would have quit a long time ago," Salluviniq said as the embattled health minister answered questions at the annual general meeting in Iqaluit of the Nunavut Association of Munipalities.

Besides offering sympathy for the minister's tough job, Salluviniq congratulated Aglukkaq on her department's new approach to community health committees.

Aglukkaq was the first Nunavut cabinet minister to step into the bear pit as mayors from 25 municipalities took advantage of a rare opportunity to grill territorial cabinet ministers.

"The big one for us is presentations from the GN," said Michelle Gillis, mayor of Cambridge Bay. "We don't hear all too often from representatives from the GN, so I'm looking forward to the presentations from the various ministers."

Aglukkaq, in defending her department's record, said health and social services eat up 25 per cent of Nunavut's budget.

"Major spending increases are not an option for us at this time," she said.

Fred Schell, the mayor of Cape Dorset, lobbied for a women's shelter, to which Aglukkaq replied that every community in the territory wants one.

Canute Krejunark wanted to know why Kugaaruk patients are still transferred to Yellowknife when Cambridge Bay's health centre is now open.

Darlene Willie, the mayor of Arctic Bay, repeated a familiar complaint about the transfer of the GN's medical transportation office to Pangnirtung, and other mayors lobbied for more nurses.

Later during the meeting, Lori Idlout of the Embrace Life Council distributed applications for the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, part of the council's drive to establish chapters in every community, and encouraged NAM to fill its vacant slot on the council's board.

"I'm not going to go and tell you what to do (about suicide)," Idlout said. "You know what to do."

McGill University's Grace Egeland described the Qanuipitali Inuit health study that will travel from hamlet to hamlet aboard the Coast Guard ship Amundsen this summer.

The massive International Polar Year project will test hundreds of adults and children to gather detailed information about Inuit health.

Some delegates were worried about the Amundsen rekindling bad memories of the C.D. Howe which took away Inuit who were sick with tuberculosis in the 1950s. Some never returned.

Joe Arlooktoo, the mayor of Kimmirut, asked if three is too young an age for a child to be subjected to medical tests.

"We are choosing tests that are simple to do and that I have done on my own children," Egeland replied.

Cabinet ministers Ed Picco, Louis Tapardjuk, Patterk Nester, Paul Okalik, and Levinia Brown were to follow Aglukkaq through Wednesday and Thursday, after the Nunatsiaq News press-time this week.

"This is the only opportunity that us mayors can actually talk to ministers because you have to remember ministers don't travel into every community and this is the one opportunity they have [to have] open dialogue," said Elisapee Sheutiapik, NAM's president.

But Sheutiapik also looks beyond the territorial government for help.

She says she wants an agreement with the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, though she didn't have details of the proposed deal as of Tuesday.

But she said she hopes for "new ideas in a sense on how we can achieve service delivery and even program delivery."

MaryAnn Mihychuck, the director of regulatory affairs for the prospectors group, was to speak Wednesday.

This comes on the heels of an open letter from NAM to Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, urging the GN and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to move on a July 2006 request from municipalities.

In the letter, NAM says they want municipalities included in decision-making for the territory's growing mining industry.

Sheutiapik and Gillis each scolded the government on that front during last month's Nunavut Mining Symposium.

"Resource activities are local in nature," the NAM letter said. "The impacts and potential benefits – particularly during the exploration phase – tend to affect specific communities rather than Nunavut as a whole."

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