MLAs must choose speaker, premier and cabinet as first order of business in November

First decisions will set tone for assembly


Nunavut's new and returning MLAs will make some of their most important decisions right after they arrive in Iqaluit next week, nine days after the Oct. 27 election.

They'll set the tone and direction for Nunavut's third assembly when they choose from among themselves, the territory's new speaker, premier, and cabinet – in that order.

The assembly will have a new speaker for sure, since the last one, Peter Kilabuk, decided not to run again.

Nunavut's premier for its first two assemblies, Paul Okalik, has already said he wants the office a third time.

All he needs is one MLA to nominate him for the position. MLAs may add any additional nominees they desire, and make their choice.

The voting "should be particularly interesting this time," Nunavut's Clerk of the Legislative Assembly John Quirke told Nunatsiaq News, because instead of 19 MLAs,  there will only be 18, pending the outcome of a by-election in Akulliq riding.

If the vote for speaker results in a tie, for example, there will be no-one to break it. MLAs may have to vote repeatedly, he explained, until someone switches sides.

The by-election is required in Akulliq, which includes Kugaaruk and Repulse Bay, after former MP and MLA Jack Anawak was ruled ineligible to run because he had not lived in Nunavut for 12 consecutive months before the Oct. 27 vote.

Anawak already lost one appeal on the ruling, and is now arguing the Nunavut Elections Act violates his charter rights. The by-election date will not be set until Justice Earl Johnson rules on the charter appeal, which he had not done at press time.

It will be a steep curve for the new MLAs as they try to learn the structure, departments and priorities of the government, the rules for democratic debate and decision making, and their own roles in the process.

Fortunately they will have Quirke to guide them through it. He has already organized an orientation process, with a fat binder of an information package that he calls "the bible."

Quirke sent out the binders to the elected MLAs by courier the day after the election, and will phone each one "to congratulate them and invite them to come to the Legislature Nov. 5."

That will only give the MLA elected in South Baffin – in another by-election set for Nov. 3 – two days to get to Iqaluit. That by-election became necessary after nobody registered as a candidate for the riding in the general election.

As orientation proceeds, the MLAs themselves will decide when to convene the Nunavut Leadership Forum.

The forum's first order of business will be to choose a new speaker for the Legislature, who will then preside over the rest of the Leadership Forum as it makes the crucial choices for premier and the rest of the cabinet.

The cabinet, also called the executive council, must not comprise a majority of members, Quirke explained, so it cannot number more than eight MLAs.

This time, MLAs may decide to leave one cabinet seat vacant, so the Akilluq member will still have a chance at a cabinet post when he or she arrives.

They may even decide not to choose a cabinet until the new MLA from Akilluq has been elected to join them.

"The decision will be up to them," said Quirke, although he will present some options for MLAs to consider.

The entire Leadership Forum, and all sessions of the assembly, are open for the public to attend. They are also televised on cable channel 33 in Iqaluit, and local community channels throughout Nunavut.

During orientation, which Quirke hopes to complete by Nov. 19, each MLA will also meet with Nunavut's Integrity Commissioner Norman Pickell.

He'll ensure they understand their ethical responsibilities towards the legislature and people of Nunavut.

Cabinet ministers, for instance, must place themselves at arm's length from all business interests, and receive no information about those interests while in cabinet.

And no MLA can participate in a debate or decision where there is a possibility of private gain.

"Integrity is the first and highest duty of elected office," says Nunavut's Integrity Act.

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