'We should be able to approach our leaders with confidence that we will be listened to in a resp

New Nunavut 'premier; pledges ''positive change'


Saying she wants to reconnect with the old vision of Nunavut, Eva Aariak, Nunavut's new premier, pledges that she and her newly-minted cabinet will work to give Nunavut voters what they want: a changed government.

"Positive change will be the name of the game," Aariak told reporters moments after a majority of MLAs chose her to serve as Nunavut's second premier at a leadership forum held Friday, Nov. 14 in Iqaluit.

In that spirit, MLAs chose only one member of Nunavut's outgoing cabinet, Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk, to serve with Aariak in Nunavut's new government.

Aariak's cabinet will also include:

  • Daniel Shewchuk (Arviat);
  • Keith Peterson (Cambridge Bay);
  • Peter Taptuna (Kugluktuk);
  • Lorne Kusugak (Rankin Inlet South-Whale Cove);
  • Hunter Tootoo (Iqaluit Centre).

After the Dec. 15 by-election in the Akulliq constituency, MLAs will meet early next year to pick a seventh minister.

As of the Nunatsiaq News press-time this week, Aariak had not assigned portfolios to her new ministers, who were sworn in this past Wednesday along with other MLAs.

James Arreak, the veteran Baffin politician and MLA for Uqqummiut, will serve as the new legislative assembly's speaker, after winning the job by acclamation.

MLAs elevated Aariak into the Government of Nunavut's top job after six gruelling hours of questions and answers.

They rejected Iqaluit West MLA Paul Okalik, who sought a third term, and Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley, who backed his bid with a 10-point plan for reforming Nunavut's territorial government.

In her opening remarks, Aariak gave MLAs, and the public, some specific information about what she intends to do.

That includes a review of how government works across Nunavut.

"I would ask my cabinet colleagues and our communities to take a ‘snapshot' of where we are right now," Aariak said.

She said that would include asking basic questions about what works, what needs improvement, and what is not working at all.

Aariak told MLAs that while this sounds simple, it will require co-operation, trust and two-way communication.

"We should be able to approach our leaders with confidence that we will be listened to in a respectful way," Aariak said.

She then listed seven priorities for action, which included issues like:

  • building capacity in the territorial government;
  • creating a better economy;
  • focusing on connections between health and social development;
  • ensuring access to healthy, affordable food;
  • ensuring the government can communicate in Nunavut's official languages and that businesses can deliver services in the Inuit language;
  • building a better education system; and
  • reducing the things that cause people to harm themselves and others.

In addition to those priorities for action, Aariak said Nunavut will face three big challenges over the next 10 years:

  • Arctic sovereignty and how Nunavut will handle the issue to help Inuit assert their role in the Arctic;
  • Ensuring that Nunavummiut gain access to a healthy ­quality of life and healthy lifestyles;
  • Environmental and cultural stewardship.

But in the face of these needs, Aariak said Nunavut residents are turning away from public life

"Many Nunavummiut are moving away from their interests in government. Others are moving away from their personal hopes and dreams. Too many are moving away from their responsibilities," Aariak said.

To fix that, Aariak said she will work to reconnect with the old vision of Nunavut and re-engage people in building the territory.

Paul Okalik and Tagak Curley each declined nominations for cabinet jobs and will serve for now as regular members.

In the days following Nunavut's Oct. 27 territorial election, the word "change" appeared on everyone's lips, but it wasn't clear what MLAs and others meant by it.

At this past Friday's leadership session, MLAs provided some specific answers to that question. For them, "change" includes dealing with issues such as:

  • fixing the child welfare system and creating an advocate for the rights of abused or neglected children;
  • reassuring government employees who complain that they're constrained by the fear of retribution from the premier's office;
  • filling the large number of staff vacancies within GN workplaces;
  • improving the quality of health care.

Okalik tried to counter this in his opening remarks to MLAs, saying the consensus system guarantees that change comes with every new government.

"None of us were elected to defend the status quo. We were elected to make change," Okalik told MLAs.

But after losing his job to Aariak, Okalik said he is now "relieved" at having the burdens of government lifted from his shoulders.

"I don't have to put up with bad press anymore. I can live my life and be happy and merry. So I look forward to new challenges in my life," Okalik told reporters.

Curley presented himself to MLAs as an experienced agent of change capable of leading by example and bringing all Nunavummiut together.

To back his pitch, Curley came to Iqaluit armed with a 10-point plan for action, aimed at child hunger, health care, transportation, housing, business development, education, and job training.

Following his defeat, Curley said Nunavut's new cabinet is an improvement over the last one.

"I think it'll be a stronger group than the last two. I don't know how the cabinet and the new premier will show, but certainly I think the new cabinet ministers are quite experienced," Tagak Curley said in an interview.

Curley said the new cabinet should focus first on the economic slowdown and Nunavut's high energy costs.

Aariak becomes the first woman to serve as Nunavut's premier and the second Inuk woman to serve as premier of a territorial government in Canada. The first was Nellie Cournoyea, who served as premier of the Northwest Territories between 1991 and 1995.

But Aariak downplayed the significance of her gender.

"I didn't run in the race to be a member of the legislative assembly because I am a woman. I just happen to be one," Aariak said.

With reporting by Chris Windeyer.

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