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Nunatsiaq News: March 8, 1996

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Report: MLAs' pay should be public

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT--Keep it fair, keep it simple, and respect the public's right to know.

That's the message contained in a report on MLAs' salaries released this week by Sam Gargan, the Speaker of the NWT legislative assembly.

The report was done by a commission made up of three people: chairman Joel Fournier and commissioners Anne Crawford and Jim Bourque.

If MLAs decide to follow their advice, it will get a lot easier for you to find out how much money your MLA actually gets paid for representing you.

"[T]he principle of a fair, simple, transparent and accountable compensation system for members was the key in helping us make decisions and recommendations," the three commissioners said in a letter to Gargan.

Known as the "Commission on MLA Compensation," the group was set up by MLAs last Dec. 13 to review the entire system of paying territorial MLAs and cabinet ministers, and to recommend ways of changing it.

Their report isn't binding, but MLAs will have it in front of them after March 20, when Gargan is to table it in the legislature for debate.

Scrap the old system

The commission's first recommendation is perhaps the most important: "That all existing indemnities be revoked."

In simple language, this means: scrap the current system of paying MLAs and replace it with a new one.

Under the old system, the money paid to MLAs was divided into two vague categories: "indemnities," and "allowances."

Indemnities are payments made to MLAs for actually doing their jobs. Allowances are payments made to compensate MLAs for expenses they incur while doing their jobs.

Right now, MLAs get a "basic indemnity" of $39,514 a year. On top of that they may qualify for a long list of additional indemnities, depending on how many committee meetings they attend, whether or not they serve as chairpersons of various committees, whether or not they're in cabinet, and so on.

There's also a complex list of expense allowances that MLAs or cabinet ministers are eligible for.

That system, the commission's report says, is so complicated that many MLAs don't understand it, let alone the public.

"There is a need to rationalize the components and determine a more straightforward way of dealing with compensation," the report says.

Public must know and understand

That means the public¬and the MLAs themselves¬must be able to understand how territorial legislators are paid.

"Members and the public should understand what the compensation is for," the three commissioners say. "The rules should be clear and administration should not be difficult."

The commissioners also say that it's essential that ordinary people know how much their elected representatives are paid.

"The public has a right to know what compensation is provided to elected officials," the commissioners say. "There should be no hidden subsidies, tax breaks or special allowances. It should not be a surprise to members or the public to learn about additional benefits available to ministers or the speaker."

Another key principle, the commissioners say, is "transparency"¬that means anyone should be able to get information about how much their MLAs are paid just by asking for it.

"There should be complete public disclosure of all amounts paid to MLAs, including the annual publication of MLA compensation. In addition, the records showing all expenses incurred by an MLA should be available on request to the media or the public."

Ordinary working people

As for how much MLAs should get, the commission says most members of the public told them that they want their MLAs to be treated like average people.

"Any unique benefits available to a high-level private sector employee would be inappropriate for members," the report says. "Receiving a compensation package more consistent with the average person is viewed as fair by the public and gives the public confidence that members have not joined some elite class, unaffected by rules and problems of ordinary people."

In the commission's opinion, that means the current piecemeal system of indemnities and allowances should be replaced by a base salary of $71,000 a year for each MLA.

The commissioners also said it's obvious that the role of MLAs has been transformed over the years from a part-time to a full-time job, and that they should be paid accordingly.

As well, the consensus system has evolved in a way that allows MLAs to have nearly as much influence as cabinet ministers.

Ministers still live high

But the commission's recommendations for cabinet ministers' salaries would still have them living high off the hog.

The commission recommends that cabinet ministers get the basic members' salary of $71,000, plus an extra $38,000 a year. The premier would get an extra $54,000 a year. As for the Speaker, he or she would get the basic member's salary, plus $19,000 a year.

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How much should our MLAs be paid?

A three-person commission--made up of Joel Fournier, Ann Crawford, and Jim Bourque--is recommending that MLAs scrap their current system of paying themselves and create a new one from scratch.

