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Nunavut MLAs, not electorate will choose next premier

Nunavut MLAs have decided to wait a while before exploring the idea of a directly-elected premier.

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

MICHAELA RODRIGUE
Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — Nunavut’s MLAs — not the electorate — will choose the territory’s next premier.

At a three-day retreat at Baker Lake, Nunavut’s MLAs decided to retain their power to select the premier — at least for now.

They could have decided to let voters pick the premier, but MLAs said a premier selected by the assembly will be more accountable.

“If it’s a directly elected position from the public, then the members don’t have any control over the premier, there’s no accountability,” said Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo.

Instead, Tootoo said the electorate might be forced to wait for the next election to oust a poor premier.

“If it was done publicly, we wouldn’t really have a mandate to do anything about it (the premier.) It would have to be the public, and they wouldn’t have a chance until the next election,” he said.

“All the members of the executive, including the premier, serve at the pleasure of the assembly. If there was a problem with any individual, it can be dealt with within the assembly,” echoed caucus chair Kevin O’Brien.

Nunavut’s first premier Paul Okalik was elected by Nunavut’s 19 MLAs through a secret ballot last March.

NIC studies

But prior to the division of the Northwest Territories, the Nunavut Implementation Commission (NIC) presented two reports outlining the possibility of selecting a premier through direct election.

Although the NIC found public support for the idea of having a directly-elected Nunavut premier, they said that there is no clear consensus on exactly how that could be done.

They warned that a process for directly electing a Nunavut premier could conflict with many of the unwritten conventions that lie behind the Westminster system of parliamentary government.

The NIC did not endorse a particular selection process, but suggested a final decision should be made by the Nunavut legislative assembly.

Caucus’s recent decision means the status quo will remain for the time being. Caucus also plans to have a mid-term review of cabinet.

But not every MLA believes the current selection process should remain indefinitely.

Picco wants elected premier

Nunavut Health Minister Ed Picco believes the premier should be elected directly by the people.

“(The premier) would have a mandate from the total territory,” Picco said. “That gives an advantage in moving an agenda forward,” he said.

Picco agrees it’s too soon to change the selection process for premier. But he said the issue may be re-examined in the next two or three years.

Last week’s all-caucus retreat was billed as an opportunity for cabinet devise its goals for the term. After retreat, the government reiterated its commitment to education and decentralization of government.

Details of a new Inuit teacher education program and a Nunavut nursing program are expected soon. And cabinet plans to discuss its decentralization plan at a meeting in Iqaluit at the end of the month.

The MLAs are scheduled to resume sitting in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 20.

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