Winter sitting sees new Speaker, minimum wage increase for Nunavut
MLAs also passed $2.2-billion operating budget for the territory
The winter sitting of Nunavut’s legislative assembly ended with the appointment of a new Speaker, the setting of the highest minimum wage in Canada and the restoration of two traditional community names.
The sitting, which began on Feb. 18 and ended on March 12, began with the tabling of the territory’s 2020-21 operations budget, also known as Bill 39.
Finance Minister George Hickes tabled the $2.2-billion budget on Feb. 19. The biggest item on the budget was $17.6 million towards meeting increased medical travel needs projected for the coming year. Also of note was $1.5 million for six new RCMP members for the territory this year, and six next year.
After much lobbying from regular MLAs during the fall sitting, Jeannie Ehaloak announced on March 16 that Nunavut’s minimum wage would officially increase from $13 to $16 as of April 1, making it the highest in the country.
Earlier in the sitting, on Feb. 24, MLAs learned that Simeon Mikkungwak, Speaker of the legislative assembly and MLA for Baker Lake, was resigning for personal reasons.
That triggered an election for a new speaker, Paul Quassa, the ousted former Nunavut premier and current MLA for Aggu, who was chosen to take the Speaker’s chair after a secret ballot on Feb. 26.
On Feb. 18, Hickes told the legislative assembly that Rankin Inlet would be the next community to get a beer and wine store. The store would open within the year, he said.
On Feb. 20, MLAs also raised concerns about Nunavut’s rules around unlicensed lotteries after the Department of Community and Government Services put out a public service announcement warning residents that unlicensed lotteries and raffles are unlawful in Nunavut.
To that end, Pat Angnakak, MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, told the legislative assembly she thinks Nunavut’s Lotteries Act is out of date and should be reviewed.
On March 2, Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik told the assembly that her department is reviewing regulations that cause income assistance clients to have money clawed back when they win a bingo game or lottery.
And on Feb. 24, Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak announced a new initiative between Nunavut and Algonquin College in Ottawa to train Inuit correctional caseworkers.
“We want to ensure that the future of our system includes individuals who believe in Inuit societal values as the basis of our justice system,” Ehaloak told the assembly.
On Feb. 27, Community and Government Services Minister Lorne Kusugak told the assembly he had signed off on official changes to the names of two Nunavut communities. Hall Beach officially changed back to its traditional name, Sanirajak, while Cape Dorset officially reclaimed Kinngait.
On March 3, Lorne Kusugak, in his role as human resources minister, released the GN’s detailed plans for increasing Inuit employment across all its departments and agencies.
The documents include a master Inuit employment plan that covers the whole of the Nunavut government, plus individual Inuit employment plans for each department and for Nunavut Arctic College, the Nunavut Housing Corp. and Qulliq Energy Corp.
The sitting also saw a difficult day on March 5 when MLAs rose one by one to speak in the legislature on a motion to end violence in the territory, which passed unanimously.
Elisapee Sheutiapik, minister of family services and status of women, tabled the motion for a “violence-free Nunavut.”
“There’s a point in time where we have to stand united and that gives people hope. This kind of messaging gives people hope that we care as leaders,” Sheutiapik said in the legislature on March 5.
The government also announced it will build four new shelters for women fleeing violence in the territory. Gjoa Haven, Pond Inlet, Baker Lake and Pangnirtung would see facilities built in 2022-23.
In addition to hours of ministers’ statements and questions from MLAs, the sitting also saw long hours spent in committee of the whole, where MLAs went through each department’s operating budget for 2020-21 line by line.
The following bills were given royal assent:
- Bill 43, An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act Respecting Consultation Periods
- Bill 42, An Act to Amend the Cannabis Act
- Bill 41, An Act to Amend the Guardianship and Trusteeship Act
- Bill 40, Supplementary Appropriation (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2020-2021
- Bill 39, Appropriations (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2020-2021
Although Bill 25, an Act to Amend the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act, was expected to be discussed this sitting in committee of the whole, John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, brought forward a motion asking for more time for the standing committee to complete its work on the bill.
MLAs voted unanimously to grant the 120-day extension.
The next sitting of the legislative assembly begins on May 26.