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Nunavut's first MP makes bid for Green Party

The man who's been there before tries comeback

By JIM BELL

Four people are now competing with each other to represent Nunavut in the House of Commons, but only one of them can say that he's done the job before: Peter Ittinuar, Canada's first Inuit member of Parliament.

This time, Ittinuar, 58, will campaign under the banner of the Green Party, the third federal political party with which he's been associated.

The Green Party holds only one seat in the House of Commons, held by an MP who was elected as a Liberal in 2006. And most opinion polls suggest that no more than 10 per cent of voters are likely to cast ballots for the Greens in the Oct. 14 federal election.

But Ittinuar says that if Nunavut residents were to elect him for the Greens, his party would give him plenty of space to speak out on behalf of Nunavut and its special needs.

He says that's partly because if a Green Party MP were elected in Nunavut, it would be "history-making" and attract global attention to the territory.

"You want a lot of attention for Nunavut? There will, in the house, be a lot of attention paid to a Green Party member. You know you would have influence within the Green Party," Ittinuar said.

Ittinuar, then only 29, won election to the old Nunatsiaq seat as a New Democrat in 1979. He won re-election in 1980, then crossed the floor to join the ruling Liberals in 1982, from whom he sat as an MP until 1984.

Based on this experience, he says Nunavut residents should have no illusions about the severe constraints that face any Nunavut MP elected under the banner of a major political party.

"If you haven't been there before, your eyes are really going to be opened wide," Ittinuar said.

He said every established political party demands that their MPs put the party first and their constituents last, especially when the desires of constituents are at odds with party policy.

"Let's face it. Nunavut is in the outback. That's how they see it," Ittinuar said.

As a result, members elected from remote and rural regions like Nunavut are usually seated in the most remote sections of the back benches and get little opportunity to speak.

"Parliament Hill is a scary place if you're brand new there, even for people who have PhDs and masters' degrees," Ittinuar said.

"You have to be vocal in caucus. Within the caucus there are really good orators. They want their own things, they want their own constituencies represented as best as they can, and they are fighting for position."

At the same time, Ittinuar says he's not impressed by the attention that the Conservative government has directed towards Nunavut in recent weeks, including a long list of spending announcements issued in late August.

"Are any of those announcements, take one by one or altogether, going to change the daily life of Nunavummiut? Is their life going to change? I think not," Ittinuar said.

Like the Liberals, the Green Party is advocating a tax-shift plan to encourage people to use less energy: taxes on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, balanced by cuts in income and payroll taxes.

But the Green Party's tax-shift plan is more sweeping than the one proposed by the Liberals. Ittinuar said the Greens propose carbon taxes equal to $50 per tonne emitted, compared with the Liberals' $30-a-tonne proposal.

"We want good jobs and good incomes. We do not want pollution. So why are people with jobs taxed so they support the polluters who are not taxed? Lets balance this out," Ittinuar says in the Nunavut Green Party's platform, which he wrote last week.

And Ittinuar said that, if elected, he would push for a "comprehensive research project" that would look for alternatives to the use of fossil fuels in Nunavut.

Ittinuar says he "applauds" the Nunavut legislative assembly for passing the Inuit Language Protection Act last week, and said that, if elected, he would push for more federal money to pay for Inuit language programs.

As for European opposition to seal hunting and the importation of seal products, Ittinuar said he would push for a certification system that would keep foreign markets open for Inuit seal products.

"Countries that ban Canadian seal products still want to do business with Inuit," Ittinuar said.

Ittinuar attacked the Conservative government's recent cuts to an array of support programs for the arts, saying that Nunavut's art community needs more support.

The Green Party has run candidates in Nunavut in every election since 2000. In 2006, Feliks Kappi of Rankin Inlet finished in last place with 5.9 per cent of the vote.

Ittinuar served as assistant deputy minister in the Government of Nunavut's old Department of Sustainable Development.

Since 2002, he's worked for Ontario's ministry of aboriginal affairs as a land claims negotiator. He has been commuting to his Toronto-based job from his home in Brantford, Ont.

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