Paul Quassa calls for the public to pick Nunavut’s premier

“It’s now time for this question to be put directly to Nunavummiut”

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa stands in front of a display of dog team leads in the Nunavut legislature’s foyer. On the final day of the spring sitting of the legislature, Quassa spoke about his intent to introduce a motion during the next sitting for a plebiscite on the direct election of the territory’s premier. “Many people have told me that a clear choice of visions for our territory needs to be put before the people.” (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa is calling for a plebiscite over how Nunavut’s premier is chosen.

Yesterday, on the last day of the spring sitting of the Nunavut legislature, Quassa said he plans to introduce a motion in the fall sitting for a plebiscite on whether to allow the Nunavut public to directly elect the territory’s premier.

“I believe that we should not be afraid to consider change, and that we should be open to ideas and inspiration from other places,” he said.

The proposed vote would likely take place at the same time as the next territorial election, within two years.

As things stand, Nunavut’s MLAs choose—and may remove—the premier.

Quassa was himself ousted as premier a year ago after a non-confidence vote, and replaced by the current premier, Joe Savikataaq.

Quassa’s proposal would radically change Nunavut’s political system, and raises the question of whether regular MLAs would lose their ability to hold the executive to account.

Quassa told Nunatsiaq News that the idea of having a directly elected premier was not written off in the late 1990s by the Nunavut Implementation Commission, which proposed the structure and process of the new territorial government.

Then, the NIC’s chief commissioner, John Amagoalik, presented the NIC report on the issue to the newly elected Nunavut MLAs at their first caucus retreat in Baker Lake.

There, the decision was made to retain the election system used in the Northwest Territories for the time being.

Quassa told Nunatsiaq News that the N.W.T. system may have been adopted at the time but that “20 years later it’s time to rethink it.”

In a member’s statement at the legislature, Quassa said “I believe that is it’s now time for this question to be put directly to Nunavummiut by way of a vote under the Plebiscites Act at our next general election.”

Quassa said he was influenced by what he has been hearing from Nunavummiut, as well as by a 1999 Nunatsiaq News editorial written by Jim Bell.

The editorial said that Nunavut’s MLAs made the right decision at the time, but cautioned that “Nunavut MLAs should not forget where the idea of a directly elected premier arose in the first place, within a frustrated public fed up with their inability to influence government policy at election time.”

Quassa said he did not foresee organized political parties contesting territorial elections anytime in the future, as is the case in Greenland.

But Quassa said the direct election of the premier may be the best way to allow Nunavummiut to choose a leader “who brings a clear mandate to the office.”

Quassa said he acknowledged that there would be many details to consider before implementing such a fundamental change, such as whether the premier would also have the authority to choose his or her own cabinet, now elected by a vote among elected MLAs.

If the suggested move to change seems radical, Quassa said, “Let us remember that the creation of Nunavut itself was seen by some as an audacious idea that was impossible to achieve.”

“When we reconvene in this house for our fall sitting, I hope to bring forward a motion that will set us on the path to asking our constituents for their thoughts on this important issues.”

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by Jako Tiktu on

    Get a grip Paul. Nobody is going to vote you back into power.

  2. Posted by Kivallirmiut on

    this motion will rock Nunavut – thank you, PQ!!

  3. Posted by Change…… on

    “I believe that we should not be afraid to consider change, and that we should be open to ideas and inspiration from other places”

    This is hilarious coming from the same person that said:

    “Inuit used to have one leader back then in a small community. The way it worked was that whatever the leader says was the only way to do it. That’s what a leader was supposed to do, and it should be like that today.”

    But why change autocratic style of leadership. Just ask for change when it would benefit you to not be ousted…..

  4. Posted by Life long Nunavummiut on

    Do you want a Doug Ford style populist leader without any real accountability during their mandate? Cause that’s how you get a Doug Ford style populist leader.

    • Posted by OH ima on

      It be great to have an Inuk Doug Ford! Not care about GN Beurocrat that just coup da dau (sp) a pro Inuk premier! 15% of the population had it way too long since the creation of Nunavut, which by the way was created by 85% of the population

      • Posted by iRoll on

        Oh Ima, your comments never cease to impress for the lack of depth, and breadth. Now that we are here, tell me the last non-Inuk premier we had. I can hardly wait to hear more.

    • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

      When a parliament votes non-confidence in its leadership in the rest of Canada, it normally triggers a fresh election, not a game of musical chairs among other members. There is no reason why an unsatisfactory leader in Nunavut could not be dumped by the legislature.
      If it weren’t for the power of organized parties, Ontario might not be stuck with that idiot now.

  5. Posted by Monica Connolly on

    The idea of having the premier elected directly has been around since the foundation of Nunavut. At present, NU and the NWT are the only jurisdictions in Canada where the average voter has no idea how his vote will affect the choice of leader. There are a number of ways of organizing a direct vote; a few would require changes to the (federal) Nunavut Act, but others can be changed by the NU legislature as it stands. 20 years later it deserves a close look.

  6. Posted by B Aglukark on

    Iqaluit and Cam Bay aside, we have a predominately Eskimo pop. with issues specific to how we think, process that thought & attempt to reach/accomplish ideas. Lacking understanding & in most cases fortitude in how to maintain a lifestyle derived from qaplunaat. These struggles require specific lifestyle change. The Iqaluit life style-perspectives wont resolve these problems. Quassa knows this, part of the reason to initiate change, in the end tagged as incompetent and a bully. There are leaders who have the foresight and ability as Quassa in Nunavut, that person in place will have to change this current system of thinking and processing. And, to ensure we don’t have clowns & puppets manipulated by selfish greed. Let’s take these “baby steps” in the snow and give Nunavutmiut a stronger voice at the same time move towards removing the circus type atmosphere from the current legislature.

