NDP health critic takes aim at Nunavut’s Liberal MP

Territory may become “priority riding” for New Democrats



Svend Robinson smiles every time he tells this story. The New Democrat MP’s eyes draw in at the corners, and he often can’t resist just bursting with laughter.

It happened this past Saturday at the graduation ceremony in Iqaluit for Inuksuk High School’s Grade 12 students. Robinson, attending the ceremony with the family of one of the graduates.

At the close of the event, as guests started filing out of the gymnasium, the British Columbia MP ran into his Manitok Thompson, Nunavut’s minister of education.

“She said, ‘Svend, It’s so nice to see you, what are you doing here?'” Robinson recounts.

He told her he was in Iqaluit for the graduation of a friend’s son and to attend some NDP events. Then, his smile broadening, he put his arm around her shoulders and said, “Mani, I’m also here for the gay-pride celebration tomorrow and I’d like to invite you to join me.”

Thompson’s face turned red, he recalls, and she sputtered something about having too many events to attend and not enough time.

“And Mani’s not here with us today,” Robinson told the gathering of more that 100 people at Sunday’s picnic, amid chuckles and knee-slapping from the crowd.

Robinson has been a frontline warrior in the gay-rights movement for more than 20 years. His latest target is Nunavut, the only region in Canada without human rights legislation.

Bill 12, the proposed human rights act, received second reading in the legislative assembly in November and was bumped from the agenda during the spring sitting in early June. It still awaits deliberation in committee of the whole.

“I hope that happens and I hope that happens soon,” Robinson said.

Though the bill has support in government, its greatest challenge may be overcoming the religious ardour expressed by many MLAs.

“I know the bill has given rise to some controversy, but minority rights and respect for equality should be fundamental in every jurisdiction in Canada.”

During a short speech on Monday, he also took aim at Nancy Karetak-Lindell, Nunavut’s Liberal MP.

“I think the people of Nunavut deserve strong, vigorous representation. Too often when tough issues have come up, I think Nunavut has not had the kind of vocal, active, strong voice that it needs,” he said.

“I know Nancy, I like Nancy, but I think the people of Nunavut are facing many challenges and I think the people of Nunavut want a representative who goes down to Ottawa and is not afraid to speak out.”

It’s not the first time Robinson has criticized Karetak-Lindell’s silence. In February, he told Nunatsiaq News that she had been “quiet as a church-mouse” as the three territorial premiers fought for a per capita funding formula to be added to a health accord negotiated with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Robinson, the NDP’s health critic, had harsher words on Monday for the Liberal government regarding the NIHB consent forms, which require aboriginal people to disclose personal medical information, and Nunavut’s allotment of the shrimp quota off Davis Strait.

“I’m calling today on the Liberal government to back off, to scrap these consent forms, to recognize they’re unworkable, they’re unacceptable, they’re offensive to First Nations people and to Inuit,” he said.

“On the shrimp quota, what we see is the same treatment. It’s the same kind of arrogant top-down approach from this Liberal government that shows contempt for the people of Nunavut.

“If you’re in the Atlantic provinces, the fundamental principal is adjacency. Adjacent waters, you get your share of the resource. When it comes to the shrimp quota here, however, that’s not the case.”

Robinson’s attention to Nunavut suggests the NDP may put up a strong fight in the territory during the next federal election, expected to be called as early as the spring of 2004.

In rebuilding itself, he said, the party will look to areas where support has traditionally been strong. In 1979, the year Robinson was first elected to the House of Commons, Peter Ittinuar held the seat for the NDP.

“Unfortunately, he became a bit misguided later on,” Robinson added, referring to Ittinuar’s 1982 defection to the Liberal party, in exchange for the Liberal government’s support in principle for the creation of Nunavut.

Since then, NDP support in Nunavut has waned. In 1997, Hunter Tootoo, who currently holds a seat in the legislative assembly, polled 23.8 per cent of the vote as the NDP candidate for Nunavut. In 2000, Susan Enuaraq won only 18.3 per cent of the vote and came in a distant second to Karetak-Lindell, who took 69 per cent of the vote.

If Nunavut indeed becomes one of the NDP’s “priority ridings,” Robinson said, the party would throw whatever support it can behind the NDP candidate.

And he added that the party is actively seeking out potential candidates. During a tour of Baffin Regional Hospital on Monday, he stopped briefly to chat with Alexina Kublu, chief justice of the peace for Nunavut.

Impressed, he encouraged her to submit her name. “You should run,” he told her. “We’re looking for candidates.”

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