Nunavut politicians admonish ministers for not providing clear, prompt answers

IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok says it's clear better communication and partnership is needed after members of the legislature chastised territorial ministers for failing to provide adequate and timely answers to their questions.

Solomon Malliki, chairperson of regular members' caucus, presented a motion Monday admonishing the executive council. He said members are concerned they have not been receiving clear, candid and comprehensive answers to their questions either during question period or by email.

"We are not pleased with the answers that we are getting, we are not pleased with not getting answers and I hope that the government understands this," he said.

Unlike the provinces and Yukon, which use a party government system, Nunavut has a consensus style of government that's considered closer to the way Inuit have traditionally made decisions. All members of Nunavut's legislature are elected as independents. Shortly after being elected, they select the speaker, premier and cabinet members among themselves. The premier then has the power to assign ministerial portfolios.

Regular members act as the unofficial opposition and are responsible for holding the government accountable. In consensus government, there is more frequent communication between regular members and cabinet than in party politics. Regular members are also able to recommend changes to legislation, policies and budgets. However, unanimous consent is not required for bills to pass.

Several regular members echoed Malliki's concerns Monday, voting in favour of the motion, which ultimately passed.

“Sometimes when we get the answers, we get lots of data and other information thrown at us, but at times we don’t get clear, candid answers, and we ask these questions for our constituents. Our constituents want to know," said Joe Savikataaq, who represents Arviat South.

He did not point to specific examples, but said even during Monday's question period some members had not received adequate responses.

George Hickes, who represents Iqaluit-Tasiluk, had expressed confusion after Pamela Hakongak Gross, the minister responsible for Nunavut Arctic College, had said the college's teacher education program was being offered in all but two of 20 communities and then said it was being offered in 16 communities. She did not clarify her response.

Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, who represents Iqaluit-Sinaa, also asked followup questions about how often Margaret Nakashuk, minister responsible for the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission, met with her counterpart in the N.W.T. Brewster said the minister had not provided the information she was looking for when she asked the same question on Oct. 31.

In supporting Malliki's motion, Brewster said regular members sometimes have to wait until transcripts are available to understand whether their questions were fully answered in the legislature. She added they have to wait an "unacceptable length of time" for responses to their concerns.

“It also reflects on us because our constituents are left with the impression that we are not advocating for them, that we are not doing our job," she said.

"If we as regular members of the legislative assembly are not being given the tools through the answers that we are seeking from executive council, then we cannot be productive members of our community and we cannot productively represent our constituents.”

Akeeagok said the motion was "unexpected" as his government has worked to be inclusive of regular members. However, he acknowledged the motion signalled they want to be more involved and receive clear information pertinent to their ridings.

He said the executive council is open to partnership with regular members and noted a midterm review will take place next November.

“Our doors are always open for any realistic solutions to issues, to valid concerns," Akeeagok said.

In the previous legislative assembly, regular members also raised concerns about the performance of ministers. They wrote a letter to the premier in May 2019 expressing "growing dissatisfaction," outlining their expectations, and stating that if not addressed, they could respond with motions of censure or non-confidence.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press