The race is on for Nunavut’s legislative assembly, and it is going forward without the two names making the most news for the past few years: Premier Peter Taptuna, and Finance Minister Keith Peterson.
Both men left their marks on Nunavut, for better or worse, depending on your perspective.
In his 2013 pitch to be premier, Taptuna promised to end social promotion in schools, the practice that keeps students with their cohort regardless of attendance or achievement. Four years later, it was among the Education Act amendments that famously failed in the final sitting of the assembly last month.
Another priority for Taptuna was housing but we have seen little progress toward a solution to the crisis.
His third promise was to improve economic development. On this, Nunavut has had some of the strongest growth in Canada. How much can be attributed to the Taptuna government? It’s hard to say. Certainly as Economic Development and Transportation Minister and then premier, Taptuna shepherded some major projects that will grow Nunavut’s economy for years, including the Iqaluit airport and port, small craft harbours, and support for mining operations.
But in that portfolio, Taptuna’s efforts to lean on resource development were set back repeatedly by the federal government and the Nunavut Planning Commission. Nunavut was left out of the decision to ban Arctic oil drilling, little progress was made on devolution, and Taptuna complained directly to the federal government when the planning commission blocked Baffinland from year-round shipping of iron ore.
As finance minister for the past nine years, Keith Peterson takes with him a wealth of institutional knowledge in the most important portfolio in government. His goal of maintaining a surplus meant the government was ready when two schools were lost to arson.
Overseeing liquor, Peterson’s push to create beer and wine stores has been contentious. For many, the stores are a move in the right direction. But the stores have their opponents, for sure.
More significantly, Peterson and Taptuna made no progress in meeting the government’s Article 23 requirement under the Nunavut Agreement to staff government proportionally to the demographic makeup of the territory. Inuit employment in government has been stalled at 50 per cent – far from the 85 per cent target – throughout the tenure of both men.
The departure of the two top elected officials marks a major change going forward, so it’s wise to prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.
One glimmer of hope is the number of young candidates, including those affiliated with the Qanak Collective, an Iqaluit-based group formed to foster the next generation of political leaders. If these candidates win, don’t be surprised if we see Nunavut’s first political party form. It’s an idea even some political veterans would welcome, according to grocery store line chatter.
We are also hopeful that the next government moves away from the Taptuna government’s policy of fighting the free press. Since taking power, the government has limited its public advertising budget and restricted staff from speaking with the media, even for good news stories. These policies don’t serve the public.
Our wish for Nunavut: a younger legislative assembly full of Inuit ready to make positive change for Nunavut. Your vote could make the difference.