Disasters slowed the GN but did not deter mandate, Nunavut premier says
Taptuna counts Education Act amendments, response to burned schools and new Pang power plant among GN's accomplishments
Unexpected setbacks caused by fires that destroyed two schools and a power plant “slowed things down” for the territorial government in the past four years, but it’s all part of the job Premier Peter Taptuna said March 14.
In the legislative assembly’s last day of its winter sitting, the premier said successful responses to those three disasters rank among the Government of Nunavut’s biggest achievements since the 2013 territorial election.
That’s in addition to extensive reviews on the Education Act and the Public Service Act, as Taptuna’s government heads into the final six months of its mandate.
A writ of election will be issued Sept. 25 for a territorial election to be held Oct. 30, 2016. The assembly has only two more sittings on its calendar, in early June and mid September.
The government, earlier this month, tabled Bill 37, which contains extensive amendments to the 2008 version of the Education Act, covering on schooling and language of instruction.
“That was one of our biggest priorities,” Taptuna said.
The original act called for an update in five years’ time, and the task was left to Taptuna’s government at the start of its mandate in the fall of 2013.
Taptuna’s cabinet had barely started its work in November 2013, when it receive the Office of the Auditor General of Canada’s devastating report on Nunavut’s education system.
The auditor reported the territory cannot meet its target of creating a bilingual education system from kindergarten to Grade 12 by 2020.
A special committee on education promptly set out to draft recommendations to amend the Education Act.
Through the committee, after “many, many community consultations, many back-and-forth letters on the education act,” the government finally tabled Bill 37 last week.
“That’s quite an accomplishment,” Taptuna said, adding “there are still a lot of things that need a lot of work.”
The legislative assembly will review the education bill in more detail during its spring sitting, which begins May 29.
The premier also counted the completion of the territory’s Public Service Act as another accomplishment in its work on legislation, which took eight years of work by his and the previous government before it finally passed.
Meanwhile, Taptuna pointed out those disasters in three communities called for the government’s immediate attention, starting with a fire that struck Pangnirtung’s power plant in April 2015.
“It’s one of those things that you fear the most, where you lose power in the middle of winter,” he said.
“But with the good cooperation [between Nunavut government officials and ministers] and assistance from the Northwest Territories, we managed to get things working again in Pangnirtung without any accidents, injuries, or loss of life.”
Added to this were two other fires, caused by youthful arsonists, that destroyed elementary schools in Cape Dorset and Kugaaruk. No loss of life was reported in either fire.
“It was a dire situation,” the premier said of the Cape Dorset blaze, which struck just five months after the Pangnirtung incident.
“We had to coordinate people to make sure that things were taken care of—the needs of our people and the students.”
A similar incident hit Kugaardjuk School in Kugaaruk last month, where the government has already made arrangements to continue classes for kindergarten to Grade 12 and ship portable classrooms to the community this summer.
“These are dire situations and they can happen again,” Taptuna said. “I’ve got to commend the members that ensured there’s open communication between the government and the community.”
Pat Angnakak, MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu, asked the premier what advice he would provide for the next assembly.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said, adding that the government has already started to map out a transition plan to help the next government take the reins of power.
“With help from all departments, we will ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.”
The premier’s answers to Pat Angnakak’s questions echoed other statements on the final day of the winter sitting, which largely looked to the government’s objectives for its final six months, and what work this would leave for the new government that follows.
Tom Sammurtok, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, put those questions in a broader context, as he remarked the country would shortly be celebrating its 150th birthday.
“It has been said that our country is a work in progress. Here in Nunavut we continue our journey towards healing and reconciliation,” Sammurtok said, noting that the High Arctic relocations and residential schools abuses “have left a painful legacy, and we must acknowledge that there are still unresolved issues today that manifest themselves in such tragic ways as suicide and abuse.”
“Mr. Speaker, it has also been said ‘the world needs more Canada.’ I say this is true, but I also say Canada needs more Nunavut.”
On that note, Sammurtok said he hoped the territorial and federal governments would soon make progress on connecting Nunavut to the rest of the nation by building roads.
“After a century and a half of existence, our country’s single largest jurisdiction should not remain so isolated and I look forward to progress being made on the nation-building Manitoba-Kivalliq road project.”