Unity between Nunavut’s political bodies has eroded, senator says

“I don’t believe that the spirit of cooperation is present to the degree that was expected”

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson attends the official opening of Iqaluit’s new daycare facility on July 8, 2019. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Emma Tranter

When the Nunavut Agreement was being negotiated in 1993, there was a spirit of cooperation between MLAs and the leaders of Inuit organizations that’s lacking today, says Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson.

“There was a strong and united voice sent to Ottawa petitioning to have the Northwest Territories divided. And it was very compelling,” Patterson said.

Patterson, named to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2009, served 16 years in the Northwest Territories legislative assembly, including a term as premier from 1987 to 1991. He was one of the leaders of the more than 20-year campaign to establish Nunavut as a territory.

But 20 years after Nunavut was created, he says the multi-level unity he once saw has started to fall apart.

“I think that’s eroded since 1999. We have very clear expressions of discontent on the part of the Inuit with the territorial government’s progress in education and language rights. This, I understand,” he said.

“But I don’t believe that the spirit of cooperation is present to the degree that was expected, and to the degree that occurred following division.”

Patterson says the best example of this cooperation can be found in the Clyde River Protocol, a document that spelled out working relations between the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

The protocol, signed in 1999 by Paul Okalik, then the premier, and Jose Kusugak, then the NTI president, established, among other things, information sharing, regular meetings between the GN and NTI, and mutual recognition between the two bodies.

“To me, having seen the powerful impact of that united voice … I used to call it a rainbow coalition … that was very powerful. It was not always easy. There were differences that had to be worked out,” Patterson said.

But Patterson says some government legislation currently on the table could be an opportunity to do what he believes the Clyde River Protocol set out to do.

“The Education Act is a golden opportunity, I think,” he said.

“There’s been obvious real struggles in getting support for the Education Act and I think the GN has to involve the Inuit through NTI.”

Another challenge Patterson says the territory continues to face lies in its infrastructure.

“I’m not just talking about airports and ports and housing. But I’m also talking about broadband.”

“Our infrastructure needs are being neglected. There’s no funds dedicated to the Arctic,” he said, referring to federal funding.

In 2018, Northwestel received $49.9 million in funding from the Government of Canada to build new satellite stations and network hubs in each of Nunavut’s 25 communities.

That was part of an announcement between the GN and Ottawa to dedicate $566 million over the next decade in federal funding to infrastructure projects under the Investing in Canada plan.

“I think one of the reasons maybe why we can’t get on the national radar is we don’t have that strong united voice,” Patterson said.

On the other hand, Nunavut has many successes to celebrate after 20 years, Patterson says.

One of them being that Inuktut is still a dominant language used in the legislative assembly.

“I think that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted,” he said.

Another bright spot lies at the municipal level, with the people who run each of Nunavut’s 25 communities. Patterson visited each of those communities on a tour last year.

“Our hamlets have taken on very arduous challenges with climate change, with population growth. They’re very impressive people doing a very challenging job,” he said.

But Patterson says the territory is still evolving and should not be compared to places like Greenland or the Northwest Territories, which have been around a lot longer.

“Even after 20 years, it takes a while to develop a dedicated workforce. So I think we need to have a longer view. And recognize that governments evolve,” he said.

Having been once elected premier within the non-partisan territorial system of consensus government, Patterson also weighed in on whether to allow the Nunavut public to directly elect its premier.

“My own personal feeling is I believe strongly in the consensus system. The North, with its tradition of collective decision-making culturally and historically … people have been forced to work together,” he said.

“I believe that electing a premier at large would diminish a consensus system and would take us in the direction of party politics.”

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by GREC grad on

    When Dennis Patterson was appointed to represent Nunavut in the Senate (while living full-time in British Columbia), there was a spirit of Senatorial reform in Ottawa. Mr. Patterson, supporting that reform, committed to stepping down after 8 years.

    I think that resolve has eroded since 2009. We have very clear expressions of discontent on the part of the Inuit who wish to represent themselves on the national stage. This, Mr. Patterson, does not seem to understand.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Mr. Patterson doesn’t represent Inuit, or any one ethnic group, he represents Nunavut. RIOs have the role you describe.

      • Posted by iWonder on

        True he represents Nunavut, though there is nothing specifically in the original comment that suggests his seat is or should be a strictly Inuit one (though, maybe it should, based on convention alone. Just a thought). Either way, if it is true that he said he would step down after 8 years and did not then is he not acting in bad faith and thus contributing to the breakdown in cooperation and unity he is describing?

      • Posted by oh ima on

        well someone got to represent Inuit I mean non-Inuit interest are represented by the Government of Nunavut!

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          Inuit interests, and the interests of Nunavut are not the same thing. Senators look at the much bigger picture

  2. Posted by Raymond Kaslak on

    If he believes that Inuktitut is the dominant language in the government, he should step aside for an Inuk senator from Nunavut, his 8 years are up.

