Nunavut’s legislative assembly prepares for winter sitting

The territory’s operations budget, education reform and cannabis are all on the agenda

The next sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly begins on Tuesday, Feb. 18. (File photo)

By Dustin Patar

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.”

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by Yhhoj on

    I really want to see more questions and answers on what the GN is doing about harassment in the workplace. It seems harassment remains a huge issue with no action taken. Sometimes it can be something so prominent and visual to everyone in that organization and talked about openly with no action taken. Same thing with sexual harassment. Even when it makes its way to social media our GN leaders are silent. No action.

  2. Posted by Sad Sammy on

    Decentralization is not even being followed. New poistions are created in IQ all the time. New CSAs poistions are filled in IQ “temporarily” for years without any consideration to the policy. When is the last time there was a review to see if all departments and agencies are following this directive? Offices in some hubs are sitting empty while the MLAs look the other way.

  3. Posted by Friendly Giant on

    Look up. Looooook wayyy up! Senior officials in the GN tend to do their grand standing in the house but when it comes to action or following through on their words they are slow to move. There are a few good MLAs that ask some decent questions but they really need to focus in on getting commitments
    within timelines. Have their questions prepared so that others can not escape a proper response or commitment. I too am tired of hearing the same old fluff. Zone it in. If MLAs cannot hold their heads of agencies accountable, get someone in to replace them.

    I too am disappointed in the lack of commitment the elected leaders have taken in addressing workplace harassment, toxic work cultures, support for Inuit employees…

    It seems the rest of the western world is pushing for women and aboriginal rights and our leaders should be front and centre leading the way. But their voices are silent. Proactive? Nope. Not even participating in the discussions let alone taking the microphone.

    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      It’s not MLA’s as a general, it’s Cabinet more specifically that holds departments accountable, but that’s probably what you meant. It definitely takes a whole team of people to get things done, the best MLA can’t do it alone either.

  4. Posted by Calling them out on

    It seems the only way to get anyones attention in poltics is to call folks out in social media.

    How many read the online Facebook discussions calling out folks for their inappropriate actions and prayed that they wouldn’t be called out next.

  5. Posted by Piitaqanngi on

    Kudos to John Main for trying to ensure the education system in Nunavut is strong. We need graduates that are ready for post-secondary education. No where in Canada is Inuktut ensuring that Inuit, or anyone for that matter, will become successful people with university degrees. Degrees will secure them work anywhere in the World. We need highly qualified Inuit in Nunavut at a high level. Inuktut doesn’t guarantee that.

  6. Posted by Suzzie Snoozer on

    Kudos to Adam for bringing up sexual abuse in the legislature.

    Let us not overlook the number of older men in power (from either poistion, money, status, access to resources, etc) either grooming or preying on young or vulerable women /girls. This is both local men and men from the south. It may be the first time they ever had any power and they use it or abuse it. It saddens me to see this happen. We see it in the streets, read about it in social media, the court docs or even paper, yet we see these “men” walking the street and preying on others. It is not as if it is a one time event- these slugs are accustom to these behaviors. Often we turn a blind eye.

    Yet we all have a duty to report suspected abuse. It would be nice to see our female MLAs and community leaders to step up and not only speak more about these issues but to take action.

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