The administration of Canada’s youngest territory has a tough mandate from the people

21 Nov 17

A new legislative assembly in Nunavut has to move quickly to get to grips with issues and fulfil their residents' expectations, says Marcel Holder Robinson. 


Residents awoke to a new political landscape following Nunavut’s fifth territorial election on 30 October this year.  

Nunavut, Canada’s third and youngest territory was established in 1999 when it separated from the central and eastern area of the Northwest Territories.

Nunavut, which means “our land” in the local language – Inuktitut – is nestled in the Arctic and covers 20% of Canada land mass: translation, over 2 million square kilometres. 

Home to an indigenous people called Inuit, its population is approximately 33,000 spread over 25 communities, including the capital, Iqaluit where the territorial government sits.

Nunavut’s consensus system of government is credited for its ability to debate issues. 

It boasts being among the only two territories/provinces in Canada where there are no political parties and candidates run as independent in their constituencies. 

Successful political candidates make up the legislative assembly and 5th legislative assembly will hold their leadership forum on November 17, 2017 to choose a speaker, premier and cabinet.

There are some notable firsts in this 5th election, however. The one that stands out most is the number of women who sought political leadership.

Seventeen women ran in 10 of 22 constituencies and six women were winners.  In other words, more than one quarter of the legislative assembly is women.

Twice the number of women elected to the last assembly and the highest number elected to the legislature since Nunavut became a territory.

Residents, however, expect the new legislative assembly to hit the ground running. 

There is an expectation that they will set their own agenda informed by the campaign issues raised in their communities and across the territory.

Those which were prominent throughout the campaign include affordable housing, jobs, training and education, mental health, environment, language and culture.

Crucial to its governance process, the legislative assembly will be integrally involved in key aspects of the government’s prioritisation of programmes, resource mobilisation and expenditure management.

In the coming months, members of the legislative assembly have to quickly grasp the issues, review, debate and pass:

•          part two of the Government of Nunavut 2017-18 capital estimates

•          the interim appropriation bill, to give the Government of Nunavut money to operate between April 1 and July 31, 2018

•          the 2017-18 main estimates for the government’s operating budget

•          the Government of Nunavut 2018-19 capital estimates.

With a fixed four year term, there are numerous legislative bills that the legislative assembly will have to address.

Among them are the Education Act, Inuit Language Protection Act, the Corrections Act and legislation to legalise cannabis use and distribution.

The 5th legislative assembly now has the opportunity to set its agenda and chart the way for the territory and its people.

Devolution by the federal government provides some latitude for this level of government to demonstrate that it understands and can prudently cater to the needs and ambition of a culturally rich people.

Nunavut legislative assembly - now it is time to make it happen.

  • Marcel Holder Robinson
    Marcel Holder Robinson

    former finance policy manager in CIPFA's governments faculty

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