Aariak gives merit a fresh new start


May 22, 2009

In a quiet announcement May 14, just before the Victoria Day weekend, Premier Eva Aariak signalled that she’s not afraid to distance herself from her predecessor’s legacy.

As of June 22, Bob Long will leave his job as general manager of the Baffin Business Development Centre to become deputy minister of the deeply-troubled Department of Economic Development and Transportation.

He’ll replace Rosemary Keenainak, who will leave the Government of Nunavut after serving as deputy minister of the EDT department for about two years. Before that she served for many years as a senior official in the Finance and Community Government departments. In a statement, she says she will “take a new direction in my life, and will be pursuing educational opportunities in the fall.”

This is the kind of human resource euphemism that gives unwanted employees a chance to preserve some dignity, to which, in this case, Keenainak is entitled. She’s obviously an intelligent woman who struggled with a brutal job at a time when the Nunavut civil service was beset by insoluble problems and squalid scandals. We hope she’ll come back one day to serve Nunavut in a way that’s fulfilling to her and useful to the territory.

Most recently, Keenainak was involved in a minor spat that lasted for about a day before everyone forgot about it. In a recent legislative assembly session, Iqaluit West MLA Paul Okalik huffed and puffed about a private email she composed last year on a government computer. The email speculated who would win which seats in last fall’s territorial election. It did not include Okalik’s name on her list of predicted winners, which in his mind seemed to make it a public issue.

Thousands of people engage in this kind of time-wasting entertainment every day. It’s imprudent to do it at work, but harmless. And we hope it played no role in Keenainak’s departure.

As for her replacement, Bob Long is hardly a household name in Nunavut, but he enjoys much respect in the business community, having served as president of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Nunavut Trade Show and Conference.

What’s more, Long ran a business loan agency for 10 years, the BBDC, without driving it into either bankruptcy or administrative dysfunction. In Nunavut, that verges on the miraculous.

It’s obvious that he brings badly needed expertise to a government that is still struggling to rebuild the Nunavut Business Credit Corp., which the EDT department is responsible for. At the same time, EDT is perceived as offering substandard service to those who want government help in starting small businesses.

Remember when the Okalik government said back in 1999 that every single GN job would be regarded as a “training position?” Well, Long is no entry-level trainee. He’s a mature, seasoned professional with 40 years of experience in business and economic development.

And his appointment also shows that Aariak is likely backing away from a policy that Paul Okalik announced during the assembly’s June 2006 mid-term leadership review: that all GN senior managers become “fluent” in the Inuit language before 2008. Though he may possess many competencies, it’s unlikely that Long was hired for his linguistic abilities.

This then, is a senior civil service appointment made on the basis of other merit. Given the GN’s recent history, this is no routine personnel shuffle. It’s a statement. JB

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