Anawak wants old job back

“Nunavut’s unique potential has to be recognized and nurtured”


Jack Anawak wants his old job back.

The veteran Nunavut politician, who served as Nunavut’s Liberal member of Parliament between 1988 and 1997, announced this past Monday that he will once again seek the Liberal party’s nomination in Nunavut.

“I think there is an opportunity for me to get back in to discuss issues such as climate change, and issues that we have been seeing in the papers, such as the high rate of family violence,” Anawak said in an interview.

In a news release, Anawak quoted from a “vision statement” that he created when he served as Interim Commissioner of Nunavut between 1997 and 1998.

The statement called on the GN to “establish a government shaped and owned and accountable to the people, in which creativity and innovation would be welcomed, amid a blend of contemporary systems and traditional knowledge.”

Anawak says, however, that “Nunavut has not realized its potential and has a long way to go to achieve and uphold that vision, because of a lack of determination to tackle on-going social issues.”

The Liberal incumbent, Nancy Karetak-Lindell, declared last December that she will not run in the next federal election but will serve until an election is called. At that time, a spring federal election seemed imminent.

But many observers now believe that Stephen Harper’s Conservative government may survive a vote of non-confidence after his government tables the 2007-08 federal budget in March.

That hasn’t stopped Anawak from entering the Liberal nomination contest now.

In every federal election held since 1988, when Anawak first won the Nunavut seat, Liberal candidates have won the Nunavut riding, often racking up huge pluralities against weak and disorganized campaigns run by other parties.

Because of this, the Liberal nomination in Nunavut is seen as an automatic ticket to the House of Commons.

So it’s likely that other candidates will eventually step forward, and members of the association will see a contested nomination. Anawak, the only Nunavut Liberal to announce publicly that he wants to run for the nomination, said he will soon start a membership drive.

Alain Carrière, president of the Nunavut Liberal Association, is in Africa until mid-February and was not available for comment this week.

Anawak’s career in public life has been long and sometimes controversial.

Early in his career, Anawak, now 56, served as mayor of Rankin Inlet, president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, president of the Inuit Cultural Institute, and chair of the Repulse Bay settlement council.

He first won election to the House of Commons in 1988, defeating Peter Kusugak of the New Democratic Party and Bryan Pearson of the Progressive Conservatives.

In 1992, Anawak, who said the Nunavut land claim agreement did not provide Inuit with enough training, money or land, voted No to the land claim deal in the 1992 ratification vote held among beneficiaries.

But when the deal was ratified, he worked to push the land claim agreement and the Nunavut Act through Parliament.

In 1993, Anawak swept back into office in a landslide, taking 6,672 votes, compared with only 1,970 for Leena Evic-Twerdin of the Tories and 924 for Mike Illnik of the NDP.

In his second term, Anawak attracted criticism in Nunavut for his perceived support of the Chrétien government’s gun control law and for the Liberal government’s lack of action on social housing.

In 1997, Anawak quit his job in the House of Commons after Ron Irwin, then the Northern Affairs minister, gave him a prestigious appointment: interim commissioner of Nunavut.

Irwin chose Anawak from a lengthy list of blue-chip applicants that included names such as Dennis Patterson, Joe Kunuk, and Ken MacRury.

As interim commissioner, Anawak’s job was to prepare for the creation of the new territory on April 1, 1999 by hiring Nunavut’s first senior employees, prepare an Inuit employment plan, negotiate Nunavut’s first budget, and finish Nunavut’s first plan for decentralizing territorial government jobs.

Anawak quit the OIC at the end of 1998 to run for the new Rankin Inlet North seat in Nunavut’s first territorial election on Feb. 15, 1999, making no secret of his desire to serve as Nunavut’s first premier.

Though he won election to the legislative assembly, MLAs rejected his bid for the premier’s job, opting for Paul Okalik.

MLAs did elect Anawak to cabinet, where he served as minister of Justice, Community and Government Services, and Culture, Language, Elders and Youth.

But Anawak and Okalik remained bitter foes. Okalik stripped Anawak of all portfolio responsibilities in early 2003, and MLAs later voted Anawak out of the cabinet.

In December of 2003, the Chretién government appointed Anawak as circumpolar ambassador to replace Mary Simon.

But the Stephen Harper Conservatives dismissed Anawak from that job on September 22, 2006, saying they will give circumpolar responsibilities to an existing ambassador.

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