Peter Kilabuk quits cabinet

Okalik: “I can’t force people to stay on.”


If Premier Paul Okalik looked a little more tired and a little more pale than usual this past Tuesday, perhaps it’s because he now knows that the next time he walks into a cabinet meeting, he’ll be a little bit more alone.

Peter Kilabuk, the MLA for the premier’s home town, Pangnirtung, quit the Nunavut cabinet this past Monday to spend more time in his community with his family, resisting attempts by Okalik aimed at persuading him to stay.

“I was taken aback, because I have worked well with minister Kilabuk and I was hoping that I could persuade him to stay on. But I was not successful,” Okalik said on Tuesday.

Kilabuk, who is in Pangnirtung this week, did not make the announcement himself, letting Okalik do it for him.

Well-respected by his fellow MLAs and by the public, Kilabuk has held numerous portfolios since 1999: Education, Human Resources; Culture, Language, Elders and Youth; Community and Government Services; and the old Sustainable Development department.

In departing this cabinet, Kilabuk will surrender two jobs: minister of Economic Development and Transportation and government house leader. He will stay on as MLA for Pangnirtung, a job he first won in the Feb. 15, 1999 election.

For the time being, Olayuk Akesuk, the MLA for South Baffin and the environment minister, will look after the economic development portfolio. Ed Picco, the MLA for Iqaluit East, will handle the government house leader job.

MLAs will likely decide what to do about the vacant cabinet job later this month, when they gather in Iqaluit for a full caucus meeting before the start of the Feb. 21 sitting.

Keith Peterson, the MLA for Cambridge Bay, said that after the 2004 election, MLAs agreed to stick with the eight-member cabinet that the legislative assembly has used since 1999.

But he didn’t rule out the possibility that MLAs could choose to continue with a smaller, seven-member cabinet.

“There’s usually a full caucus meeting. In all likelihood, this will come up,” Peterson said.

Peterson, whose Kitikmeot region now stands on the verge of a resource development boom, says Kilabuk’s departure from the economic development portfolio is a loss for Nunavut.

“Peter was a very experienced minister and he had done good work with the department,” Peterson said.

The Cambridge Bay MLA said people in his region were especially pleased to hear Kilabuk pledge support for the Kitikmeot’s burgeoning mining industry, as well as the Bathurst Inlet port and road proposal.

To fill the economic development portfolio permanently, Peterson said MLAs ought to choose someone who is not only familiar with Nunavut’s economic needs, but also with the global economic conditions and cyclical nature of the resource extraction industry.

That’s because it’s global prices for commodities such as gold, copper, and uranium that determine whether small, junior exploration firms will get the financing they need to transform their projects into working mines.

An economic development minister must also understand the role that regulatory bodies such as the Nunavut Impact Review Board and the Nunavut Water Board play in mine development, Peterson said.

If these bodies spend too much time reaching decisions on permits and licences, some mining companies could lose access to investment capital, and their opportunities could be lost, Peterson said.

For his part, Okalik said he will respect whatever decision MLAs make on the size of the cabinet, and on the question of Kilabuk’s replacement.

“It is up to the members. I’ll work with the members. If they wish to have a new minister installed, then I’ll work with the new minister, if that’s the wish of the members. That’s beyond my control,” Okalik said.

But Okalik admitted that he’ll miss Peter Kilabuk, the man who nominated Okalik for the premier’s job right after the 2004 election.

“I grew up with Mr. Kilabuk and it was great to work with him, somebody from my home town, and I will miss that,” Okalik said.

And though he wishes Kilabuk would stay in the cabinet, Okalik says he understands his reasons for wishing to spend more time with his family.

“He stated that it was for personal reasons, which I can relate to because he’s been through a hell of a lot in his personal life since he became part of the government.

“I can’t force people to stay on.”

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