NTI’s Towtongie faces three challengers
New conduct rules remove much of incumbent’s advantage
Cathy Towtongie, the incumbent president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., will face three challengers for leadership of the organization, including, as expected, her colleague Paul Kaludjak, who has taken a leave of absence from his position as vice-president of finance to campaign for the top job.
Towtongie and Kaludjak will be joined in the race by Ben Kovic, chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, and Archie Arnakaq, who runs a small business in Iqaluit.
Towtongie, who campaigned for eight years before finally winning the presidency in a by-election to replace Paul Quassa in December 2001, says she is running on her record of the past two years, and to emphasize accountability and continuity.
“It has been a scandal-free organization since I’ve been president,” she said in a telephone interview this week.
“I never took first class or executive suites,” she said, “unless another organization paid for them.”
She is the first president to campaign for re-election without benefit of NTI resources, such as fax machines, vehicles, satellite phones, calling cards and staff.
During her tenure, the organization established a tough new code of conduct for NTI employees who run for elected office. The code of conduct is the main reason neither Towtongie nor Kaludjak could discuss their plans to run before they actually submitted their nomination papers.
“Before, when I used to campaign against incumbents, I knew vehicles, fax machines, calling cards were being used,” she said.
The new code, she said, will even things up for her opponents, and give them a fighting chance against her.
And though it means she’s giving up a large part of her advantage, Towtongie stands by the code of conduct.
“I’m proud of my own ethics,” she said.
When she was elected president in 2001, Towtongie inherited a troubled organization that was still reeling from the misspending of the Quassa years.
“I wasn’t part of the old leadership,” she said. “I told the NTI board – I’m here for change. I’m open to change. And I’ve done it. I’ve done the work, but it needs continuity.”
She immediately began an outreach campaign that required the board to travel to communities for their quarterly meetings, so that beneficiaries could see the work NTI was doing on their behalf.
She said her greatest success as president is the $1 million surplus that the organization achieved simply by cutting back unnecessary expenses, “just by exercising prudence,” she said.
With that extra money, NTI has been able to fund a new program aimed at people with disabilities, as well as its much-publicized homeland travel and bereavement travel programs.
But there’s still much work to do. She points to new federal money for fishing vessels, which NTI must act on to develop a fishing industry in Nunavut.
In addition, she wants to continue developing a housing strategy that works for Inuit. She has been a vocal opponent of the City of Iqaluit’s high interest rate on tax arrears which she says is contributing to the growing homelessness problem in the capital and hurting the most vulnerable residents – youth, elders and single mothers.
While she’s proud of her achievements, she adds, she hasn’t done it alone. She gives credit to the staff of NTI for the work they’ve done over the past two years.
“I was happy with their ethics. It doesn’t take one individual to change an organization. It takes teamwork. I think NTI was ready for change,” she said.
In her closing speech last week in Cambridge Bay, during NTI’s final board meeting before the election, Towtongie discussed some of her impressions of the past two years.
“It is clear to me that what we have accomplished since December 2001 is way beyond the normal productivity level of this organization in the previous number of years it existed.
“Prior to this term, beneficiaries had spoken for many years about high living, waste, a lack of service capacity and questionable use of Nunavut Tunngavik’s dollars.
“In pushing for the development of an accountability agenda, I was a strong advocate for the introduction of a new, strong conflict of interest policy, so everyone could see that no one can personally profit from their access to information.
“I have not profited from NTI. Neither have James, Raymond and Paul,” she said
But James Eetoolook, NTI’s first vice-president, Raymond Ningeocheak, the second vice-president, and Paul Kaludjak are all part of what Towtongie calls “the old leadership.” They held office during the days of rampant misspending, and didn’t stop it.
Kaludjak, she said, had not finished his term as president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association when he ran for the position he currently holds at NTI. And though he hasn’t finished his term at NTI, he’s now running for another one.
“He was part of the leadership long before I was – part of the problem.”
She may have to work with him again, if she is re-elected and he returns to his position as vice-president of finance. But she’s not yet sure what their working relationship will be.
“Time will tell,” she said.
The NTI elections will be held March 16 across Nunavut. All registered beneficiaries are eligible to vote.