    • Posted by Alternative on

      Get a grip! Quassa as premier would be a “lifestyle change?” A scary one for me, that’s for sure. No thanks. Current system has a consensus from the public’s elected officials to select a leader….we trust them to lead and to choose a leader…and that leader is kept in line by the voted members. nothings broken here.

  7. Posted by Sincerely Concerned on

    Quassa only had 106 votes to become an MLA (2017) and shoved into Premiership. Nunavut politics have a lower voter turnout than an elementary school student council election.

    For those of you voting in the next General Election, realize that each vote cast is worth (on average) $5633 in salaries and benefits to this “politicians.” (salaries + benefits X term years / number of votes cast).

    The next Premier race is already underway (Lightstone) who is still running campaign ads and is the most visibile and active memeber of the Leg.

    • Posted by Look on the Bright Side on

      Hey, he may have only had 106 (not 107) votes to win Aggu in 2017, but you’re missing what’s really important. It was a staggering 10.4% jump from the 96 votes he got to win Aggu in 2013!

      • Posted by Paul for Premier?????? on

        In the 2017 election Paul beat his competitor by 10 votes…….his competitor is an qallunaq assistant manager at the Northern and had lived in Igloolik for less than three years. Sounds like Paul barely had any support in his hometown.

  8. Posted by Very Concerned on

    Quassa only had 106 votes to become an MLA (2017) and shoved into Premiership. Nunavut politics have a lower voter turnout than an elementary school student council election.

    For those of you voting in the next General Election, realize that each vote cast is worth (on average) $5633 in salaries and benefits to this “politicians.” (salaries + benefits X term years / number of votes cast).

    The next Premier race is already underway (Lightstone) who is still running campaign ads and is the most visibile and active memeber of the Leg.

  9. Posted by Ready or not… on

    Hmm, maybe they’d need a clean criminal record and vulnerable sector check before we put their name on a ballot, yeah paul?

  10. Posted by Knockout Ned on

    “Status Quos are made to be broken.” – Ray Davis

  11. Posted by Sure on

    Sad to say, Cam Bay, the whole town is runned by non-Inuit. Every org/agency/DIO/Hamlet/ are run by non-Inuit. So we don’t need Inuktut there.

  12. Posted by Gobble Gobble on

    If the public directly elected the Premier, say goodbye to having any Premier not from Iqaluit.

    Just look at what already happens in the ridings that split communities, the MLA is always from the larger community (some exceptions).

  13. Posted by Northern Guy on

    If you are going to elect the leader you are, in effect, doing away with consensus style government. Which is okay but then Nunavut is looking at a party-style political system. If this is what Quassa wants he should have the guts to say that.

    • Posted by Free on

      There’s something to be said about “the party system”. The parties then really get to mash out policies before they even really get into the hands of the bureaucrats. Leads to a system where there’s greater acceptance and confidence in the system… as it stands right now Ministers become dumbfounded by their bureaucrats who deal with these issues day-to-day… which is an issue alluded to explicitly and implicitly in a lot of the comments regularly… When the Bureaucrats are in charge, the fox has the keys to the henhouse… Go Party System! Go Better Governance!!

  14. Posted by Raging Granny on

    No thanks. When a Premier is elected by popular vote, you can create conflict by having NO MLA’s that can or want to work with them . Time for a party system. In a consensus system they are all supposed to be working together but in reality they are all just working for themselves and scrapping amongst themselves. Time to work for Nunavut with a slate of principles we know in advance.

  15. Posted by Putuguk on

    Directly electing a Premier will mean that we will often, if not always, have a Premier from Iqaluit. Iqaluit has the most voters in Nunavut. A person in Iqaluit has the most opportunity to gain influence, recognition and popularity from other city residents. This runs contrary to the expressed wish of everyone for decentralized government.

    A Premier from Iqaluit, supported from people from Iqaluit, will invariably bring forward urban issues and concerns to the Legislative Assembly. These will form the policy base for the GN. What is a good direction for a city is not necessarily what is good for a small hamlet, or the whole territory.

    The main reason that we have a public frustrated by an inability to influence government policy is that our elections are glorified popularity contests. We do not hold candidates to much if they even bother to stump for our vote.

    You do not need a directly elected Premier to solve this. We need to add rigor to our election process. Requiring candidates to publicly post policy positions, conduct public meetings, mandatory candidate debates, requiring declarations of interest in becoming Premier or Ministers from candidates can all improve this situation.

  16. Posted by copperinuk on

    Kitikmeot residents would never have a chance at leadership if it comes down to what Paul is suggesting Premier by (popular vote), we would be out voted by those in Baffin or kivalliq every election due to our population being lower than the other two regions. SO NO!

    • Posted by Gobble Gobble on

      Not only is the Kitikmeot population lower than the other two regions, the Kitikmeot population is lower than Iqaluit’s population alone. No chance a Premier would ever come from Kitikmeot under a direct vote system.

    • Posted by CORBIE on

      I would rather see Nunavut divided into 3 separate regions.
      It’s present size makes it very ungainly

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