June 27, 2003

Nanulik by-election could be held Sept. 2

MLA resigns seat after assault conviction

PATRICIA D'SOUZA

Residents of Coral Harbour and Chesterfield Inlet could head to the polls as early as Sept. 2 in a by-election to fill the seat vacated by James Arvaluk last week.

Arvaluk, Nunavut's first education minister, resigned his seat as a member of the legislative assembly on June 20, three days after he was convicted of assault causing bodily harm for a violent attack on his then-girlfriend Sophie Sangoya in August 2000.

"After consultation with family, constituents and colleagues, I have determined that the needs of the communities that I represent, Chesterfield Inlet and Coral Harbour, would be best served by affording residents the opportunity to elect a new member to serve them in the legislative assembly," Arvaluk wrote in a letter to Kevin O'Brien, speaker of the assembly.

If Arvaluk hadn't resigned, the assembly would have been recalled so MLAs could vote to remove him, said Kelvin Ng, the minister of finance and government house leader.

"That kind of behaviour won't be accepted," Ng said in an interview on Tuesday. "His history is this has happened before."

Ng said he was pleased it didn't come to that. "I respect the fact that he respected the judgement. I think he did the right thing by resigning."

However, the timing of Arvaluk's resignation means that a by-election must be called to fill his seat.

The Nunavut Elections Act requires that a by-election be held to fill a vacant seat if the next territorial election is more than six months away. The general election on Feb. 16 is eight months away.

MLAs would like to fill the seat before the next sitting of the assembly, scheduled for Oct. 21. Ng said he wants the new MLA to be in place before Sept. 8, the date of a major caucus planning session.

Elections are traditionally held on a Monday, but because Sept. 1 is a holiday, the next best day is Sept. 2. While election day would coincide with the time of year Nunavummiut usually return from summer holidays, the 45-day campaign period would take place in July and August - peak camping season in Nunavut.

The successful candidate will sit as an MLA only until January, when the campaign period will begin again.

It is possible, then, that the Nanulik riding will be served by three different MLAs within a year. At the moment, however, it is anybody's guess who will run in the by-election.

In 1999, the seat was contested by five candidates, four from Coral Harbour and one from Chesterfield Inlet. Arvaluk won with 156 votes, followed by Johnny Ningeonan, the former mayor of Coral Harbour, with 125 votes. Anthyme Kadjuk, the chair of Chesterfield Inlet's District Education Authority, came in last with 52 votes.

Coral Harbour residents wouldn't speculate on who might run this time around, but Francis Mazhero, a teacher in Chesterfield Inlet who was fired last year amid false allegations of sexual abuse, said he is interested in representing the communities.

Arvaluk also has the option of running in the by-election. The day he resigned he told reporters that the mayor of Igloolik has asked him to run in the Amittuq riding in the general election, however, he would not comment further on his future plans.

The outgoing MLA will receive a pension from the MLA pension plan he paid into during his years in office.

However, because he resigned his seat before the end of his term, he will not be entitled to the supplementary pension MLAs voted themselves in March 2002. He will also not be entitled to receive the concentrated payment option that MLAs voted for in Baker Lake in early June.

He will receive a small transition allowance, said Steve Pollack, director of corporate services for the legislative assembly, which will allow him to continue receiving his regular paycheque for the next few weeks.

After that, if he decides not to enter politics and if he does not receive a lengthy sentence, he will be faced with a job market that is not always kind to former politicians, as he told his fellow MLAs during a committee of the whole discussion on June 3.

"Some Inuit do want to work for the government and the government is reluctant to hire them because they are afraid of these people, because they are so powerful," he said.

"For example former leaders from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and ITC are unemployed because they negotiated the land claims. What has happened? Are they not skilled anymore or what?"