ITK’s credibility problem


We’re convinced the board of directors that oversees the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami were motivated by the best of intentions when they decided last week to postpone their annual general meeting and election until the fall, saying they want more time to broaden the list of candidates available to replace Jose Kusugak as president.

Besides, ITK is a private organization, or more accurately, a coalition of private organizations, and it has the right to run its affairs as it wishes, as long as it does so in a lawful manner.

Unfortunately for ITK, most Inuit beneficiaries don’t seem to see it that way.

Since June 3, when ITK announced the postponement of the election, CBC Iqaluit’s talk-back telephone line has been flooded with calls from people who want to record their displeasure with the decision.

It’s not going over well with Inuit. Callers have used words like “dictatorial,” “unfair,” and “crazy” to describe the decision. Canada’s national Inuit organization now has a big credibility problem, not only with the people they represent, but with everyone else.

ITK officials shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not unusual for an organization or a government to postpone an election or extend a nomination period when there are no candidates.

But in this case, there were two — Pitseolak Pfeiffer and Robbie Watt. Two candidates are all you need to hold an election. They’re both articulate and well-educated, and both have held executive positions with Inuit organizations in the past. One of them, Robbie Watt, has earned a university degree, something that only a few Inuit politicians can say about themselves.

Of course, educated people don’t necessarily make good politicians, and many educated people are totally unsuited for political leadership. Politics requires many other qualities: toughness, maturity, cunning, good judgment, honesty, an understanding of human nature, and the ability to communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds. A resilient ego doesn’t hurt either.

Nevertheless, ITK’s board, the very same group that also “elects” the organization’s president, hasn’t provided convincing reasons to support the notion that Pitseolak Pfeiffer and Robbie Watt aren’t a wide enough choice.

Yes, when he was speaking on behalf of the board last week, Jose Kusugak repeatedly said that ITK isn’t suggesting that the two men aren’t good enough.

But ITK’s actions contradict those words. If ITK had faith in at least one of the two men, it would have gone ahead with the election. This obvious contradiction creates the appearance that ITK is being dishonest in the extreme, and is manipulating the process so that some other person will end up with the job.

This creates a disastrous credibility problem for the organization. If ITK’s president is just an appointed flunkie, with no mandate from Inuit, why should he or she be taken seriously by the federal government and other non-Inuit agencies? If the real power is held by the regional presidents, then why shouldn’t federal officials deal directly with them rather than with their appointed intermediary?

For ITK’s board, there appear to be only two options for getting out of this mess.

One would be a return to the kind of universal, pan-Arctic elections held until 1995, which Robbie Watt has been calling for. This option is potentially expensive, and for those who like certainty and stability, would produce unpredictable outcomes.

The other option is to be honest and to admit the obvious. Why pretend to be holding an “election?”

If ITK’s board wants to determine who will become president, why don’t they simply fill the position through a standard job competition? They can do so easily by advertising for candidates, interviewing them, and then hiring the person they want to a term-limited contract.

Why not try honesty? They’ve tried everything else and no one is convinced. JB

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