Savikataaq opposes plan to have the public pick Nunavut’s premiers

“What we have now is the most democratic system”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq smiles as he stands above the foyer of the Nunavut legislature in Iqaluit a year after he became the territory’s premier. “I’m proud to be premier. I love my job and the people I work with, my staff and all my cabinet members and MLAS because I know we all have to work together, he said. “We all have different opinions about how we can get to the goal but we all have the same goal…. We all want to leave Nunavut in a better state than we got it.” (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

A plan being floated to have Nunavut’s premier directly chosen by voters doesn’t have the support of the person currently holding the job.

“I think what we have now is the most democratic system,” said Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.

The premier’s comment, offered in a wide-ranging interview with Nunatsiaq News, comes in reaction to an announcement by Aggu MLA Paul Quassa on June 5, the last day of the spring legislative sitting, that he would make a motion during the next sitting for a plebiscite on how Nunavut’s premier is elected.

Quassa’s proposal comes one year after Nunavut’s MLAs voted to oust him as premier.

His plan would see a premier chosen by eligible voters in the territory, and not, as is the case now, by MLAs in the legislative chamber.

But Savikataaq said there’s no reason to change the way premiers are chosen in the territory.

“Our MLAs pick the cabinet, our MLAs pick the premier for their constituents, and the premier is absolutely accountable to the MLAs, which was proven last year,” Savikataaq said in an interview timed to coincide with his 12-month anniversary as premier.

A Nunavut-wide elected premier might not be accountable to the MLAs, Savikataaq suggested, adding that he didn’t know whether the MLAs could even remove the premier under that scenario.

“There are more questions … it wouldn’t be a simple process,” said Savikataaq.

“Would you have a run-off election so the premier would be picked by 50 per cent of the eligible voters? If you have 10 people (running), the odds of one person getting 50 per cent plus one is slim. Or could the premier be elected with four per cent of the popular vote?”

When the Nunavut legislature has its fall sitting, Aggu MLA Paul Quassa says he plans to make a motion for a plebiscite that would seek changes to how Nunavut elects its premier. (Photo by Jane George)

As well, things could be difficult if the premier came in with a mandate different from that of the MLAs.

For now, the premier comes up with a plan for the government that is presented to cabinet. This then gets supported by all the MLAs. It’s not just put forward by the premier, he said.

And what if a universally elected premier decided to change the government’s vision after being elected, Savikataaq asked.

“What it is, is going to a party system without calling it that,” he said of Quassa’s call for a universally elected premier. “Here we run as a team. And MLAs can remove a leader and they demonstrated that they could, and they did.”

Savikataaq said he and Quassa are on speaking terms.

“I talk to him. We talk,” Savikataaq said. “In lot of situations like this you have to turn the page and get on with it.”

Federal funds sent to ITK creates confusion

A looming discussion about electoral reform is not the only challenge Savikataaq faces in his second year as premier.

There’s also what he called “confusion” over money that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami recently received from Ottawa for work in the areas of education and health—for tuberculosis prevention, early learning and child care, and tobacco reduction.

These are areas in which Nunavut usually delivers services as a public government.

ITK has also produced a strategy on Inuit needs for more social housing, which the Nunavut Housing Corp. now oversees.

Concerns about how the Government of Nunavut would work with Inuit organizations on housing also came up in the legislature on June 3, when Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main asked whether the GN has a system to direct future collaboration with these organizations.

But there isn’t and “it’s a confusing time. Because we’re not exactly sure how it’s going to work out,” Savikataaq said.

Savikataaq said ITK has told him they don’t want to be a service provider—but Savikataaq said he’s shared his concerns with the prime minister about the money going to ITK.

Right now, by law, the GN is the service provider to everyone in the territory, he said.

If the GN is no longer going to be a public government, then you’d have to open the Nunavut land claims agreement, he said.

MMIWG report helps build case for more housing money

Between the GN’s own Blueprint for Action on Housing and the recommendation for more housing in the report by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, “we have a more convincing case for the feds to do something,” Savikataaq said.

As for the MMIWG report, now being looked at by Nunavut’s family services department, Savikataaq said there’s only one way to meet that recommendation for more housing, that is, with more federal funding for it.

“We need 3,000-plus houses. For 2019-20 we have enough money to build 83,” he said. “Do the math: we can’t do it on our own. We don’t have the resources.”

On many common issues, including the response to the MMIWG report, the two other northern premiers are expected to provide support to Nunavut.

At their annual joint meeting, on Thursday and Friday in Dawson City, Yukon, the three premiers also plan to discuss mental health and addictions, climate change and sustainable development, energy, transportation and sustainable infrastructure.

The premiers also want to ensure that the territories play a big role in the new Arctic Strategy and Framework, Savikataaq said—which ITK has said it also wants.

After their meeting in Dawson City, the premiers will try to solicit support from the western premiers later this month and then from the other Canadian premiers when they all meet in Saskatchewan early in July.

Addictions treatment, elder care remain priorities

Meanwhile, as Savikataaq nears his one-year mark in office, he said he’s proud to be premier and loves his job.

He’s full of praise for his team of staff, cabinet members and MLAs.

