‘A much higher level of governance emerging in Nunavut’

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Many Nunavummiut were taken aback by the sudden removal of Paul Quassa as premier on June 14.

“This new group of MLAs is functioning like an official opposition party. This can be done without anger or bitterness but in a spirit of moving forward together,” says former MLA and cabinet minister Manitok Thompson.
NNSL file photo

In the aftermath of that political upheaval, Nunavut News contacted several former MLAs and candidates for office for their thoughts on what transpired and where to go from here. This was the response from Manitok Thompson, former cabinet minister, MLA for Aivilik, 1995-99 and MLA for Rankin Inlet South/Whale Cove, 1999-2004:

I believe that a party politics mindset has arrived in Nunavut. Most of the politically-minded younger generation seems tired of the romance with the consensus style of government.

The style of consensus government was formed in the NWT in the ’60s to reflect the way Inuit were supposed to have governed themselves. Even in Inuit smaller groups, there was a way to get your message across if you wanted to make a statement. It came out in a song where two people sang to argue their conflicts. You were even allowed to speak your mind to an elder if you disagreed with them, but you had to be in the right with your argument – and it had to be well-researched and well-presented. Consensus governance may no longer be effective in dealing with the complexity of modern-day issues.

Consensus-style government is presenting your position to the other party, while you listen respectfully without interruption to opposing points of view. When all have said what’s on their minds, then you come to a consensus and decide what’s the best way to go forward with a particular issue. The elders were the government before (Western) contact and in a way they were dictators. They decided many things including who you should marry and what the name of your child should be. In such a harsh physical environment, they had to lead the best way they could so everyone could survive and conflict was minimized.

Over the years I have talked to many politically-active and -aware Inuit, including elders, who have expressed their concern with a consensus style of governance.

The aboriginal peoples who first had early contact with non-aboriginals were able to move their agendas and priorities forward more quickly because of the way they negotiated with the various levels of governments.

In a consensus type of government, cabinet votes as a block to get a bill or motion to move forward. Internally and in confidence, cabinet also allows members to speak their position and vote independently if a bill is contentious. This vote is private and confidential and if a majority is obtained, cabinet solidarity is presented.

The recent motion of non-confidence in the Nunavut government’s leader demonstrated the solitary of cabinet was broken. Non-confidence in fact means the members had lost trust in the leader, and to lead you need to be trusted and be honest and open with each other. While some of the reasoning for the motion and its resulting vote have emerged, many others will remain confidential. But a clear majority of the members, including cabinet ministers, decided a change had to be made.

In the past, when MLAs were nominated for a position in cabinet, you voted for the most capable, educated and experienced to get the job done. With this recent election, cabinet selection seemed to be not a vote for the educated, experienced or capable, but for whom they wanted to be in cabinet with. I assume this was strategic. This strategy wasn’t based on the most able to run a department but more on friendship and who they wanted in. That strategy has failed.

In Pond Inlet, the decision was made by the members to do away with the mid-term reviews of ministers but to be able to remove and review a minister anytime, based on performance. With this latest action by regular members, the ministers are now expected to move agenda items faster and also to keep the regular members informed and involved in decisions within the departments.

This new group of MLAs, unhappy with the direction and leadership of the government, worked together as a group to effect change. Was this not the equivalent of an opposition party defeating a minority government?

This was not a personal attack against an individual but a verdict on leadership. The leader may have been the easy target but the message has a much wider aim. Clearly this new group of MLAs have now stated they will not put up with leadership that does not listen to the concerns and aspirations of the regular members and their communities.

The regular members are full of educated, experienced and capable people willing to take the risk and do something about the issues that face Nunavut. The effective and careful management of public money is important. This new group of MLAs is functioning like an official opposition party. This can be done without anger or bitterness but in a spirit of moving forward together.

While not a full-blown party system, I see a much higher level of governance emerging in Nunavut today.

Inuit are a loving, welcoming people, generally, but in politics sometimes firmer, more difficult decisions have to be made.