Nunavut’s legislative assembly readies for fall sitting
MLAs will discuss capital budget, Education Act and more
After a summer break, Nunavut’s legislative assembly will reconvene for its fall sitting tomorrow, with a long list of items on its agenda.
The fall sitting runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 7.
The session will start with the swearing-in of David Qajaakuttuk Qamaniq, the newly elected MLA from Pond Inlet, at 9 a.m. in the legislature on Thursday, Oct. 17.
Qamaniq won a tight race in the Sept. 16 byelection in the constituency of Tununiq. The byelection was called to fill the vacancy created last March by the death of the riding’s former MLA, Joe Enook, who was serving as Speaker at the time of his passing.
Elisapee Sheutiapik, the government house leader and minister of family services, said the fall session will see a number of bills, some old and some new, come to the table.
During the spring sitting, MLAs finally saw the long-awaited amendments to Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act.
Bill 25 calls for a phased implementation, over a 20-year period, of Inuktut as a language of instruction throughout school programs from kindergarten to Grade 12.
At the same time, the bill would bring the Inuit Language Protection Act into harmony with the Education Act, and extend the deadline for implementation of bilingual education for Grades 4 to 12 on a phased-in schedule that ends on July 1, 2039.
Bill 25 is expected to be discussed during a two-week televised hearing of a standing committee from Nov. 19 to 28.
But before that, MLAs will discuss Bill 29, an Act to Amend the Labour Standards Act, which received second reading on Sept. 17. It was sent to the standing committee on legislation and is expected to return to the assembly this sitting.
If passed, Bill 29 would make Nunavut Day, July 9, a statutory holiday in the territory. Right now, the day is only an official holiday for public service employees.
One focus of the sitting will be the Government of Nunavut’s capital budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which starts next April 1.
Those bills include the following:
- Bill 30—Appropriation (Capital) Act, 2020-21
- Bill 31—Supplementary Appropriation (Capital) Act, 2019-20
- Bill 32—Supplementary Appropriation (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2018-19
- Bill 34—Write-Off of Assets, 2018-19
John Main, MLA for Arviat North–Whale Cove and chair of the regular members’ caucus, said he expects lots of discussion from MLAs about the capital budget bill.
“Just looking at capital projects and how good the government is at executing on capital projects. Building a school, for example, building an airport,” Main said.
“Another big concern when it comes to capital projects is how much of the benefit is staying in the territory.”
Main said for him, it is important to scrutinize where projects will go in the territory and with that, where capital dollars are flowing.
“There’s a large number of communities that are waiting for infrastructure projects,” he said.
“Our government can’t be spending money like we have an endless supply of it. Because we don’t.”
The fall session will also see the introduction of Bill 35, the Medical Professional Act, which deals with the regulation and registration of medical professionals in Nunavut, Sheutiapik said.
Bill 36, the Mental Health Act, will also be brought forward. Sheutiapik said the bill is “a modern, culturally appropriate Mental Health Act for Nunavut.”
In 2015, the Government of Nunavut held a review of the territory’s current Mental Health Act. The GN held public consultations on a new, improved piece of legislation in communities across the territory.
The GN released a summary of their review in 2017, but a new act has not been brought to the table until now.
Sheutiapik could not offer many details about the new Mental Health Act, but she said it would discuss, among other things, suicide prevention, mental disorders and individual rights to mental health services.
The bill also calls for a territorial mental health review board and the appointment of mental health rights advocates, Sheutiapik said.
Main said the regular members’ caucus has had productive discussions over the summer, including those on Bill 25.
“As a caucus, we are getting stronger. We’ve been on the job as MLAs for just about two years now. So I think that members are considerably stronger than they were, particularly the new ones,” Main said.
“The sentiment is that the status quo isn’t good enough. We need to see the government responding to different pressures, responding to different challenges. And demonstrating ingenuity, demonstrating creativity,” he added.
Both Main and Sheutiapik said they did not think the fall session would go into extended sitting hours.
For Sheutiapik, who represents the riding of Iqaluit-Sinaa, the fall sitting is an opportunity to hear from her fellow MLAs about what their communities need.
