EDITORIAL: Government toxicity will be hard to repair

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As we learn more about the removal of former housing minister Pat Angnakak from cabinet, we can see the mistakes she made that led to this situation.

First of all, Angnakak is a woman, and Premier Joe Savikataaq has indicated his ignorance of bias against women both publicly and privately, if what Angnakak said in her resignation speech is true.

In early October, he went on the record to say he was unaware of any – yes, any – sexual harassment or sexual assault within the Government of Nunavut. That’s right, the territory’s largest employer has no problems in this regard. It’s hard for us to believe but when the premier says so, it becomes a fact as women will be less likely to come forward if they have a complaint.

Privately, according to Angnakak, while health minister Savikataaq told her she looked tired, an indication that she wasn’t up to the job. As she said in her resignation speech from cabinet, she doubts he would have said that to a male minister, and we’re inclined to agree.

Angnakak’s second mistake is that she actually answered a question in the legislative assembly. As a minister in the Nunavut government, as evidenced time and again, this is strictly off-limits.

We could tell right away what got Angnakak into trouble last month. She went on and on with multiple points about the government’s ideas to fix housing, and she said far too much. It may have been accurate information, and it may have given the public a real answer for once but that’s not how Nunavut’s government works.

The rule is: keep your mouth shut and let the communications people do the talking (or more likely, emailing).

Third, Angnakak trusted the wrong people. She says she had permission to share the information that led to her ouster, and yet no one recalls ever talking to her about it. No one in housing, and definitely not the premier. This is very convenient, for them at least.

The scene feels so familiar, having watched former premier Paul Quassa’s takedown earlier this year. Dysfunction appears to be part of the culture in the upper echelons of Nunavut’s government, and even the regular MLAs, who censured the entire cabinet last week, can see the problem.

Angnakak reported a culture of harassment and bullying. Fired chief medical officer Kim Barker reported a toxic environment at the health department. Fired coroner Padma Suramala reported harassment and intimidation that prevented her from doing her job in the Department of Justice.

Three women in power positions pushed out amid accusations of harassment, bullying and intimidation. Their stories have too much in common to ignore as coincidence.

Premier Savikataaq has a very difficult path to redemption on this file. His government will need to show he is committed to truly understanding the challenges women face in Nunavut, and that will be much harder to do with one less woman in cabinet.

But Savikataaq will have a much tougher time trying to root out the toxicity that is, by all reports, endemic in the Nunavut government. To move forward, the premier will have to start showing he can be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Otherwise, he’ll be the next to go.