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT--Here's a summary of the key recommendations contained in the MLAs compensation commission report released by Speaker Sam Gargan this Tuesday.

Readers should be aware that in the following list we've sometimes combined two or more recommendations into one point, and that the full report contains many appendices explaining many of its recommendations in great detail.

(Readers may get their own copies of the report by calling the office of the Clerk of the legislative assembly at 1 (800) 661-0784.)

MLAs' salaries

* All "existing indemnities--in other words, the current method of paying MLAs, should be scrapped;

* Each member should get a basic salary of $71,000 a year;

* Chairpersons of standing committees should get an additional $3,000 a year;

* An MLA who is absent from legislative assembly sessions or committee meetings without a reasonable explanation will have a minimum of $200 a day deducted from his or her salary--higher penalties may also be imposed;

* A member who conducts business within his or her home community will get no accommodation or living allowances;

* A member who conducts business outside his or her home community will get the same daily allowance for meals and incidental expenses as Hay Plan employees (senior GNWT managers);

* If an MLA rents a dwelling place in the capital, he or she will be reimbursed for up to $1200 a month¬if an MLA chooses to stay in a hotel in the capital, he or she will be reimbursed for up to $135 a night;

* MLAs should get a "northern allowance" based on where they live, similar to a northern allowance plan now being proposed for Hay Plan employees;

* MLAs should get constituency allowances ranging from a low of $9,000 a year for the four Yellowknife MLAs, to a high of $30,108 a year for the member representing Baffin South;

* At the end of a member's term, all office furniture and equipment, computers, and fax machines will remain the property of the Legislative Assembly and may either by used by new MLAs or staff, or sold off like other surplus government equipment;

* MLAs' newsletters will no longer be paid for through the public information office of the legislative assembly.

MLAs' pensions

* The current pension plan should be scrapped as of March 31, 1996, and a new one created that will start April 1, 1996--financial obligations created by the old pension plan should still be honored;

* Under the new pension plan proposed by the commission, the MLA and the Legislative Assembly will each contribute a minimum of 7 per cent and a maximum of 9 per cent of the member's basic salary to the plan.

MLAs' travel

* MLAs would no longer be eligible for vacation travel assistance;

* Each member would be entitled to one regular class return airfare between the member's home and Yellowknife for each legislative assembly session, and one more paid trip for every 15 consecutive days of a sitting;

* One of the member's immediate family would be entitled to one regular class return airfare between the member's home and the "place of session" each year;

Cabinet ministers

* Salaries for cabinet ministers would be set as follows: member's salary plus $35,000 a year for a minister, and member's salary plus $54,000 for the premier;

* Ministers will no longer be able to accumulate annual or sick leave;

* Ministers will still get their removal or relocation expenses paid, but they won't get an allowance to buy furniture if the government pays to move their existing furniture to Yellowknife;

* Any furniture bought by a cabinet minister with his or her furniture allowance must be returned to the government at the end of the minister's term;

* Cabinet ministers may have the removal of ordinary household goods to Yellowknife paid for, but not large items like cars, boats, trailers or other large recreational vehicles;

* Cabinet ministers would no longer get vacation travel assistance;

* Cabinet ministers would be eligible for 17 return air trips between the minister's home community and Yellowknife;

* The territorial cabinet should establish written guidelines for all ministerial benefits, and table these guidelines in the legislative assembly;

The Speaker

* The Speaker's salary would be set as follows: basic member's salary plus $19,000 a year.

Public disclosure

* Expenses incurred by the Speaker will be publicly disclosed;

* Each year, the Speaker will table a complete listing of MLAs' and minister's salaries, benefits and allowances;

* Details of all allowances claimed by a member or minister, and the supporting documentation, should be available on request to any member of the public who wants to review them; * MLA's compensation package should be reviewed every five years.

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Rankin Inlet boy saves mom from fire

Special to Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT--Five-year-old Pablo Picasso Kappi might be Rankin Inlet's youngest hero.

