Nunavut’s legislative assembly delayed until September

Spring sitting cancelled because of COVID-19

The spring sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly was supposed to run from May 26 until June 4. Instead, there will be a short sitting in September, and the regularly scheduled fall sitting will start on Oct. 20. (File photo)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Today, May 26, would have been the start of the spring sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly, if it weren’t for COVID-19.

It would have run until June 4. Instead, the plan is to have a shorter sitting in September, and then the house will reconvene for the regularly scheduled fall sitting from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5.

Paul Quassa, Speaker of the house, isn’t worried that the business of governing the territory has been slowed down.

“I don’t have any concerns at all,” he said, speaking over the phone in Iqaluit, “because of this pandemic, it’s just a delay, business will eventually have to be done.”

The decision to cancel the spring sitting was unanimous, Quassa said. After it seemed that there was a positive case of COVID-19 in Pond Inlet, he cancelled the sitting, saying that MLAs have to follow the same travel restrictions and social distancing rules as everyone else.

Even after that case was determined to be a false positive, he said postponing the sitting was the right move.

There are five outstanding bills for the house to consider: Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act; Bill 37, Legislation Act; Bill 36, Mental Health Act; Bill 35, Medical Profession Act; and Bill 28, An Act to Amend the Nunavut Elections Act.

These will go before the house in the fall sitting, Quassa said.

During the winter sitting, from Feb. 18 to March 12, members of the legislative assembly approved the 2020-21 capital budget.

That gave the government some breathing room to spend money on expenses that cropped up due to the pandemic.

In addition, cabinet issued three special warrants—$5.8 million that went to subsidizing Calm Air and Canadian North for the month of April, and “a little over one million” on school food programs, according to Finance Minister George Hickes.

During the sitting in September, MLAs will retroactively approve those special warrants, Quassa said.

Critiquing COVID response

John Main, MLA for Arviat North–Whale Cove and chair of the regular members’ caucus, is pleased with how the GN has spent money to respond to COVID-19.

“I lean towards being a big spender when it comes to health care in Nunavut,” he said over the phone from Arviat.

Regarding the cost of creating places for Nunavummiut to go into isolation for 14 days in hotels in four cities—Edmonton, Yellowknife, Winnipeg and Ottawa—Main said there will be questions about that when he sees it broken down in a supplementary appropriation bill when the house sits in September.

“I don’t have the bill in front of me,” he said, “so I really can’t say it was too much, was it spent properly, was it properly accounted for.”

But he did say creating those isolations hubs would have been tough to pull off, and it was the right decision.

“Our government has made the most out of our geographical location, the fact that we’re not connected to Canada by road,” he said.

Main also thinks it was the right decision to postpone the spring sitting, especially since the budget was approved, so the GN’s hands weren’t tied by financial restraints when responding to the pandemic.

Overall, he thinks cabinet ministers have done a good job in responding to the pandemic, despite “a few hiccups,” including teacher travel and school closures that came up in April, he said.

“That could have been rolled out better. It could have been communicated better,” he said.

Looking ahead to the regular fall sitting

Main misses the regular business of being a politician.

“As a politician I really enjoy my job, and going to the sittings is part of that,” he said.

He has felt cut off from his constituents during the pandemic lockdown, unable to travel to Whale Cove as he normally would, unable to meet with people, or even shake hands.

He is communicating with constituents by phone and email, and said that the majority of things he’s hearing about are related to COVID-19.

“I really can’t wait to get back to business,” he said.

John Main is the MLA for Arviat North–Whale Cove, and he’s the chair of the regular members’ caucus. Main said it was the right choice to cancel the spring sitting, which would have started on May 26 and run until June 4, but that he can’t wait to get back to the house in September. (File photo)

It’s “hard to think about” issues unrelated to COVID-19, but when MLAs get back to their regular agenda in the fall sitting, Main said he will be back to raising the same issues he has since he was elected.

These include elder care, medical travel, delivering health care locally, attendance rates at schools, workforce development, ensuring that more Inuit get government contracts and housing, and home ownership programs, among other things.

Silver linings

“As somebody who’s somewhat familiar … [with] the underlying conditions of the compounding factors in Nunavut, COVID is absolutely terrifying,” Main said.

By compounding factors, he means the housing shortage and lack of medical infrastructure.

“We’re just a pile of tinder waiting for a spark to hit,” Main said.

Despite that, he said he sees some “silver linings” related to policies that have come out of the GN’s response to the pandemic.

For example, the focus on food security—the first thing the GN did was give money to hunting and trapping organizations in the territory, and Inuit organizations did the same. There are also breakfast and lunch programs running in communities across Nunavut.