“Everyone works together. It’s a bit slower process than we’d like for the treatment centre and bringing the elders back,” he said.

These are two priorities that the premier said he wanted to work on when interviewed last August.

But Savikataaq said his government has its mandate and they know what they want to get done.

“It takes time to get done what we want to do because of the process of budgeting and the financing,” he said. “We’re still working towards a treatment centre and an elders home and we’re closer than we have ever been, but we’re not quite there yet.”

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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

    It is hard to call the Nunavut method of choosing a premier the most democratic when it involves neither a direct vote by the people, nor a party system where party leaders are known ahead of time by the voters. It is used rarely, if at all, in choosing leaders in democratic countries. In Canada, only NU and the NWT use it; the rest of Canada uses a party system.
    Making a change would certainly require a lot of detailed decisions, but most are just procedural. Nunavut at present has as many ballots by the MLAs as necessary for one candidate to get 50%+1. This works in the Assembly, but could be ruinously expensive in the whole of Nunavut. There are, however, at least two simpler methods used elsewhere in the world: either a second run-off vote between the two highest candidates on the first ballot, or what is called an instant run-off, in which voters fill out one ballot only, but rank their choices. (Google “instant run-off” for details.)
    The Assembly has the right to legislate how a premier could be removed.

    • Posted by iThink on

      Having a party system doesn’t make anything more democratic. In fact I would argue that it sets the ground to make things more divisive, ideological and less democratic. For example, we all know of times when members are forced to vote along “party lines” and not in the interests of their constituents. This isn’t the sign of a healthy democracy, it’s the sign of a broken system. Nunavut is much better off without party politics.

      • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

        Electing the premier directly is a long way from moving to a party system. Parties usually have a number of ideals – or ideologies – that they follow more or less over years. For example, the NDP tends to worry more about social programs than about deficits, while Conservatives go the other way. Nunavut politics just don’t show that much of a split.

        • Posted by iThink on

          I was responding to the first line of your post which seemed to imply that being a party system implies it is more robustly democratic. Sure, a party politics may arise eventually, but I tend to favour the system as it is.

          • Posted by First This, Then That on

            “Electing the premiere directly is a long way from moving to a party system”… I have to disagree. In my mind, that would be exactly what would happen, and likely within weeks of the first campaign beginning. Currently, MLAs are expected to serve and fight for their constituents. However, once we have a few people running for premiere, I think that we would quickly see MLA candidates publicly throwing their support behind a particular candidate (and bending their values to match that candidate’s), knowing that such a move would then bolster their own bargaining position if elected. Then you get other MLAs backing another candidate, and voila- Two parties (or more). Ahh, politics…

          • Posted by Gobble Gobble on

            “It is hard to call the Nunavut method of choosing a premier the most democratic when it involves neither a direct vote by the people, nor a party system where party leaders are known ahead of time by the voter”. You elect your MLA to represent you. The MLAs elect their own leader based on who represents all the representatives the best.
            We all know what an instant run-off, or ranked ballot, system is. It’s what Justin Trudeau wanted to implement in federal elections, that most of Canada hated. It’s what the Conservative Party used to elect their leader, Andrew Scheer, who was never actually ahead in the ballot until the 13th and final round.

  2. Posted by Peter on

    I’m not sure if it was very diplomatic how the current Premier was appointed, I think if we took a vote today we might have a different Premier in place.

    The Premier would be accountable to the people of Nunavut and selected by the people.
    What do the people of Nunavut want? Do you want to be able to vote for a premier?

    • Posted by Gobble Gobble on

      How would the Premier be accountable to the people of Nunavut? How would he be removed if he was doing a poor job? Do another territory-wide vote?

  3. Posted by Arctic Circle on

    Mr. Smile, this guy smiles a lot, we should just call him Mr. Smile.

    • Posted by You are right on

      You are right, you should ask his constituents what he has done for Arviat South in his last 6 years of representing them? I know what he’s done, nothing

  4. Posted by Of course he doesn’t agree on

    Although both of these politicians clearly have reasons for their positions on the issue, as a Nunavut resident I would certainly like to be able to choose who my premier is. I am not happy with our current premier and would not have voted for him. Now, it may have been that he would be elected as premier by the rest of Nunavut however, then I would have to accept the decision of Nunavut and would gladly have done so.

    • Posted by Consistency on

      Perhaps the vote and discussions that happen when the MLA’s vote for the Cabinet and Premier or to remove a Premier should be made public. that way constituents can tell their MLA who they think would be best and their voice heard and know if an MLA listens. obviously every MLA will hear multiple views and has to make there own mind but that is why they were elected into the position anyway. but we would know who our MLA voted for and what other motives might be guiding them (if any).

  5. Posted by Not Ready on

    People of Nunavut is not ready to elect their Premier. If everyone voted based off of a politician’s campaign and not a popularity vote, it could work. Everything, local Hamlet Council, local Housing authority, HTO/HTA, DEA, NTI President, Regional Inuit Association board members, MLA’s are all based off of popularity. Sometimes it works but based off of I have seen, most of time it does not work.