Pablo was with his mother, Leoni Kappi, on the afternoon of Feb. 28 when a fire broke out at the family's business, Kappi's Korner Store. Before she could leave the store, Leoni fainted. That's when Pablo began shaking her and trying to wake her up.

"Because of the smoke, she fell down more than once and that's when her son shook her up," Margaret Papak said from Rankin Inlet Tuesday. Papak is Leoni Kappi's older sister.

But that was only Pablo's first act of heroism, Papak said.

"He helped her up, she started running but she tripped up--that's when he helped again," she said in Inuktitut.

"[Leoni] kept telling the son to leave the building, but he didn't want to," Papak continued, adding later, "He stayed calm through the whole thing."

Out of modesty, Papak stopped short of calling Pablo a hero--but made it clear that she thought Leoni would have died if it wasn't for him.

"The son was there and he saved her life," she said. "The child said, 'I'm not going, I'm not leaving you.'"

Papak said that Leoni and Pablo escaped suffering only minor smoke inhalation.

"The son was there and he saved her life." --Margaret Papak, on young Pablo's heroism

The building's roof collapsed in the fire and the building was destroyed, fire marshal Willie Makayak said. He estimated the damage at $150,000.

It's unclear whether Kappi will re-open the store. She told Nunatsiaq News she isn't ready to talk about the fire right now.

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Exiles ponder offer from Ottawa

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT--After more than four decades, the day of justice may soon be at hand for the High Arctic exiles.

Or perhaps not.

About 70 members of the 17 Inuit families moved to Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay from Inukjuaq and Pond Inlet in the 1950s have been pondering a compensation offer from Ottawa at a closed gathering this week in Iqaluit.

It's a deal worked out over the past year by federal negotiators and negotiators from the Makivik Corporation acting on behalf of the exiles.

No details released

But both sides¬as of Nunatsiaq News press-time this Wednesday¬weren't revealing any details of the agreement.

"Makivik's not making a statement and the feds aren't making a statement," a Makivik lawyer said this Wednesday, just before Nunatsiaq News press-time this week. "It's all up in the air right now."

Sources said Makivik Corporation President Zebedee Nungak, who is in Iqaluit this week helping to conduct the meeting, was to have made a public statement this Thursday or Friday.

Right now, however, it's impossible to say if the Inuit families are pleased with the offer or not. One man said the meeting as going "very slowly."

"We've presented them with something, and they're thinking about it. That's all I can say right now," a source said.

Waiting for apology and compensation

Since 1982, the exiled Inuit have been asking Ottawa for:

* A $10 million heritage trust fund;

* A formal apology;

* Recognition of their contribution to Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic;

* Compensation for unpaid wages, personal property losses, and so on;

* Payment of housing and transportation costs for people who want to return home.

After being moved to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in 1953 and 1955, the exiles pleaded with federal officials to be allowed to return home. But those please were ignored until recently.

The exiles have said many times that they were dumped on the previously uninhabited shores of Cornwallis Island and Ellesmere Island without proper equipment and with little help in adjusting to the unfamiliar environment of the High Arctic.

They also say they were cheated out of wages that were due to them, denied proper medical care, and lied to by RCMP members and federal government officials.

Sources say the offer that the exiles have been pondering this week contains an offer of about $10 million in cash.

But it's not known if the offer also contains a formal apology.

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Bowhead whale hunt may move to Repulse Bay

People in Coral Harbour were thrilled they were picked to host a bowhead whale hunt in Duke of York Bay this summer. But they're not thrilled the hunt may now move to Repulse Bay.

Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT--Inuit will hunt a bowhead whale in Nunavut waters this summer but haven't decided where the first harpoon will fly.

At a meeting in Cambridge Bay last month, members of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board passed a motion in favor of moving the hunt to Repulse Bay from the original site of Duke of York Bay.

But the decision isn't final, explains Ben Kovik, the chairman of the wildlife board.

"There are still some unsettled questions even though the board made a motion to relocate the hunt to Repulse Bay," Kovik said this week. "There is an argument over the decision."

