Represented by Speaker, Arviat desires stronger voice

O’Brien faces five rivals in his bid for re-election


Arviat’s aspiring MLAs say their growing and needy community of 1,800 people wants a stronger voice in Iqaluit.

Incumbent MLA Kevin O’Brien, who is also Speaker of the Nunavut legislature, faces five rivals in the Feb. 16 election – David Alagalak, Peter Alareak, Peter Two Aulatjut, Jay Saint and Kono Tattuinee – several of whom are well-known to voters and residents in Arviat.

Alagalak, 59, a former mayor, municipal councillor and Nunavut Implementation Commissioner, is widely considered to be popular with Arviat voters.

During a telephone interview, an energetic Alagalak was brimming with plans and ideas, and said he’s ready to “fight the good fight” to become the next MLA to represent Arviat.

A member of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Alagalak said his experience is a strong point because he’s worked with every federal or territorial department “for over 40 years.”

“The community wants a very close working relationship with the government, for one thing,” Alagalak said.

“A lot of the community infrastructure needs still haven’t been met according to what people wished for … schools, arena, community freezers, housing.”

In Arviat, there are over 100 people on the waiting list for new social housing and severe overcrowding is common.

Alagalak said he would push for renovation of the existing social housing units, which don’t always meet today’s safety standards.

Alagalak also wants to work for more economic development in Arviat and increased income support payments for people who can’t find a job.

“You can’t live on it – $250 a month for income support,” he said. “You can actually not live on this.”

For those who are employed, particularly in the GN, Alagalak wants to see better working conditions, including less travel.

“They need more time in their offices. They burn out,” he said.

Alagalak suggested unused travel money could provide more training and employment opportunities for Inuit.

Alagalak is also concerned about social issues, and, if elected, he said he’d make the development of local suicide prevention programs a priority.

He’d also like to see a closer working relationship between the GN and the NWMB and more collaboration on protecting Nunavut’s environment and wildlife.

“There’s a need for MLAs to get involved in a very deep discussion on what and where and how we can do something to work toward getting this wildlife looked after. I always worry about the future of the wildlife, and we really need to talk about it,” he said.

If elected, Alagalak said he has a “pretty good idea” of whom he’d support as premier of Nunavut, but it’s too early, he said, to make a final decision.

“It all depends who we’re going to have on the table at the end of the election,” Alagalak said. “I want to see them all before I decide. They’re all going to be good people.”

Running for the second time in a Nunavut territorial election is Kono Tattuinee, who received 284 votes in 1999 to O’Brien’s 474.

Tattuinee has served on the Kivalliq Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nunavut Water Board as well as on the municipal council.

“I know how the system works,” Tattuinee said. “There’s a time to speak, a time to listen. I think that the people here have been listening a lot, but they have not been given an opportunity to speak….

“I think we can do more things for Arviat, we can be more accountable to the people and have more transparency between the Government of Nunavut and the people of Arviat. There hasn’t been that much communication. A lot of the time, the regular Joe down the street doesn’t know what’s going on.”

Peter Two Aulatjut is a first-time candidate for any elected office, but that doesn’t mean he’s less well-known in Arviat. Aulatjut, who has 34 years of experience as a teacher in Arviat, knows everyone – young and old – in the community.

Aulatjut is running for MLA because he’s troubled over what he sees in the schools.

“I see many kids, they don’t have breakfast or lunch at home. They need food,” he said. “My concern is the welfare isn’t enough for the people who have no jobs…. The food prices are too high, and it’s hard to get jobs in the North.”

Aulatjut wants more culture classes and more Inuktitut taught in schools as well as more financial support for post-secondary students and better training in the trades.

Despite repeated attempts, candidates Peter Alareak, Jay Saint and Kevin O’Brien could not be reached before Nunatsiaq News’ press-time.

For the past three years, O’Brien served as Nunavut’s Speaker. He took over from former Qukittuq MLA Levi Barnabas who resigned in 2000 after being charged with sexual assault.

But once O’Brien became House Speaker, the vocal MLA could no longer speak out in the assembly on behalf of his riding.

O’Brien, 51, was elected to territorial public office in 1995 as the first MLA to represent the riding of Kivallikvik in the Northwest Territories legislature.

At that time, O’Brien was director of the NWT’s housing authority for the Kivalliq region.

O’Brien, a native of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, is the son of a coal miner and one of 11 children who grew up in poverty.

“I can appreciate where the Inuit came from, and I think that’s why I get along so good with them,” O’Brien said following his first election to territorial office.

As MLA for Arviat, O’Brien promoted the idea of a road and power grid that would lead from Manitoba to Nunavut, as a way of bringing more development to the region and reducing costs to residents.

He also pushed for better health care facilities in the community. That led to the opening of Arviat’s new health centre. O’Brien also continued lobbying for more social housing.

As speaker, O’Brien was often front and centre at official or ceremonial occasions, such as the Queen’s visit in 2002, but when the legislature was in session, he was obliged to keep a low profile during the proceedings, and could not make statements or question ministers.

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