“I would be really pleased if we continue to have the conversation and figure out how to get more kids fed, get people living healthier lives,” he said.

Another positive, in his mind, is that the GN was subsidizing airlines in April, and is now in talks with the federal government to find out how to continue that through the pandemic.

“I don’t think ‘subsidy’ should be a dirty word when it comes to airlines in the North,” he said, saying he wants the conversation to continue with “our federal partners” to keep money flowing to airlines.

Another positive is the awareness of public health, and how the GN has allowed Dr. Michael Patterson, the chief public health officer, to take the lead on decisions.

Diseases spreading from household to household is something that “Nunavut’s been dealing with for decades,” he said.

“If this comes to help us down the road in terms of helping battling tuberculosis, RSV in infants, or anything else, that could be beneficial,” he said.

Coming up before the September sitting

If there was an emergency need of special funds, or if there was a “special bill that needed to be done … we can have a one day or two day sitting of the ledge, for emergency purposes,” before September, Quassa said.

In the meantime, Kugluktuk and Baker Lake each have to hold byelections on Aug. 24 before the September sitting.

The Baker Lake byelection is to fill the seat vacated in February by Simeon Mikkungwak, who served as Baker Lake’s MLA and as Speaker of the house.

The Kugluktuk byelection is to fill the seat vacated by Kugluktuk MLA Mila Kamingoak at the beginning of April.

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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by cdickie on

    Gee whiz, Daycare’s are opening June1. They couldn’t wait a week. I guess there health is more important than ours. Not that they do anything anyway

    • Posted by Bugs bunny on

      “We are in this together” as they tell us to send our kids to daycare and they close down the legislative assembly and go off hunting and fishing.

      I have never witnessed our own people have such a high level of mistrust towards government as I do now. Poor judgment after poor judgment. It blows my mind. They treated the teachers terribly, have implemented !!!!arbitrary selective!!!!! quarantine at entry points, thrown money at all sorts of nonsense, posted pictures of themselves gathered not socially distancing while telling us to distance ourselves, told daycares to open with no plans in place, blamed the Dr on non medical decisions being made and so on and so forth.
      Now is the time to hire a PR expert to try and fix the distrust you have created and hire some mental health experts to help us deal with the unnecessary stress you have caused us all.

  2. Posted by Unacceptable! on

    This is unacceptable!

    Premier Patterson must be accountable to Nunavummiut for his decisions and actions, and the best way for that to happen is through the Legislative Assembly. Softball questions from journalists twice a week doesn’t cut it!

    • Posted by Andy on

      There is no Premier with the name of Patterson. Do your research before providing wrong information in your post.

      • Posted by Can you hear yourself? on

        People who say “Do your research” or “Educate yourself”… do you hear how unbearably self-righteous you sound?

        We’re talking “Church Lady” levels of sanctimony.

        Unless you are responding to sarcasm with a whole different level of sarcasm, in which case I salute you, sir!

        • Posted by Andy on

          This is the second comment that makes me giggle. Quite frankly I don’t care if you agree or not, or if you feel that this sounded self-righteous to you. I would salute you as well for a comment that hits not point beside personal pleasure,but you don’t even provide you name….Sir

  3. Posted by Darek B on

    If the members can get on a phone to a reporter for comment, why can’t they get on a phone conference call and keep working?

    And are they applying for EI while not working, like the rest of us, or is this a paid vacation?

  4. Posted by Can no one work between June-Sept? on

    I have to say it is a bit pathetic that politicians cannot seem to come to work in the summer. They expect the rest of people to work from home, but they can’t even work for the entire summer period? Why push it to October?
    .
    This is a pretty key time for government to be working, and right now the MLAs are doing nothing and leaving it all to the Premier and Ministers. This is not the right approach – work from home.

    • Posted by Seems likely on

      Maybe… they are working from home?

  5. Posted by Amanda Ningeocheak on

    Why so much negativity??? I applaud all the work that our MLA’s do for us and will continue to do for us. Thank you for making a difference in our territory.

    • Posted by A good idea on

      Be the change you want to see in the world, Amanda

    • Posted by I like it too! on

      Yes, very good advice Amanda. Always remember to try to be a positive person and treat people well. Can you do it too? I know you can

  6. Posted by Ledger on

    Have a session and do some work. If you cannot then why are others?

    if you cannot attend in person then why are babies and little kids going to daycares?

    if daycares are asked to open then why close the Ledge? GO TO WORK like the rest are or will.

  7. Posted by Mr. Pay on

    I guess there was no discussion about taking a pay cut.
    They make the rules.

    • Posted by Thank you for your Compliance on

      They’re entitled to their entitlements.

      (and they’ve orchestrated things so they don’t have to answer to MLAs… very convenient)

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