April 18, 2003

No federal seat for Nunavik

St-Julien vows to make one final shot

ODILE NELSON

The Quebec federal electoral boundary commission all but shut Nunavimmiut out of the House of Commons in the next national election after its final report refused to create a new federal riding for Nunavik.

The commission first proposed electoral changes to Quebec's 75 ridings in August 2002 as part of a country-wide revision of Canada's electoral map. It then spent November and December 2002 hosting public hearings on its suggestions.

Though the independent commission's report acknowledged that Nunavik's political leaders made "serious and sincere arguments" at public hearings in December, in the end it decided against giving the region its own riding.

"Unfortunately, the commission, which did take the geographic size of the territory into account, feels that it cannot, out of concern for intraprovincial electoral equity, accede to the pressing demands of the Inuit community, of some 10,000 inhabitants, to create an exceptional electoral district north of the 55th parallel primarily occupied by that community," the report said.

One of the suggestions in the commission's initial report released in August last year was to divide the present Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik federal district into two renamed ridings, Abitibi and Nunavik.

But because Nunavik's population is only 10,000, it does not meet the minimum requirement for a federal riding in Quebec – 72,375 people.

The commission's proposal was to extend the riding southward to include Quebec's James Bay Cree population as well as voters from the Vallée-de-l'Or region. The suggested "Nunavik" riding would then contain 79,573 voters.

Last December, Pita Aatami, the president of Makivik Corp., Johnny Adams, the chairman of the Kativik Regional Government, and Guy St-Julien, the region's Liberal MP, all pressed the commission to separate Nunavik from the riding's southern regions.

They argued that because Nunavik's mostly Inuit population has a distinct culture, history and needs, it should have its own member of parliament despite its small population.

In an interview this week, St-Julien said he is disappointed the commission didn't adopt those suggestions.

"Everyone worked very hard for that – a new district for Nunavik. Mr. Pita Aatami and Mr. Johnny Adams for the memorandum to the commission. But the report came to the House of Commons last week, and they said no to a Nunavik district," St-Julien said.

St-Julien said he has already submitted a formal objection to the standing committee on procedure, though he admits there is little hope of altering the decision at this late date.

"I deposit last week my objection. It is the only place after the commission's final report to push one more time," St-Julien said. "But inside the standing committee it is very tough, very tough to win. But I said 'I work one more time inside.'"

The standing committee on procedure and house affairs will hear St-Julien's objection within the next 30 sitting days of the House of Commons. His comments will then be turned over to the electoral commission, which has another 30 days to make any final changes to its report.

As it now stands, Nunavik will join the Vallée-de-l'Or and the James Bay Cree regions of Quebec to form the riding of "Baie James-Nunavik" in the next election.

The commission renamed the proposed riding "Baie James-Nunavik" to better represent all areas included in the riding.