MLAs euthanize ailing education bill
GN policy wonks to start all over again
Amid rumours of an impending cabinet shuffle this week, Premier Paul Okalik said he would not remove Peter Kilabuk from the education portfolio, despite the disastrous failure of Bill 1 last Thursday.
On March 13, Jobie Nutarak, chair of the standing committee on health and education, recommended the bill be allowed to fall off the order paper. It will officially die at the end of the sixth session.
The recommendation means the education department will be forced to start over again after four years of work and a year of territory-wide public hearings by the standing committee.
Yet Okalik said no one could be held individually responsible for the mess. “It’s something that has been in the works for a long time. It precedes the minister or the deputy minister. It’s difficult to even comprehend where to start if I were to punish anyone,” he said in an interview on Monday.
Kilabuk took the education post in November 2000, about a year and a half into the department’s work on the bill. He joined the process at the consultation stage, as the second draft of the bill was being developed.
He said in an interview that he wasn’t taken aback by the committee’s recommendation: “In looking at the history of what’s been said and what indications I have gotten from some members, I wasn’t really surprised.”
In the end, it was the language debate that brought down the bill.
Some say Kilabuk should have known better — and sooner — that the bill’s English-language focus would anger Nunavut’s Inuit majority and its vocal Francophone community.
Representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. made an impassioned appeal for the increased use of Inuktitut in Nunavut schools.
In addition, several constitutional experts, as well as Nunavut’s own commissioner of official languages, declared the bill unconstitutional because of its failure to recognize French minority-language rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“It is not clear if the bill is still vulnerable to a court challenge,” Nutarak said in his report to the assembly. “[There are] concerns that Inuit languages and culture are not sufficiently promoted and supported within the bill. Many representatives of communities and organizations expressed frustration that Inuit languages are not given equal status to English and French.”
Kilabuk said the education department’s relatively new language of instruction initiative should help to make Inuktitut the dominant language in Nunavut schools.
And he said his department continues to work with Iqaluit’s francophone community to bring the legislation into compliance with the Charter.
“The work that’s been put into it, I don’t want people to think that it’s been a waste of the money or the time and energy that people put into it, because now that we have all this information collected, we will definitely use this material to help us set our path for the creation of the new education act,” he said.
The report also acknowledged the concerns of district education authority members across Nunavut who felt the bill would have reduced their powers and, in turn, increased the powers of the minister.
“They anticipated that there would be more direct contact with the minister and that there would be a certain amount of flexibility in the manner in which DEAs influence school programming,” Nutarak said.
“Many stated that they felt that Bill 1 goes in the opposite direction by reducing the decision-making power of DEAs by allowing less flexibility and less involvement in day-to-day activities and more control from regional departmental officials.”
Kilabuk said his department would begin acting on the standing committee’s report once the bill has fallen off the order paper.
“We’re just reviewing the recommendations and the report,” he said. “From there, we’ll go back to the department, go back to the drawing board and see what those recommendations are and look at the main highlights of the areas that they want us to act on.”
He said he has not yet decided whether to seek reelection.