Talking to elders

The site of the hunt has erupted into a controversial issue, and Kovik says he's been talking to elders and community leaders in Repulse Bay and Coral Harbour to try to sort it out.

"It's a delicate question," Kovik said, adding that Inuit tradition teaches that people aren't supposed to argue over an animal. "It's a no-no rule."

At a meeting in Iqaluit in January, delegates picked Coral Harbour as the host community for the hunt and Duke of York Bay as the spot the whale will be hunted.

But since then, concerns about the ice conditions in Duke of York Bay and other factors have persuaded some board members to change the hunt's location.

Kovik says people in Coral Harbour argue that they shouldn't be ruled out until they at least have a chance to harvest the whale.

Mayor waiting to hear

The mayor of Coral Harbour says he has talked to Kovik and to people in Repulse Bay, and he's convinced the decision to move the hunt to Repulse Bay isn't final--yet.

"Unfortunately I am not prepared to make a statement at this time because I haven't officially heard from anyone," Johnny Ningeongan said this week from Coral Harbour.

"We are of the opinion that the issue was going to be put back on the table for discussions."

Ningeongan said his community has come up with a possible compromise, and he's waiting to hear back before commenting further.

The wildlife board's next meeting will be held in Iqaluit in May. In February, federal Fisheries Minister Fred Mifflin approved the NWMB's request to harvest one bowhead whale in Nunavut's waters.

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My Little Corner of Canada

The last colonial czar

by John Amagoalik

Modern political history in the Canadian North can be defined as before or after Stuart Hodgson.

Umingmak, as nicknamed by the Inuit, was the last Commissioner of the NWT who held real political power and exercised it. Appointed in 1967, he held the post for 10 years.

He was the last Commissioner who appointed people to sit as members of the NWT legislative assembly. He was the last Commissioner who decided the political agenda of the Government of the NWT. He was the last Commissioner who was actively involved in the political debates in the legislature.

He was also the last Commissioner to visit the people in their communities, their council chambers, and in their homes.

He spent a lot of time traveling Canada's Arctic. He visited every community at least once a year and knew people in each and every one of those communities.

Traveling with him in the 1970s, one got the impression that he had genuine affection for ordinary people.

He used to say that he was working himself out of a job. He knew that he was only filling a void in the political leadership which would one day be filled by northerners themselves. One wonders if he ever thought that Nunavut would one day emerge.

To the average person in the community, he was like a big friendly teddy bear. To people who worked for him, he could be impatient and demanding. The gofers who attended him always knew who was boss.

He could also be credited with bringing government to the people. Commissioners before him were always happy to sit and work in Ottawa.

Soon after his appointment, Hodgson loaded the Government of the NWT, furniture and all, on some planes and flew them to Yellowknife. Government for and by the people was a step closer.

He of course, had his weaknesses.

He, at first, resisted aboriginal organizations and their political leaders. Resistance, he later found, was futile. The natural process of decolonization was to overtake his vision of government in the North.

He resisted the land claims movement and the idea of new political entities. In his eyes, we were "all northerners" and there was no need for land claims settlements or new territories. He probably now agrees that these things were unavoidable and had to happen.

There is at least one thing he does not want to be remembered for. On the outer fringes of the small community of Resolute Bay, there sits a row of houses. They have been empty ever since they were built and are starting to decay. These are Stuart Hodgson's white elephant.

He had expected a mining and exploration boom in the High Arctic and expected people from the south to come to Resolute and live in those brand new houses. A couple of mines opened and there was an exploration boom that lasted a few years. But the people never came to fill those houses.

After he retired as Commissioner of the NWT, he was appointed to run the ferry service between the mainland and Vancouver Island. He's probably been bored ever since.

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Ipellie's SHADOW

Happy to be alive

by Alootook Ipellie

Once again, when I woke up this morning, I was amazed to still be alive!

What is it inside us that drives us to continue in this world without seemingly making a great effort? It is not that I leave myself to chance in order to go on in this day and age, but I have to remind myself that's exactly what we had to do living off the land when I was a little child.