    • Posted by The Native on

      So only an Inuk can represent Nunavut??

      • Posted by Raymond Kaslak on

        ” In August 2009, when he was appointed to fill the Nunavut Senate seat left vacant by the retirement of the Liberal party’s Willie Adam on June 22 of that year, Patterson, since about 2000, had resided in British Columbia. ( Nunatsiaq News, February 21, 2013 )

  3. Posted by Bemused and Cringing on

    Every single comment under this article so far is off-topic, irrelevant to the issue, and almost all are variations on an illogical ad hominem fallacy that has no connection to the article.

    The article raises a serious important issue. Mr. Patterson’s ethnic background and position as a senator are irrelevant to the validity or non-validity of his observations on this issue. But nobody seems to grasp that. How childish.

    I don’t know why. Perhaps these people don’t have the cognitive skills to understand the article?

    • Posted by Setting Expectations on

      When you make a promise to step down from your appointed position and then don’t, you lose your credibility. Nunavut has lost respect for anything Dennis Patterson has to say, which is why you’ll see the same thing in the comments of any article that mentions his name.

      • Posted by Bemused and Cringing on

        Thank for providing more evidence in support of my argument.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      if I concede that most of the attacks on Mr. Patterson in these comments are ad hominem, will you agree that he has broken faith with his constituents? The aversion is at least understandable, even if it is distasteful.

      • Posted by Bemused and Cringing on

        Okay, fair enough. One problem, though, is the premise that underlies your question. If you hold that Patterson made a promise to his “constituents,” then perhaps he broke trust. However the past history of this this shows that he made that promise to Stephen Harper, not to his constituents. Back then, Harper was in the middle of trying to legislate changes to the Senate that included a legislated eight year term limit for appointed Senators., so Patterson and the other Conservative senators said okay Mr. Harper the rules are changing. In the spirit of your proposed legislation we will voluntarily commit to resigning in eight years.

        However, the Supreme Court ruled that Harper’s proposed Senate reforms were unconstitutional and Harper’s legislation died, along with the legislated eight year term limit. When that happened Patterson and the other Conservative senators dropped their commitment to Harper and the rules never changed.

        Also, since Patterson was chosen by Harper and not by Nunavut constituents, it’s arguable that no bond of trust could possibly exist between Patterson and his “constituents.” It is not like he broke a promise to voters who elected him based on a promise he ended up breaking, because he was not elected. The rules did not change and he said okay I will stay until I turn 75.

        This is a nuanced question that depends on how you interpret the commitment to serve only eight years and who he made the commitment to, so it’s a toss-up at best.


        • Posted by Paul Murphy on

          Bemused and cringing. You expected honest and open discussion? Not from the people here who constantly remain anonymous as they berate others.

          • Posted by iWonder on

            Paul Murphy, it’s ironic indeed to see you complain about such things. You use your real name, credit for that, but then again you haven’t made much out it in your running and typically reactive commentary either. To bemused and cringing, this is an interesting perspective and I have been mulling it over most of the afternoon.

            • Posted by Paul Murphy on

              I am running?? Sorry I don’t understand?

              • Posted by Conventions of the English language on

                Yeah… it appears running was used as an adjective and not as a verb.

              • Posted by iWonder on

                The phrase “Running commentary” means this: If someone provides a running commentary on an event, they give a continuous description of it while it is taking place.

                This implies commentary is given in real time, without much reflection on meaning.

  4. Posted by hypocrite on

    “I don’t believe that the spirit of cooperation is present to the degree that was expected.” Translation: Everyone agreed with me back then. Now people disagree with me.

    “I… electing a premier at large would… take us in the direction of party politics.” Translation: A Senator appointed on the basis of party politics is OK, a Premier elected on the basis of party politics is not.

    “Our infrastructure needs are being neglected.” Translation: Forget about underfunding under the Harper Conservatives, and believe that a Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer will address the housing crisis. Ya, as if…

  5. Posted by Tommy on

    A high profile figure who was one of the architects just proved that Nunavut is a failure.

  6. Posted by Sivummut on

    Back to the organizations…. one of the culprits behind GN not working well with the Inuit orgs is in the key position at the GN’s EIA. When she was in Educ., she refused to work with NTI and the Nunavut DEAs, NAC so there you have it. The fallen education act, NTEP, loss of Inuit teachers, etc. The Inuit orgs have a position which is to work with and ‘monitor’ the government but who is ‘monitoring’ the Inuit orgs? They have whittled away millions of dollars into their own pockets and also lost money. Look at QC in Iqaluit. They take over existing businesses – Steenburg’s, Belleau’s, etc. and they all have failed. EIA’s management will not work with Inuit. Patterson is right. He will get out of the way soon enough though. Leadership happens when there are individuals have a sense of vision and know what needs to be done. They don’t need consultants to outline their vision. Past leaders; Kusugak, Curley, Irniq, Amagoalik, Nungaq, Arvaluk… had voice, vision and leadership.

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