Nunavut’s legislature reconvenes next week
Facing fears of lawsuit, government plans to suspend part of Nunavut’s Education Act
The winter sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly starts next week, on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Day two of the three-week session, Feb. 20, will see Finance Minister George Hickes’s first budget speech, which will set out the Nunavut government’s 2019-20 operations and maintenance budget.
The assembly’s head clerk, John Quirke, said the O&M budget will be a focus for the sitting. After the speech, MLAs will start reviewing the draft budget line-by-line during the committee of the whole.
We’ll have to wait and see what this year’s budget looks like, but last year David Akeeagok, who then served as finance minister, tabled a budget that ran a small, planned deficit of $28 million to help funnel more funds into departments like Health, Justice and Family Services. That was to cover what the government called a “persistent social deficit.”
The 2017-18 territorial budget tabled by the previous government saw $12 million added to Department of Health’s spending. That’s when the finance minister of the day, Keith Peterson, also warned that federal transfers to the Nunavut government were expected to slow down.
He projected a $2 million surplus in that budget, but, instead, the government rang up a deficit of around $39 million.
This sitting, Standing Committee Chair John Main is looking forward to “healthy debate” around government spending in Nunavut, where he said there is “a growing gap between the haves and have-nots.”
“The government needs to do a better job of explaining what they’re actually achieving with the money that they spend. That’s true across the board for all departments and agencies,” Main said.
“We’re in a crunch in terms of our revenue and the way our expenditures are going…. Hopefully we’ll see the government make some headway in key areas of education, housing, and economic development.”
Government plans to suspend part of Nunavut’s Education Act
The Nunavut government house Leader, Elisapee Sheutiapik, told Nunatsiaq News that cabinet plans to introduce an Interim Language of Instruction Act this sitting.
That interim act would tide the government over while it finishes work amending the Inuktut Language Protection Act and Nunavut’s ever-controversial Education Act.
This bill would help protect the GN from legal attack for failing to meet a requirement spelled out in the current Education Act, to provide bilingual Inuktut education for all grades in Nunavut schools by the fall of 2019.
“This bill suspends, with respect to Grades 4 to 12, the coming into force of Section 8 of the Inuit Language Protection Act and the application of part four of the Education Act,” Sheutiapik said.
The interim act would “allow for study and consideration of a bill to amend those acts,” she said.
“We realize we are not ready. That’s the reality and that’s why there is an interim language of instruction act,” Sheutiapik said. “We know the Interim Language of Instruction Act will trigger discussion…. It’s appropriate that there is discussion when bills come forward.”
The Education Act won’t come forward again until the spring or even the summer sitting, she said.
Cabinet will also introduce an act to amend Nunavut’s Income Tax Act, so the legislation lines up with changes in federal income tax legislation.
Bills currently before the standing committee are:
- Bill 1 Corrections Act
- Bill 8 An Act to Amend the Workers’ Compensation Act
- Bill 13 Write-Off of Assets Act, 2017-2018
“All of these bills are scheduled to be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Legislation,” assembly clerk John Quirke said. “It will be a decision of this committee as to whether or not these bills are referred to the Committee of the Whole for third reading during this winter sitting.”
You can also expect to see the government table its response to a fall review of the 2016-17 Annual Report of the Legal Services Board of Nunavut, where the legal aid society lobbied for more funding and MLAs questioned board members on police oversight in Nunavut.
Addiction treatment may be addressed in the budget, following the fall hiring of a GN staffer who will act as executive director of a Nunavut recovery centre.
Main said he expects question period will include discussions about staffing, as the GN reincarnates a Human Resources Department, splitting that role away from the Department of Finance.
As well, Main said there is a growing expectation that the government will focus more resources towards smaller and decentralized communities, following recent infrastructure investments in the Nunavut capital and other regional hubs.
“There are communities across Nunavut that are looking to see some investment as well,” he said.