Local issues crucial in Hudson Bay campaign

Some residents regard Kattuk’s cabinet duties as a conflict


Local issues will count when Sanikiluaq residents decide who will represent the Hudson Bay riding on Feb. 16.

So incumbent MLA Peter Kattuk is campaigning hard and emphasizing his experience.

In a telephone interview from his home in Sanikiluaq, Kattuk said he’s confident that he has broad support.

“I have lots of support, elders, youth and middle-aged. All of them have come forward supporting me,” Kattuk said. “If they vote for me, they’re voting for experience.”

Kattuk, 53, was born on the land in 1950, and later attended the Churchill Vocational School. A former mayor, he has been a long-time critic of the proposed James Bay hydro-electric development in nearby northern Quebec.

In his re-election bid, Kattuk faces Moses Appaqaq Jr., a former MLA in the Northwest Territories legislative assembly, Joe Arragutainaq, a retired hamlet employee, Kupapik Ningeocheak, a young taxi driver, and Johnny Tookalook, an older carver.

Appaqaq, who ran and lost against Kattuk in the first Nunavut election in 1999, is considered to have a chance of beating Kattuk this time around. The candidate’s platform was not available as of Nunatsiaq News press-time.

In 1999, Kattuk beat Appaqaq 165 to 106.

If re-elected, Kattuk said he would back Premier Paul Okalik as territorial government leader.

“He was very supportive to me and the community,” Kattuk said. “He understands our concerns. He visited Sanikiluaq I don’t know how many times when premier, so I would support him again.”

But some residents say their island community’s 300 or so voters are more concerned about what happens at home than what goes on in the Nunavut legislature or whether Kattuk, who has been a cabinet minister responsible for two departments, has done a good job in Iqaluit on their behalf.

Some constituents still don’t even see a benefit in having their MLA serve as minister and have openly wondered whether it could be a “conflict of interest” to have an MLA with a ministerial portfolio.

“In the beginning, in 1999 and 2000, I went to a hamlet council meeting and one council member came forward saying, ‘Are you elected to represent Iqaluit?’ That’s the only thing I’ve heard,” Kattuk said.

“I think they understand that I had to be more in the capital. But I try to be home as much as I can to show them I care about them…. Those years that I’ve spent there [in Iqaluit], the last four and a half years, I’m saying to them, they were transitional years for me. I learned a lot.”

But the role of an MLA or cabinet minister is murky in an isolated community like Sanikiluaq where any government – municipal, territorial or federal – mainly makes itself visible and respected only by handing out money to local groups.

Last year, Okalik came to Sanikiluaq to announce money would be made available to the community to fight hydro-electric developments along the James and Hudson bays in northern Quebec.

Kattuk said he’s particularly concerned about the environment and the impact of historic deals signed two years ago between Quebec and the Cree and Inuit, which may lead to more large-scale dam projects.

“In the future, I think people here want a clean environment and clean traditional foods,” Kattuk said.

To reduce the cost of living and make use of renewable energy, Kattuk said he wants to look at possible other sources of electricity for Sanikiluaq, such as windmills.

However, when Sanikiluaq voters stop to think about the GN has done for them, they may think more about crisis management than the environment – things like emergency medical teams, burning generators, bad gasoline, quarantines and SWAT teams.

Last October, RCMP emergency SWAT teams and tracking dogs from Ottawa and Iqaluit descended on Sanikiluaq to round up Noah Meeko, 44, who was armed and considered dangerous.

Rather than show up in court, Meeko had barricaded himself in a house with a hostage, and then, after exchanging a few rounds of gunfire with police, headed out on the land and managed to elude capture for almost a week before giving himself up.

Meeko, now jailed on numerous charges, is now a kind of “Eskimo Rambo” figure and is seen by some to be the latest local victim of heavy-handed government actions.

For its small size, Sanikiluaq has borne a large share of hard times since the last Nunavut election. In 1999, and again in December, the community was hit by the flu, which struck most of its population, overwhelming its nursing station, closing schools and shutting the hamlet office.

In May 2000, Sanikiluaq’s power plant caught fire, leaving the community without electricity until emergency generators could be brought in.

Then, for two years in a row, Sanikiluaq didn’t have enough gas to make it to the annual fuel re-supply. In 2002, a shipment of bad gasoline crippled many snowmobiles and vehicles in the community.

When the bad gas debacle surfaced, Kattuk, who was then minister of public works, said the GN never suspected there could be anything wrong with their fuel and would take action to correct the situation.

“We will be doing something to make sure that the gas delivered to the communities will be adequate and do some testing to make sure that the communities are not getting bad gas before it is put into the tank farms,” Kattuk assured the public in May 2002.

“We do not want to experience it again in the future. We don’t want to experience having bad gas again for the communities.”

During the upcoming campaign, Kattuk must convince voters that he did his best.

“On that bad gas issue, I think they understood the concern and the answers from the government,” Kattuk said.

As an MLA and minister, low-key Kattuk has gained respect from his fellow legislators. He’s known as a skilled carver, experienced hunter and devoted family man, although the danger remains that his constituents won’t remember Kattuk’s many strong points and his experience – only the emergencies Sanikiluaq had to deal with when he was its first MLA in the Nunavut government.

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