Education, housing top the list in Iqaluit’s eastern ridings
Many candidates support higher standards in schools, oppose social promotion
Though they’re Iqaluit’s most crowded races in the territorial election, voters in the city’s two eastern-most ridings showed Oct. 26 that they want the next territorial government to deal with similar concerns: mental health, housing, language education and social promotion.
Questions on Nunavut education, the Inuktitut language, housing, mental health, and the city dominated the dialogue with the candidates of Iqaluit-Tasiluk and Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu at an all-candidates forum organized by Iqaluit residents with the CFRT francophone community radio station.
Education dominated the Iqaluit-Tasiluk round of the forum, where outgoing premier and education minister Eva Aariak fielded questions, along with four other candidates.
Candidate George Hickes pointed to the reason for the concern — that Nunavut’s education system ranks “last in Canada, yet we’re the youngest population in Canada.”
Like other candidates, Hickes called for higher standards and an end to social promotion.
Aariak called for reform the Nunavut Education Act, which is not fully in force.
“It’s a requirement to review after five years, so we’re in the right position to do it,” she said.
“Although it has not been completely implemented, as we go along I hear so many concerns about education that I think a review at this time is prudent,” Aariak said.
Hickes had a different opinion. “I think there’s been too much focus on reopening the legislation,” he said.
“Let’s start by talking to the grassroots people that are teaching our children, talk to the teachers – what kinds of ideas do they have? And explore options with other MLAs.”
Gideonie Joamie agreed with Aariak on the need to reform the act, adding that more attention should be given to reforming general education programs for adults, to ensure that their qualifications are recognized throughout the country.
Travis Cooper, who also said he opposes social promotion, said Nunavut must bring its standards in line with the rest of the country, up to certified “pan-Canadian standards.”
He also said Nunavut should participate in national standardized tests.
The protection and promotion of Inuktitut emerged within the education question. Cooper said the various dialects of the language present a challenge, and too much focus on the Inuit language at an early age could set back children’s progress in English later.
Joamie said lack of technical and scientific terms in Inuktitut mean the language has limited use for higher education.
“It’s imperative that we develop terminologies in Inuktitut language, for it to survive,” he said, adding that the government’s Uqausivut Plan must implement this.
The need for mental health programs in Nunavut, to deal primarily with addictions and high suicide rates, came up in a question that alleged “the government has not made it a priority,” and asked what the candidates would do to address it.
Patterk Netser agreed that support for mental health seemed to be ignored despite the suicide rate.
Aariak and Hickes added that Nunavut must provide more social programs within the territory, rather than “shipping problems out of our jurisdiction,” Hickes said.
“It’s costing us too much money, and it’s taking people away from their support groups,” Hickes said.
Although questions from voters about money and costs of programs did not emerge, candidate Anne Crawford started the Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu round of the forum with a reminder that the territorial government’s budget is large — and yet it has little to show for it.
“Today the budget of the government of Nunavut is well over $1 billion,” yet Nunavummiut are told there is no money for mental health and other social services which the territory urgently needs, she said.
“Why wouldn’t we have enough money?” she asked. “We need people who can dig into where priorities are, where our money is going, and find ways to use Nunavut’s resources to support programs we want and need.”
Niaqunnguu candidates agreed that social services, housing and education policy are closely related, with each feeding on the success — or failure — of the next.
“All of these things are very intertwined,” said Pat Angnakak.
The six candidates diverged on views about housing.
Methusulah Kunuk, Sytukie Joamie and Jack Anawak said they support tax breaks and housing assistance programs for homeowners as a way of encouraging homeownership, to relieve crowding in rental units and social housing.
Crawford called for a need “to take more of a life-cycle approach.”
“Housing can’t be a process of taking everyone into home-ownership,” she said.
Residents at different phases in their lives — young people, young families, older families and elderly — all have different housing needs, Crawford said, and policy must be tuned to deal with this.
Asked about their support for the Inuit language, all candidates agreed that more must be done to protect and encourage its use.
Duncan Cunningham said the Government of Nunavut falls short in this, pointing out that usage is scarce at upper management levels.
Employees at mid and lower management levels “often turn into interpreters,” he said. “That is simply unfair and we shouldn’t allow that to happen.”
Cunningham repeated his answer in a question about the hiring of Inuit in the Government of Nunavut.
Angnakak agreed, adding that language should be written in as a more important qualification, “because for a lot of the jobs, 85 per cent of the people you serve are Inuit.”
The forum ended with a question on “what candidates will do to keep skidoos off the sidewalks,” which drew laughs from the audience.
“It is the city’s business, and it’s up to Kenneth to deal with it,” said Sytukie Joamie, referring to Iqaluit city councillor Kenny Bell, who sat in the audience.
Crawford ended on a more serious note, pointing out that the city has seen huge growth in the number of vehicles in recent years, while a good part of the city’s population still walks.
“We need to balance out who has the power and who doesn’t have the power, who has the resources and who doesn’t have the resources,” she said.