MLAs dump electoral boundaries report
“After spending $300,000 and talking to many Nunavummiut, we’re rejecting everything in the report for what?”
The Nunavut Legislative Assembly has voted for the status quo on electoral boundaries, rejecting a report recommending four new seats for Nunavut.
The Nunavut Electoral Boundaries Commission, formed in March 2006, had the task of re-drawing the territory’s electoral map. This is mandated under Nunavut’s Elections Act, because the way MLAs are currently divided between communities was decided by a commission operating under the authority of the Northwest Territories, not Nunavut, prior to division.
After touring Nunavut between last May and September, the commission recommended creating four new seats for MLAs: two ridings for the Baffin, one for the Kitikmeot, and one for the Kivalliq.
As well, the report recommends re-drawing lines on the map between some smaller communities who share an MLA, largely in order to prevent electoral districts from straddling the borders of Nunavut’s three regions.
Eleven MLAs, most from the Baffin region, voted to reject the report.
Hunter Tootoo, MLA for Iqaluit Centre, said nothing could be salvaged from the report.
“The report is fundamentally and fatally flawed,” he said. “It is beyond repair. You hear the suggestion that we can rush out and strike some form of new body to fix the problems. I’m sorry, but in this case, I believe the patient is dead.”
Ultimately, it’s up to MLAs to decide how Nunavut’s electoral boundaries are set. Usually they would do this by putting forward a draft bill, which may accept or reject any recommendations made by the boundaries committee, as they see fit.
But most MLAs instead decided to condemn the report, rather than review the report together, or form a committee to decide which recommendations should be adopted.
Leona Aglukkaq, MLA for Nattilik, objected to the calls to reject the report, saying it was the job of MLAs to make tough decisions.
“We have not done that. We have not reviewed the report by recommendation behind closed doors or in the House. We have not even looked at it. After spending $300,000 and talking to many Nunavummiut, we’re rejecting everything in the report for what?” she asked.
Likewise, Tagak Curley, MLA for Rankin Inlet, asked why MLAs did not review the report page by page, and suggested some MLAs had not even fully read the report.
“When I read it from beginning to end, there are some areas where they’re very well done,” he said.
And Keith Peterson, MLA for Cambridge Bay, pointed to the fact that regional factions were at play, and that Kitikmeot residents would lose out if the report’s findings were ignored.
“We don’t like to talk about regions sometimes, but the fact of the matter is there are regional differences, regional issues, regional concerns. We have regional Inuit associations, we have regional organizations. We don’t have a lot of territorial organizations, so, there is a fact of the matter. There are regional interests.”
But these objections were not enough to quell criticism aimed at the report.
By and large, MLAs did not object to any specific recommendations in the report. Instead, they chose to complain about the report’s cost, or about how some communities were missed because of bad weather and a tight schedule.
MLAs did not mention how in some communities, few residents bothered to show up for the consultations. In two cases, at Repulse Bay and Igloolik, no one showed up.
Premier Paul Okalik warned that adding four new members would cost the government $2 million more, when the territory is “already over-represented” by MLAs.
That’s contrary to the report’s findings, bolstered by a recent census report, which all point to how some of Nunavut’s communities have dramatically swollen in recent years.
Others appeared frustrated by how the report offers MLAs several choices, ranked in the order the commission preferred.
“What we got was a disjointed smorgasbord of options and scenarios, maps without substantive meaning and no evidence of consultation on changes to constituency names,” Tootoo said.
Tootoo said the fact he’s an Iqaluit MLA demonstrates he’s acting in broader interests than his own constituency, which would have gained an extra seat if the proposed changes were adopted.
However, the decision to dump the report received most criticism from Kitikmeot MLAs, and from the Kivalliq.
The Nunavut Elections Act says once this boundaries commission finishes its job, a new boundaries commission won’t be formed for another 10 years.
But with the report rejected, Tootoo said that a new boundaries commission will have to be struck, due to population growth, after the next territorial election, within the next one and a half years.
Had the report’s recommendations been accepted, the Baffin would have received two new seats. One would come from dividing Igloolik into two seats, with one district shared with Hall Beach.
The other Baffin seat would have been created by making a new electoral riding that encompasses Kimmirut and Apex. That would leave Iqaluit with three seats, and Cape Dorset with an MLA to itself.
The Kivalliq would have seen Arviat receive an extra seat, divided between Arviat North and Arviat South, to take into account the fact that the community is now Nunavut’s third largest, with a population of about 2,320.
And the Kitikmeot would of seen Gjoa Haven, which is presently joined with Taloyoak to make up the Nattilik district, receive a seat to itself.
In turn, Taloyoak would have joined Kugaaruk to form a new riding, called Netsilikmiut East. That would have addressed the complaint that Kugaaruk is lumped together with the Kivilliq community of Repulse Bay.
The MLAs who voted to reject the report are: Hunter Tootoo, Levi Barnabas, James Arvaluk, Olayuk Akesuk, Ed Picco, David Simailak, Paul Okalik, Levinia Brown, Louie Tapardjuk, James Arreak and Peter Kattuk.
Those who opposed the motion are: David Alagalak, Keith Peterson, Joe Allen Evyagotailak, Tagak Curley, Leona Aglukkaq and Patterk Netser.
Steve Mapsalak abstained.