The fall of 2017 saw the election of the fifth Legislative Assembly of Nunavut and its new premier and cabinet. The process leading to the creation of the government is different than most other elected bodies and is not well understood outside of the territorial Canadian North.
There are several aspects of the Nunavut Legislature that make it unique. Perhaps most notable is the fact that the 22 MLAs elected in ridings across Nunavut are not affiliated with political parties as is the normal custom in most other Canadian legislatures. The Nunavut Legislature, similar in this way only to that in the Northwest Territories, is a consensus government.
Consensus government operates in a manner that may be counter-intuitive to some. Meeting in a special session known as the Nunavut Leadership Forum about two weeks after the election, the Members select from themselves an eight member cabinet, or Executive Council and a Premier (who is one of the cabinet members). As the cabinet has eight members, it acts for all practical purposes as a perpetual minority government in the 22 member Legislative Assembly.
The new premier, Paul Quassa, is an experienced Nunavut political figure who was a member of the cabinet in the last Legislative Assembly. Notably, Premier Quassa was active in the creation of Nunavut, acting as Chief Negotiator for the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut in the negotiations that eventually led in 1993 to the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) that resulted in the creation of Nunavut in 1999. Premier Quassa was one of the official signatories of the NLCA.
While the premier and other members of cabinet ran on various different issues in the election, it is not yet clear what issues and policies will be adopted as the most prominent for the new government over its four year mandate. Typically, Nunavut governments meet to establish their priorities and policy direction in the months following their election and it is expected that the new government will meet to discuss its mandate in January 2018.
The most recent prior Legislative Assembly's vision provides a sense of the sort of mandate that might be expected. It was entitled "Sivumiut Abluqta: Stepping Forward Together".
Sivumiut Abluqta included a focus on four general policy areas being:
- Self-reliance and optimism through education and training,
- Healthy families through strong and resilient communities,
- Economic growth through responsible development across all sectors, and
- Good government through wise use of our resources.
It will be interesting to see what the new government's mandate includes and where it intends to lead Nunavummiut.
The range of matters requiring the attention of the GN in the coming years is broad and includes issues such as homelessness and access to education as well as natural resource related issues such as wildlife management and the potential for "Devolution" of federal jurisdiction related to the land and natural resources. During the election Premier Quassa made an explicit commitment to improve education for Nunavummiut so one would expect to see that as one of the priorities for his government.
As a former leader of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) and its predecessor the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, the Premier has a sense of the importance of that organization to the aspirations of the Inuit in Nunavut. He has stated publicly that the partnership between the GN and NTI is important to both organizations as they carry out their respective responsibilities in the complex political environment that is Nunavut. This would seem to indicate a push toward improvements in the relationship between the GN and NTI and, more particularly, a desire to have the NLCA implemented more fully in the coming years.
The coming months will be important for the new government as it sets its course and starts to embark on activities to implement its vision.