Canada

‘Everybody knows everybody:’ Nunavut voters head to the polls in territorial election

IQALUIT, NUNAVUT —
Campaigning in Nunavut’s territorial election is a little like competing against your neighbours and friends, says former premier Paul Quassa.

Voters head to the polls Monday to elect their representatives in the territory’s sixth legislative assembly.

In larger centres like Iqaluit, candidates have been knocking on doors and handing out pamphlets for weeks.

But in Nunavut’s smaller communities, such as Quassa’s former Igloolik constituency, the race is more subdued.

“Everybody knows everybody, so it’s a matter of who’s better known or more vocal within the community,” Quassa said in an interview.

He said Nunavut’s elections don’t see much in the way of aggressive campaign tactics or personal digs between candidates as those in Southern Canada.

“There’s no sense of fighting against each other. It’s more subtle up here. It’s more like, ‘even if you don’t vote for me, that’s fine,”‘ he said.

Candidates, except in some of the larger communities, don’t usually campaign door-to-door and instead use local radio to get their ideas out.

Territorial elections are held in Nunavut every four years.

This election, there are 58 candidates vying for 22 seats across the territory. Of those, 16 candidates are running for re-election and 14 are women.

While it’s a tight race in communities like Iqaluit, five candidates have already been acclaimed, including Nunavut’s most recent premier, Joe Savikataaq, in the constituency of Arviat-South.

In Nunavut’s consensus-style government, there are no political parties or platforms. The assembly is made up of cabinet members and regular members of the legislature, who outnumber ministers and often act as the unofficial opposition.

The election is only the first step in selecting the territory’s next legislative assembly.

MLAs, once elected, need to select a premier and a cabinet. That is tentatively scheduled to happen Nov. 17, when members take their sealskin-upholstered seats in the assembly at a leadership forum.

Quassa, who is semi-retired and not running this time around, said he’s well aware of the issues Nunavut’s next government will have to tackle.

The territory continues to face a persistent housing crisis — something Quassa notes has been a priority since he was elected eight years ago.

“This legislative assembly needs to start thinking outside the box. How can we mitigate the annual shortage of housing?” Quassa said.

Mental health, food insecurity, resource development, Inuit employment and climate change are also issues the next assembly will need to continue working on, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the limits of Nunavut’s health-care system. There is no intensive care unit in the territory, while millions of dollars are spent on isolation centres for Nunavut residents in Southern Canada.

Another urgent issue is elders’ care. With few long-term care options in the territory, Nunavut’s elders are regularly sent south, away from their families, their communities and their language.

The next government will also have to deal with a lawsuit filed by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the land claims organization, about the rights of students to be educated in Inuktut.

The lawsuit claims the Nunavut government is discriminating against Inuit by not offering education in the territory’s first language at the same level as English and French.

In addition to the lawsuit, Quassa said the assembly will need to make sure Inuit are at the forefront of legislative decisions, which is at the heart of why Nunavut was created.

“That’s why we got a territory in the first place. It was Inuit who created it,” he said.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook-Canadian Press News Fellowship.



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