I am a living example of an Inuk whose ancestors were once referred to as "savages" that were "clothed in beast skins, and did eat raw flesh, and spoke such speech, that no one could understand them, and in their demeanor, were like the brute beasts."

Today, we can better understand how time has played a little game with our Inuit cultural heritage.

Close to 504 years after Christopher Columbus "discovered" the New World (although the Norse Viking gods still venomously object to this common perception), the passage of time has done wonders for my apparel, my daily diet and my speech.

And what of my behaviour? I may seem to appear tamer today after a restful sleep, but I am still, deep inside, a brute beast.

In the past, when I began to understand better about my people's history, I used to ponder about having been born too late and in the wrong era.

This came about because of my enormous curiosity about how it really was in the days before contact with the outside world. It's incredible for me to be sitting here now as a part of that "outside world".

My ancestors were absorbed into a world that could not stand still. And if they showed any resistance to that change, history has shown there was scant trace of it.

The little we know about Inuit prehistory is a treasury of bold beginnings by my ancestors. They used a wealth of primitive technology in their constant struggle to keep ahead of the climate, which is one of the harshest on earth to live in.

My generation will never be able to duplicate or experience the lives they led. This thought brings a little sadness, since it is unlikely now that we will ever get to know or understand how it is to be an "Inummarik"-- a real Inuk, in the true sense of the word.

I am, nevertheless, proud of the bravery of my ancestors in the way they were able to treat a harsh land with such gentleness.

There are many things we can learn about the philosophy they had about life. The philosophy is a great source of spiritual energy we should all try to grasp and use in a positive way to work towards the betterment of our lives in our modern communities. This may mean that we give greater effort into understanding exactly who they were. I cannot emphasize this too strongly.

We have a moral and ethical responsibility to continue the saga that unfolded thousands of years ago when prehistoric Inuit faced nature squarely in the bosom and lived within it in harmony; by being able to understand its environment and following its laws.

Their ability to survive the odds against them is still a mystery to some of us because, as we sit comfortably in our heated homes, we have not lived or felt the hard struggles they faced against the many forces of nature.

Maybe someday someone will invent a time machine which will let us go back to the origins of the Inuit and we can then discover first-hand how they lived.

But for today, we can only rely on archaeologists and, more importantly, our immediate elders to provide us with some details of the past Inuit culture since a time machine is unlikely to be invented in the near future.

It is not enough to appreciate our past. It is too rich a culture for any of us to abandon and hope that it will somehow survive the continuing threats it faces daily from, among others, modern communications and cultural change, imported by dominant societies to the south and elsewhere.

In the year 1830, John Ross, an English explorer, wrote in his journal: "If a moralist is inclined to speculate on the nature and distribution of happiness in this world, (let him consider the Eskimo): a horde so small, and so secluded, occupying so apparently helpless a country, so barren, so wild, and so repulsive; and yet enjoying the most perfect vigor, the most well-fed health."

A modern-day explorer can use the same words and still be close to explaining the truth about the nature of the Inuit and his environment.

The only difference is that he will find 20th century dwellings grouped together in small communities all across the circumpolar Arctic. Long gone are clusters of nomadic camps that dotted the secluded, helpless country.

To the naked eye, the land still seems barren and wild, and sometimes considered repulsive when one is caught in the perfect vigor of unpredictability of the harsh winter weather. A well-fed health did bring happiness to the Inuit as it does today. And the horde is still small in comparison to the burgeoning population of the world.

If today's moralist is to speculate the nature and happiness of the present-day Inuit, he is bound to be a little surprised by what history has done to us since that day in 1830; we are still very happy to be alive!

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Letters to the Editor

Helped in time of need

I would like to thank the nurses and doctors for everything they tried to do for my late mother Seepoola Nowdluk, who recently passed away from cervical cancer on the evening of Feb. 4, 1996.

