Nunavut 99 – A Public Government

Angelena Iglesia

     The new legislative assembly building in downtown Iqaluit — a government for the people, of the people   Caribou forage for food outside Canada’s newest territorial capital, Iqaluit [The government and the NLCA] [Consensus politics, and elections] [Decentraliztion] [A journey into new terrain] ake 28 communities, spread them over […]


new legislative assembly building in downtown Iqaluit —
a government for the people, of the people

forage for food outside Canada’s newest territorial capital,

[The government
and the NLCA]
[Consensus politics, and elections]

[Decentraliztion] [A journey into
new terrain

ake 28 communities, spread them
over almost two million of the most formidable square kilometres
on the Earth’s surface, top it off with the daunting task of
implementing a new government, and you’ve got a recipe that would
scare off most would-be public servants. Yet this is exactly
the task facing the people of Nunavut as April 1, 1999 dawns.

For Inuit, however, a people long renowned for their adaptability,
the creation of Nunavut and the administrative government it
requires has been well conceived, and owes its roots to more
than two decades of vision and dedication.

The government of Nunavut is a public government, not an ethnic
form of self-government. Negotiators working on a land claims
agreement for Nunavut decided early on to opt for a public government,
a pragmatic decision that would aid them in their quest to achieve
a territory. Thomas Suluk, one of several former chief negotiators,
recalls that the people originally wanted an Inuit government.
But negotiators urged them to “eliminate this nativeness,
this separateness, because it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance
in hell of making it.” By supporting a public government,
“we can get the same thing.”

government and the NLCA

The Nunavut territory comprises the area that roughly corresponds
with traditional and contemporary Inuit use, along with the northern
portions of the High Arctic islands and the islands of Ungava
Bay, Hudson Bay, and James Bay that are not part of adjacent
provinces. Like any bureaucratic body, the government of Nunavut
will be responsible for the operation and administration of the
new territory. It will be following the recommendations set out
in Footprints 2, a report prepared by the Nunavut
Implementation Commission (NIC), the agency created under federal
statute to advise on the design of the new government of Nunavut.

The job of governing will be done in a form both complementary
to, and unique from, that which represents the rich political
history of Canada. Like all other Canadians, Nunavut residents
will enjoy a public government and have their rights and responsibilities
ultimately determined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and

But unlike other
provinces and territories in Canada, Nunavut has a public government
and land claim agreement that are linked on several key issues.
For example, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) specifies
that the number of Inuit employed in the public service be directly
proportional to the number of Inuit in Nunavut society. This
figure is set at 50 per cent for April 1, 1999, and will slowly
increase to 85 per cent to reflect the fact that Inuit comprise
the overwhelming majority of Nunavut residents.

Also unique to the government of Nunavut as a result of the
land claim agreement is its ability to make decisions in certain
areas of jurisdiction reserved for the federal government in
Canada’s other territories. For example, along with federal government
representatives, Inuit also hold representative positions on
institutions of public government that were created by the land
claim agreement. As a result, Inuit appointees and Nunavut government
representatives sit side by side on such administrative bodies
as the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Nunavut Planning Commission,
Nunavut Impact Review Board, the Nunavut Water Board and the
Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal.

With powers approaching those of the Ontario legislative assembly,
the government of Nunavut will be a territorial government with
a twist.

politics, and elections

Nunavut will have no political parties at the territorial
level. Instead, the legislative assembly of the new territory
will operate on the basis of consensus politics. Like the aboriginal
decision-making system it mimics, the legislative assembly’s
decisions will be made according to the consensus of the majority
of its members rather than political party lines. Political parties
exist in Nunavut only for the purposes of supporting candidates
running in federal elections.

In February 1999, Nunavut elected its first 19-member legislative
assembly. (A groundbreaking proposal to elect an equal number
of women and men to Nunavut’s legislative assembly was defeated
in a 1997 Nunavut-wide plebiscite.) The members of the legislative
assembly (MLAs) hold a secret ballot to elect a speaker, who
oversees operation of the assembly. Also elected in a secret
vote by the MLAs is the premier of Nunavut, as well as the executive
(cabinet). The regular sittings of the assembly will be open
to the public.

Nunavut Implementation Commissioner Meeka Kilabuk shows off some
early suggestions for a Nunavut territorial flag. The contest
was open to all Canadian citizens, but the Chief Herald of Canada
had the last word


Nunavut’s government has 10 departments, each headed by a minister;
MLAs without ministerial portfolios will perform the role of
the opposition. Territorial elections will be held every five
years by popular vote. Federally, Nunavut is represented by one
member of Parliament, and one senator.

While the government of the Northwest Territories conducts
its daily business in English, the government of Nunavut will
be dominated by Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit. Other official
languages are English and French. Additionally, Nunavut will
bear its own flag and coat of arms, as well as other symbols
that distinguish it as a government and territory.


Reflecting the diverse nature of the regions it represents,
the government of Nunavut will be decentralized, with approximately
700 required headquarters positions divided among Iqaluit, the
capital of Nunavut, and 10 other communities — Igloolik,
Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Cape Dorset, Arviat, Gjoa Haven,
Kugluktuk, Pangnirtung, Baker Lake, and Pond Inlet. The government’s
core machinery functions, including the Department of Executive
and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Department of Finance and
Administration, the Department of Human Resources, and the Department
of Justice, will be situated in Iqaluit, along with the ministerial,
policy and planning, financial administration, and personnel-related
functions of the government of Nunavut’s other departments.

One of the ultimate goals of decentralizing the government
is to give Nunavut’s three regions decision-making authority,
and extend new jobs to as many areas as possible. Regional government
centres will be located in Igloolik (Baffin Region), Rankin Inlet
(Kivalliq Region), and Cambridge Bay (Kitikmeot Region). Decentralization
will also help limit the changes associated with moving too many
new people into one community.

Once the government of Nunavut is in place, it will receive
the lion’s share of funding for its operational and public-service
costs from the federal government. This five-year formula financing
agreement will account for approximately 95 per cent of Nunavut’s
governmental revenues; the remainder will be raised through taxation
and the sale of goods and services. The 1999-2000 governmental
budget is set at $620 million, $580 million of which has been
allocated to cover the costs of programs and services. The rest
is available to the incoming government to allocate as it sees
fit. The federal monies are an unconditional grant.

A journey into new

In traditional Inuit fashion, the government of Nunavut will
proceed deliberately into unknown terrain. The government will
be implemented over three or four years, beginning with a core
government of approximately 200 new headquarters public servants
by April 1, 1999. With 1,700 GNWT employees converting over to
the government of Nunavut, a total of 1,900 Nunavut government
public servants are reporting to work as the territory gets under

On April 1, 1999, a dream that was first put forth on paper
in 1976 becomes a reality. For the residents of Nunavut, the
creation of their own government is the product of many generations
of insight, wisdom, and the ability to adapt to a world in constant

A former resident of Nunavut,
magazine writer and editor Mike Vlessides of Canmore, Alberta
has written extensively about the North, contributing to Up Here
and Canadian Geographic magazines.

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