A week in the life of the Nunavut legislature
Cabinet ministers provide non-answers to MLAs’ questions about specific issues.
IQALUIT — During its first week of sittings, the third session of Nunavut’s legislature has produced few answers to questions about how the government plans to tackle Nunavut’s most pressing issues.
The government has promised to create a variety of talk-shops — task forces and reviews on housing, health care, the implementation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, electrical power delivery, education, welfare reform and the Nunavut business incentive policy.
But the government’s sole concrete action during its first week of meetings was the announcement that Finance Minister Kelvin Ng will become deputy premier of Nunavut, an appointment that Premier Okalik said was a good reflection of the territory’s diversity.
Questions about critical issues such as housing, health, and social services, however, were generally postponed or left unanswered.
South Baffin MLA Olayuk Akesuk persistently raised concerns about Kimmirut’s nursing shortage. He described how many of his constituents in Kimmirut have been without the services of a social worker since the beginning of 1999.
“It’s been nine months now since we’ve had our shortage,” Akesuk said.
But Health Minister Ed Picco could only tell Akesuk that his department had “set up an internal working group.”
Picco said the Nunavut Illuarsajiit Action Team will “identify practical solutions and ideas to improve recruitment and retention of nurses and social workers in Nunavut.”
Yet with an accumulated health board deficit of $8.9 million as of March 31, 1999, and a projected health deficit of $15-$22 million by April 1, 2000, Picco’s reassurances that problems would be “addressed over the coming weeks” rung hollow.
Picco wasn’t able to persuade Arviat MLA Kevin O’Brien that the 1800 people of Arviat will get the services they need either.
O’Brien spoke out last week about the lack of any mental health workers in Arviat.
“For the last three or four years, I’ve hammered and hammered away at the need for a mental specialist in social services, and the lack of it in our communities and especially in mine,” O’Brien told the legislature. “This isn’t new, this is an old story.”
Picco only promised to “look into the request.”
“I wasn’t happy at all,” O’Brien said after that day’s session. “You get tired of the violin playing. There are ways of saying that you don’t have a way to solve a problem. It’s not the first time in history that the government has been strapped.”
Even the time zone dispute couldn’t be debated until the bill endorsing a unified Nunavut time zone was formally read in the house.
MLAs from Sanikiluaq, Pond Inlet and Kimmirut still deposited petitions from their communities protesting the October 31 time zone change.
“When are we going to adddress this?” asked Uqqummiut MLA David Iqaqrialu.
Petty matters, however, brought more answers for MLAs.
Iqaqrialu had more luck when he spoke about his constituents’ frustration over inconvenient airline schedules.
“When the weather is bad, the passengers going to Qikiqtarjuaq or Clyde River have to wait a whole week if they can’t get to their community due to bad weather. If the weather is bad again, they have to wait another week,” he said.
“I am asking this question to the minister responsible for transportation to see if they can rectify this situation.”
Iqaqrialu also talked about problems caused by outboard motors that sometimes require hard-to-get parts.
“I believe that outboard motors or any equipment should come whole because it’s very hard to buy parts in our communities,” he said.
Community Government Minister Jack Anawak, who responded to both these questions, promised that he would forward a letter to the companies concerned.
Hudson Bay MLA Peter Kattuk complained that Sanikiluaq was left out of decorative map that hangs in the legislative assembly chamber.
“We will deal with this as soon as we can,” promised Speaker Levi Barnabas.
The more prickly questions raised by the MLAs — such as suicide, insufficient funding for classroom supplies, lack of administrative support for elders’ societies, badly needed public housing repairs in Repulse Bay, a long-overdue oil tank upgrade project in Sanikiluaq, lack of opportunities for youth, a request for the names of consultants who have received work from the Nunavut government, and information on the number of elders living below the poverty line — were all pushed aside as being out-of-order, or needing more consultation and study.
MLAs were told that these matters were “hypothetical” or would be placed “on notice” or that “we are looking for ways to deal with this issue.”
During the session there wasn’t even much response to the last week’s throne speech, or the government’s Pinasuaqtavut document, also known as the “Bathurst Mandate.”
Sunstainable Development Minister Peter Kilabuk’s made a statement full of pledges to use things like teamwork, communication, leadership, and his desire to find more jobs for people within the 15-35 age group.
But Kilabuk’s address contained no new ideas on how he would achieve anything concrete, other than the negotiation of another economic development deal with the federal government.
“A key to job creation is a partnership with the federal government,” Kilabuk said.