We need to engage “citizens”

Observers pack gallery as GN outlines future

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Rarely is the gallery of the Legislative Assembly packed, but April 1 brought dozens of elders, past and present politicians, visiting dignitaries and ordinary Nunavummiut to hear Commissioner Ann Meekitjuk Hanson lay out the government's vision for the next four years.

The throne speech marked the beginning of a new session of the legislature, but was more like a solemn birthday party, at least for one day.

The Aqsarniit Middle School Choir even sang Nunavut a rendition of Happy Birthday in English and Inuktitut.

In the throne speech, Hanson said the task of government during Nunavut's first decade was to establish the institutions and legislation needed to serve Nunavummiut.

"We have truly established our own government, one that is more reflective of our culture and our needs," she said. "But, in building Nunavut, the challenges have sometimes been as daunting as the opportunities have been promising."

Hanson laid out Tamapta, the Government of Nunavut's new mandate, an ambitious document that pledges to tackle social problems, improve government transparency, produce a "report card" on government operations, and boost Nunavut's role in international affairs, especially circumpolar relations.

Tamapta, "all of us" in Inuktitut, also proposes a Nunavut Communication Strategy, which promises to better inform Nunavummiut about government operations, and a social advocacy office, "which will recommend policies, programs and services" for the territory's underclass.

In her speech, read by Hanson but, in keeping with parliamentary tradition, written by the government, the commissioner touted Inuit cultural values as Tamapta's base while emphasizing an inclusive public government for Nunavut.

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak echoed those remarks in a statement following the throne speech.

"We need together as Nunavummiut, Inuit and non-Inuit… to engage our citizens in contributing to that work: elders, parents and especially children and students."

For all Nunavut's lingering problems, establishing a functioning government in 1999 was far more difficult, she said.

The next step is to reduce Nunavut's dependency on the federal government and to reduce Nunavummiut's dependency on the territorial government.

Paul Okalik, Nunavut's first premier, now a regular MLA, reminisced about the GN's infancy and offered kudos to former cabinet ministers like Kelvin Ng, Donald Havioyak, Manitok Thompson and former speaker Peter Kilabuk, who had a portrait of himself unveiled in the lobby of the assembly.

And Tagak Curley, the health and social services minister, traced the long road of the Nunavut land claim movement from 1975, when the "federal government was neither amused nor receptive of the idea of dividing the Northwest Territories."

"The bandwagon was empty," he said. "Today I can say it is fully loaded and moving forward."

There was also some business at the birthday party: Finance Minister Keith Peterson told MLAs he'd table a budget June 4.

That's months behind schedule because the October territorial election caused government operations to virtually freeze during the campaign. During the most recent sitting, MLAs passed a package of stop-gap financial legislation to allow the GN to keep spending money until June.

Speaker James Arreak also noted the April 1 session was the 395th sitting day of the legislature since its first sitting at Inuksuk High School in 1999.

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