“I always look forward to our face to face and to hear about the communities. It kind of helps us in my view. It helps our mandate but hearing those questions helps justify when you make budgets for the upcoming year,” she said.
Paul Quassa, a former premier and current MLA for Aggu, is also expected to introduce a motion during this sitting for a plebiscite on whether to allow the Nunavut public to directly elect the territory’s premier.
They should definitely hold a plebiscite on how the premier is chosen or better yet move straight towards the public electing a premier. There is something terribly wrong with a system that allows a premier to be removed so easily.
Any Premier/PM in the Commonwealth can be removed the exact same way. The only difference in Nunavut and NWT is that members don’t have to toe the party lines when they question the leader. This is a strength, not a weakness.
If the public is given the authority to elect the Premier, then they should also have the ability to remove a Premier if needed. But how would that work? Nunavummiut would be calling for a plebiscite every week to remove the Premier because the majority of the population despises the Government no matter who’s in charge and have no idea how it actually works. That’s why we elect Members to make those decisions for us. They see how the Premier works in front of the cameras and, most importantly, behind the scenes.
I agree, the implications of a directly elected Premier need to be considered. Mostly I see downsides; such as a predominance of Iqaluit based Premiers and much weaker mechanisms for removal, and thus accountability. As I see it the current system is a much stronger and responsive one than we might realize. It demands direct accountability to the legislature. That is a good thing and I think it should be left alone.
Any Premier/PM in the Commonwealth can be removed by majority vote of the Commons or Legislature, but that would create all sorts of problems in a party system, with a good chance of precipitating an election. Usually if a party leader of the ruling party loses the confidence of his own people, either his party elects a new leader at a party leadership convention, or there is behind-the-scenes pressure to resign. (Back in 1994 British PM John Major was becoming unpopular, giving rise to this speculative article on how to get rid of him: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/six-ways-to-get-rid-of-a-prime-minister-1367722.html. Eventually he resigned as party leader and ran again for the position, and won easily.)
In Canada, in the Yukon and the Provinces, leaders of the rank of mayor and higher are not chosen and dismissed like chairmen of committees, by a simple vote of committee members. Party leaders are known at the time of elections, so the people can take their identity into account when voting.
BC has a method of recalling an MLA that still avoids frivolous by-elections. Something similar could be designed for Nunavut. Or if the Legislature had the right to fire a premier, a decision to do so could trigger a general election.
The system of consensus government must go. The megalithic beauracracy in Nunavut is run by Deputy Ministers, particularly the EIA. Party system works in Yukon, Nunavut should follow suit.
The Party system works, but does it work well and is it suitable for Nunavut? What makes you think it is a better system to the one we currently have? Please give some reasons.
You want reasons to have parties: political parties have coherent policy platforms so people know what they are voting for instead of the dumb popularity contests that happen in Nunavut. Let’s face it, it’s the DMs and senior bureaucrats who decide Nunavut’s and chart the territory’s path, not the people or the politicians.
People use Doug Ford as the example of how party politics is flawed. However, the people of Ontario knew what they were getting when they elected Doug Fords party: lower taxes and smaller government. He’s delivering on what he promised and people are upset when they see the implications of that. But, at least the people to choose what they were voting for. In Nunavut, all we get to choose is who we think is the nicest or most popular person
Don’t we expect our independent candidates to hold coherent policy positions as well? I think we do.
The difference between that and a party structure is that the latter, combined with hierarchical leadership structures and / or a shared ideological stance (sometimes, not always) have an inherently homogenizing effect on party messaging. That is, these not only create, but demand conformity of thought and that can and often do constrain individuals from independent and critical thought on any given issue. This is not a desirable place to be in Nunavut today.
Also, through their ideological messaging parties tend to have a polarizing effect on each other and on the electorate. Consider the United States today; it is an acrimonious and polarized place. Granted, this is not strictly the product of a party system, but the boundaries around ideas, thought and public discourse that they reinforce are a barrier to the resolution of their real problems.
As to your point about elections being popularity contests, rather than a process of unearthing a quality candidate, how will that be solved by a party system? I agree it’s not desirable, but don’t see any reason this would change it.