Let the public see and hear
This month, Nunavut residents got to observe one of the great strength’s of our non-partisan electoral system – an election where candidates were free to run on their own platforms, unrestrained by political parties.
Next week, Nunavut residents will get to observe the weak side of the consensus system. We’ll get to stand around and watch 19 people choose our next government.
The MLAs who were acclaimed or elected on Feb. 16 will gather in Iqaluit March 4-5, to pick a premier and cabinet from among themselves.
Yet again, we will be reminded that we have no direct control over who forms our governments. On the other hand, we will also be reminded that our governments – meaning the premier and cabinet – exist only because the regular members allow them to, and can be easily removed. In theory, that means there’s a high degree of accountability.
But it still means we have no control over who gets to be premier – the leader of our government.
For that reason, it’s essential that next week’s leadership session be conducted in public, as in the past. It’s also essential that candidates for premier be not only given a chance to speak, but also be required to field questions from other MLAs, so the public can at least hear what their premiership candidates stand for.
We may not have any power to decide who gets to be premier and who gets to sit in cabinet. But we at least have the right to know what it is that we’re in for.
For the most important job in government, that of premier, MLAs will choose between at least two candidates, Paul Okalik and Tagak Curley. Each candidate brings strengths and weaknesses to his candidacy.
Okalik’s great strengths are his education (which includes a law degree), his five years’ worth of experience in the premier’s job, his ability to represent Nunavut to the rest of Canada, his ability to understand and clearly articulate government policy in English and Inuktitut, and his ability to withstand enormous stresses without blowing his stack in public.
Okalik is a confident, well-educated, liberal-minded modernist, living proof that with hard work, and a little education, any Inuk can go out into the world and do great things. He’s now well-known across Canada, no mean accomplishment for a politician who represents a small jurisdiction.
These strengths, though, are also weaknesses in the eyes of sizeable numbers of Nunavut residents, especially those who care about the continuing erosion of the Inuit language and culture. They believe that Okalik hasn’t done enough to give the Nunavut government an Inuit face, and they aren’t impressed by his ability to move easily between Inuit and non-Inuit culture.
Curley’s great strengths include his understanding of business and economic development issues. His most lasting accomplishments are mostly in business, not politics, especially the work he did – up until about a year ago – running the Nunavut Construction Corp. He’s also worked as an economic development advisor within NTI, and in 1975, he founded the Nunasi Corp.
His weakness is that he sometimes overreacts to public criticism. In the past, he hasn’t functioned well when facing the normal public scrutiny that all elected politicians must learn to handle, such as pointed questions from MLAs, reporters, and others. In 1987, after serving in the Northwest Territories cabinet for three years as economic development minister, he was voted out of cabinet for writing a threatening note to another MLA who asked hard questions about a GNWT grant to a Rankin Inlet business.
Another quality, which is both a strength and a weakness, is that Curley is a powerful advocate of Rankin Inlet’s interests. That makes him a great voice for the people of Rankin Inlet – but other Nunavut MLAs will want to know about his commitment to the other 24 communities in Nunavut.
As we all know, Okalik supports the protection of gay and lesbian rights contained in Nunavut’s human rights act, while Curley opposes it. We hope that they put that disagreement to one side and learn how to work together. Our new legislature will have far more pressing problems to deal with. JB