  6. Posted by Unahuna on

    Paul Quassa is asking to have a plebiscite to ask us voters what we think. Savikataaq’s opinion is one vote, and we have many more voters to hear from.
    If the vote is a yes then we will need to appoint a body like NIC or the recent committee that reviewed the pay and benefits of MLAs/Ministers and give them 2 years to work on options and presented to the LA and the people and implemented in 4 years after the next election. If no, then status quo.

  7. Posted by Suuqa on

    Natan has confused Truduea to thinking he is the Premier of Nunavut. He could have consulted with Nunavut Government if he didn’t want the confusion as to whom the funding should go. Now only four elected people on ITK board gets to decide how the money should be allocated. Where was NTI President to set the record right? She hasn’t said a word about this confusion. Two liberal puppies and nothing more.
    On another note maybe if we had a useful MP, he would have gone to Truduea and told him how funding works.
    Maybe it’s time we have a party system with NTI and Government of Nunavut being the two parties so questions can fly to the Inuit Organization.
    ᓇᑕᓐ -ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ- ᐊᔪᕐᑐᖅ- ᓱᕙᓕᑭᐊᖅ -ᓂᑉᓕᔮᕐᓇᓂᓗ -ᓇᓚᐅᑎᑯᑦ- ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ.- ᖃᓗᓇᖕᒍᑲᕐᑕᐅᑐᐃᓇᓐᕐᑐᖅ.

  8. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Each electoral constituency has voted for an MLA to represent them. I have to ask what is the benefit of also voting for a Premier? Does your MLA not represent you by voting certain ways? Does he or she not know who can best lead him/her or all the MLAs? What if the majority of MLAs can’t agree/get along with the person the electorate chose? You and I don’t know the day to day events that go on in this group. I would rather leave it to my MLA to make the decisions I pay him /her for.

    • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

      Most of the political discussions in Canada are around the beliefs and abilities of particular individuals – Trudeau, Scheer, Ford, Kenney. People who are Premiers or Prime Minister or want the job. Almost every voter considers the leadership candidates at least as much as they consider the talents of their local candidates. But Nunavut votes with no idea who may be leader?

  9. Posted by King djoser on

    Wants to leave it better than going in? Why havent i heard about anything he has done? Who is this guy? Whats he doing on here? Is this just his attempt to keep his job? Nunavut is just going down hill that its not even worth staying in our homeland. Sad.

  10. Posted by B Aglukark on

    Any ‘right minded person’ who takes a serious look at how JS became Premier will learn it was orchestrated to benefit a few, to ensure high level bureaucrats continue to control a system and direction of the GN. It was well planned, clearly, those sitting on the other side of the auditorium also played a roll to ensure it panned out. The process just happened too quickly. And to date, we haven’t been given clear reason and proof of why PQ was removed.
    JS benefited, of course he doesn’t want Peocess changed. It seemed some of the mla’s with no experience were muffled and possibly bullied. Similarly to how many GN staff past & present are constantly looking over their shoulders-as an outsider, hearing stories it seems the atmosphere in the GN system is barbaric.
    JS outlines possible challenges, there are solutions to all them and events leading up to PQ’s removal as Premier requires it never happens again.
    The elected officials (mla’s) should respectfully stay silent in their stance,” stay silent “about their own opinions on the issue, support the plebiscite that PQ is suggesting, and let the residents of NU choose whether or not to directly be involved in the selection of a premier. The mla’s should have confidence in residents of NU to make the right choice. If change in the selection process is chosen, outline and develop a system that works. The visions outlined for the “Nunavut” government under an approved Nunavut Agreement was to be different from other jurisdictions in Canada-to reflect northern solutions, northern needs having the Inuit population and way of life priority. Currently, our systems are fragmented, cultures clash with each other, and benefit only specific regions and a select few. This decision is too important for a select few. Let the People decide.

    • Posted by Helen on

      I have to agree with you on how JS got appointed to Premier, it all happened too quick, it seems like this was planned a while ago, looking to use some sort of tool or excuse to get rid of Paul. Things were finally starting to change within the government, top bureaucrats were being forced to move in a direction they didn’t feel was right. They might of been without a job the way it was changing.
      Now we are back to how it was, nothing is really changing, same top bureaucrats are still there, deciding which way the government will head.
      I think we need to be able to vote the Premier in so that a handful will not be benefiting instead of having the best interests for Nunavut.
      Where are we now today? No review of the current Premier, the mlas that were used to get JS in power are not happy with him, things are not improving more like going backwards. Delays, standing still moving backwards. This is not the leadership we were hoping for. I doubt if some of these MLAs will get voted back in.

  11. Posted by The Native on

    Let the people choose. It is just that simple.

    Also no one is forced to “Vote along party lines”.

  12. Posted by Oracle on

    The Public should be choosing their own Premier.

    It is by far, the most democratic thing to do; it means the general public can pick the better person and feel empowered to have selected him or her.

    I am frankly tired of the antics of this current administration and the dim bulb who leads us; they could have had a much more elegant, well-spoken Premier who understood the Inuit Dream of a Homeland, before they cut his throat!

    I say one – person – one vote ! Let’s get on with it!

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