We watched her suffer for a long time as we were suffering with her. I would also like to thank Martha Flaherty and the staff of Pauktuutit for helping pay my way back to Iqaluit from Ottawa on such short notice.

Martha Flaherty and her staff at PIWA also helped with travel arrangements. If it hadn't been for them I would not have made it to see my mother while she was still alive and aware.

My family and myself are really grateful to Martha Flaherty's kindness, and most of all for being there when I needed someone.

I would also like to thank my aunts, uncles, family and friends for caring and for taking the time to be there for my mom and my family while she suffered in agony from the forsaken illness they call cancer. She will be dearly missed by all of us.

Nancy Nowdluk

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Commission did good job

The three people who make up the Commission on MLA Compensation deserve a lot of praise for the report released this week by Sam Gargan, the Speaker of the legislative assembly.

Like the new MLA salary system that they've proposed, their report is clear, simple, and well-researched.

That, all by itself, is a refreshing change, especially for the GNWT. But chairman Joel Fournier, along with commissioners Jim Bourque and Anne Crawford, also deserve praise for emphasizing the right principles: fairness and the public's simple right to know how much their legislators are paid.

By rights, MLAs should not need to be told by an appointed commission that the public has a right to know how their money is spent, and why.

But it's easy to forget that the NWT legislative assembly has been a rapidly evolving institution. It wasn't so long ago that MLAs--or "territorial councillors" as they were known in the 1970s, were considered to be part-time workers.

And in the days before the legislative assembly evolved into a more or less responsible government, many territorial legislators didn't know any more about what the territorial government was spending than the public did. That's because most decision were imposed unilaterally by federal bureaucrats.

But all that's changed, and it's essential that we find a new way of paying MLAs that recognizes their new role, as well as the rights of the public.

The commission's report--with some exceptions--goes a long way towards achieving that.

First of all, replacing the patchwork mish-mash of "indemnities" and "allowances" now paid to MLAs with a single salary is long overdue. It's easier to understand, and reflects the fact that MLAs now perform full-time jobs.

Equally overdue is the recommendation that the new system be open and transparent. There ought to be no question that any one who wants to find out how much their MLA is paid ought to be handed that information automatically.

For that matter, the amounts of money paid to all other government employees--especially deputy ministers, program heads, regional superintendents and other senior managers--should also be available to the public.

There are some recommendations, however, that MLAs ought to scrutinize more closely after the commission's report is tabled in the legislative assembly later this month.

Although the system of perks and privileges handed out to cabinet ministers would be tightened up considerably under the commission's recommendations, there would still be a big gap between what's paid to ordinary MLAs and what's paid to cabinet ministers.

This contradicts the stated goal of most territorial politicians, and how the consensus system has recently evolved.

Many times, territorial politicians have said they want ordinary MLAs to sit side-by-side with cabinet ministers in the development of policy and legislation.

The consensus makes it a lot easier to do that. Unencumbered by party loyalties, independently-elected MLAs are free to say and contribute what they wish to the political process.

So if MLAs are to be nearly equal in importance to cabinet ministers, then the legislative assembly's salary system should reflect that. And it's hard to see how many cabinet ministers warrant a base salary that starts at around $109,000 a year anyway. Many ministers aren't elected to cabinet for their talents, but for political and symbolic reasons.

The need to have balanced cabinet representation from all regions in the NWT unfortunately guarantees that some cabinet ministers will be weak, incompetent, and heavily reliant on either their deputy ministers or other cabinet members.

Lastly, with the creation of Nunavut only three years away, MLAs should consider whether the new package proposed by the commission will work for Nunavut.

But despite its minor shortcomings, the commission's report presents badly needed reforms in the way our MLAs are paid. MLAs should take it seriously. JB

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These materials are Copyright (C) 1996 Nortext Publishing Corporation (Iqaluit), and may be freely distributed throughout the Internet, or other electronic computer networks or bulletin boards, as long as this notice remains intact and the articles are reproduced in their entirety. These materials may not be reprinted for commercial publication in print or other media without the permission of the publisher.

Last updated March 8, 1996
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