Nunavut MLAs get back to work

Members will discuss $173.2 million in urgent, unbudgeted special warrant spending

Nunavut’s MLAs are in behind-closed-doors committee meetings this week and will return to the chamber for an open sitting next week that will be broadcast on television and FM radio. However, the chamber won’t be open to the public, and MLAs will sit one chair apart from each other, following COVID-19 restrictions. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Nunavut’s members of legislative assembly arrived in Iqaluit yesterday, and they get to work today.

“It’s going to be great to mingle with each other and do our work,” said Speaker Paul Quassa.

It’s the first time MLAs have convened inside the assembly since the COVID-19 pandemic, when standing committee meetings and the spring sitting were postponed.

This week, MLAs will be in committee meetings that aren’t open to the public or media. These meetings were originally scheduled to be held between April 21 and 30.

John Main, the MLA for Arviat North–Whale Cove, who’s also the chair of the regular members’ caucus, will seek to extend the review of bills already before the house for 120 days, Quassa said. Main wasn’t available for comment.

The bills under review are Bill 25, an Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act; Bill 36, the Mental Health Act; and Bill 37, the Legislation Act.

This week, MLAs will review a draft of the 2021-22 capital budget and 10 special warrants for unbudgeted urgent spending since April, totalling $171 million.

Special warrants

Dan Carlson, the assistant deputy minister for the Department of Finance, said special warrants are unusual.

Since he took on his role in 2016, he said this is the first time he has seen them used. There was one approved in 2015, because urgent spending was required in the aftermath of the Kinngait school fire, he said.

Finance Minister George Hickes is also the chair of the financial management board, or FMB.

Under the Financial Management Act, the chair of the FMB and the Nunavut commissioner can approve special warrants when the legislative assembly isn’t in session, and won’t be in session in the near future.

Special warrants are money not already approved in the budget that’s “urgently needed,” and in the public interest.

They are presented to the members of the legislative assembly to review and debate in the form of supplementary appropriation bills.

Nine special warrants approved by the commissioner this summer were for spending related to COVID-19, amounting to $56.7 million.

Another one, totalling $116.5 million, was approved for capital project carry-overs from the last fiscal year. This would have been reviewed and debated during the spring sitting, had it not been postponed.

In total, the commissioner approved $171 million in special warrants.

The funds approved for COVID spending account for 2.4 per cent of the GN’s estimated revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Some of what this has been spent on includes isolation hubs, construction workers, subsidizing airlines and school lunch programs.

“It’s not just here in Nunavut that it’s happening,” said Quassa, when asked about the special warrants. “It’s not going to come as a surprise [to the MLAs], I think it was expected.”

Eerie era

MLAs will sit in committee until Saturday, Sept. 19. On Monday, Sept. 21, an open legislative sitting will start in the chamber, and it’s expected to end on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

During this time, MLAs will debate the special appropriation bills for the special warrants and the capital carry-over bill.

Quassa will also table the 2019-20 annual report for the Representative for Children and Youth.

MLAs will be “mingling” with each other, as Quassa said, while maintaining a safe distance.

They will sit one chair apart from each other during session. From Quassa’s position in the speaker’s chair, he’ll have six regular members on his left, and four ministers on his right.

The remaining MLAs will sit in the gallery on either side of the house.

“It’s kind of eerie in a sense,” Quassa said, “to be sitting in our chamber and not all members are sitting in their seats.”

“It’s going to be quite different, and hopefully we don’t have to do this too long with this pandemic era.”

But Quassa said it’s important to follow guidelines created by Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, to keep MLAs safe, and to set a good example to Nunavummiut watching the assembly proceedings on TV.

Two new MLAs

Two new members are being sworn in today at 11:30 a.m EST.

Craig Atangalaaq Simailak is the new MLA representing Baker Lake, and Calvin Aivgak Pedersen represents Kugluktuk. Both were acclaimed on July 24.

The swearing-in ceremony isn’t open to the public because of COVID-19 restrictions, but it will be live on TV.

Also, the legislative assembly will be closed to the public during the session next week.

However, everything will be broadcast on local TV channels, on satellite channel 513 with Bell or 289 with Shaw, and it will be livestreamed.

In Iqaluit, it will be broadcast on radio channel 92.5 FM. The Inuktitut feed will be broadcast on radio channel 94.7 FM, and English on 102.1 FM.

The fall sitting is scheduled from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Welcome Back! on

    It’s good to see the return to the Legislature!

    It is not an easy time for anybody, let alone people trying to keep track of all the coordination from unexpected covid consequences, but I just wanted to say it’s good to see a bit of a return to normalcy.

    I wish the best for everyone back to work in the legislative assembly, from janitors and office workers all the way up to the representatives! It’s not an easy job or an easy time, but you have support from some people who recognise all the work you’ve done remotely and will be doing going forward!

  2. Posted by Isolation hub on

    Heres an idea
    .
    Since the food sucks in the hubs and the GN is wasting money of people who “just want to visit friends and family down south”, MAKE them pay for their quarantine.
    .
    This way there will be more money available for better quality service and food to those who had no choice but to leave Nunavut (example – Emergency medical care).
    .
    Also, should charge people who did not finish their quarantine because they got drunk and left half way through. Waste of money.

    • Posted by Suck It Up on

      That’s a legal minefield. Residents have a right to enter Nunavut without undue barriers. Being forced to pay quarantine costs could very easily be seen as one.

      I’d wager that the GN would be on the losing side of that court case. I’m sure that the lawyers have done their research from top to bottom and have advised the GN to suck up the bill as any court loss could cost much more.

      • Posted by Not so fast on

        I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Any Charter breaches could be S.1’d away pretty easily in light of the quarantine and the prospect of Covid running rampant across Nunavut communities.

        • Posted by No Guarantee on

          I’m in no way sure, but it is very very far from a settled issue, that’s for sure.

          Other provinces had travel entry bans in place and repealed them based on legal advice that there was no guarantee that they would win a court challenge.

          We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we allowed people in and had the ability to ensure isolation was followed, tracing was effective, etc, we wouldn’t have to worry about potential constitutional issues. We don’t have that ability, so we have to run the risk of losing in court.

          Risks no matter which way we go.

    • Posted by Name withheld on

      Yes I agree, everyone was asked not to travel during this pandemic, and yet they still continue to travel for pleasure those that aren’t on medical reasons, so I agree with you 100% make them pay the 2 weeks isolation

      • Posted by Asks Are Just That, Asks. on

        Exactly, they were asked, not instructed or ordered. A request, any request, is yours to grant or deny.

        If the government had the authority to ban travel, they would have.

        Requiring Nunavummiut to pay would lead to very interesting court cases.

  3. Posted by Accountability Time on

    Maybe now someone will question the approach of the GN in all this. A lot of money is being burned without much discussion so now the MLAs can start looking at the books and see if the dollars being thrown at airlines and hubs has been justified and if the bureaucrats have been following the spending rules.

  4. Posted by Why u dum on

    Perhaps every MLA including the Premier should all go spend 14 days in the hubs, after that decide if they want to be punitive.

  5. Posted by wondering on

    Didnt even miss them..as a matter of fact, they, the Governments, are the reason why everything is in a total mess these days..

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