Nunavut’s legislative assembly prepares for winter sitting
The territory’s operations budget, education reform and cannabis are all on the agenda
Nunavut’s legislative assembly begins its winter sitting next week.
The four-week sitting will begin on Tuesday, Feb. 18, with a motion to formally appoint Karliin Aariak as the new Nunavut languages commissioner.
Aariak, daughter of Nunavut’s first languages commissioner, Eva Aariak, has served as the territory’s acting languages commissioner since October 2019.
From there, the sitting will transition towards its main focus, the Government of Nunavut’s 2020-2021 operations and maintenance budget in the form of Bill 39, which will begin with Finance Minister George Hickes delivering his budget address on Feb. 19.
John Quirke, clerk of the assembly, said a department-by-department budget review is also expected to start that same day in committee of the whole.
Last year the GN expected to receive revenues of $2.21 billion and estimated that it would spend around $2.22 billion, leaving the territory with a small deficit of $12 million.
Although the deficit would only represent one-half of a per cent of the GN’s total spending, it was still a cause for concern.
At the time, Hickes said that the GN must find ways to reduce spending and increase revenues.
“As regular MLAs, we want to see the individual departments performing well,” John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News this week.
“We want to see them dealing with the challenges that they’re facing, we want to see them being creative and resourceful, because we all know we don’t have enough money, we don’t have enough resources.”
Bill 39 is also joined by Bill 40, a supplementary appropriation (operations and maintenance) bill for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Aside from the two fiscally related bills, Elisapee Sheutiapik, the government house leader, said two other bills will be tabled.
The first is Bill 41, an act to amend the guardianship and trusteeship act.
“This bill amends the act by removing references to specific ministers and by changing the regulation-making authorities,” said Sheutiapik.
The territory’s long-awaited legislation on cannabis will also be introduced during the upcoming sitting in the form of Bill 42, an act to amend the cannabis act.
Sheutiapi said the bill will provide for the registration of suppliers, will clarify prohibitions related to corporations, and will allow for the licensing of retail cannabis sales.
During the upcoming sitting, MLAs will also once again return to Bill 25, the act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, which was discussed in-depth at a special hearing in November.
“We continue to face some real fundamental issues in the education system and it’s clear that a lot of students are being left out for one reason or another,” said Main.
“We need to keep hammering on that and find a way to make the education system stronger and see more young people benefit from an education system.”
In addition to Bill 25, there are three other bills still before the standing committee on legislation, all of which were introduced in the fall:
- Bill 35, Medical Profession Act
- Bill 36, Mental Health Act
- Bill 37, Legislation Act
“The next steps for these four bills will be announced during the sitting,” said Quirke in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
“Nothing is official until it’s brought into the house,” said Main
“We never know in advance how things are going to go.”
In addition to bills, the legislature will also return to 15 pending petitions from the last sitting, including one brought forward by Main calling for an expansion of the Andy Aulajut elders care facility in Arviat and 14 others calling for an increase to Nunavut’s minimum wage.
The government will also issue its response to the auditor general’s eye-opening report on support for high school students and adult learners, that found that Nunavut Arctic College, the Department of Family Services and the Department of Education do not adequately prepare high school students or adult learners for either post-secondary education or employment.
“The other big principle that we have to keep coming back to is accountability,” said Main.
“If a department oversees something that is not working well or something that goes wrong, there has to be accountability. We want them to be upfront with us and find a way to fix it.”
As well, Main said he plans to continue pushing on systemic issues, “things across the government that don’t seem to be going anywhere,” such as the territory’s high unemployment rate.
“High chronic unemployment in many of our communities is tied to a lot of our social issues, whether it be poverty or mental health issues or physical health issues or housing issues,” said Main.
“Finding ways to get more people employed and create employment where needed should be a key concern for this government, and if unemployment isn’t a concern for anybody within the government, then all I can say is that they’re severely out of touch with the reality in Nunavut.”
For Main, one possible solution that he also touted during last year’s winter sitting is increased government decentralization.
“It’s been proven that since Nunavut’s creation, government offices in decentralized locations have more Inuit staff and they generally have less vacancies,” said Main.
“Put the jobs where the Inuit are, put the jobs where the unemployed folks are, and they will take advantage of them.”