Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 19, 2016 - 11:45 am

Big, complex Nunavut needs more MPs, speakers tell electoral committee

Voting age, mobile polls and more reps for Nunavut, among the topics at Iqaluit consult

STEVE DUCHARME
Speakers prepare to have their say on how Canada might improve the way we elect federal MPs during an Iqaluit consultation hosted by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)
Speakers prepare to have their say on how Canada might improve the way we elect federal MPs during an Iqaluit consultation hosted by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Nunavut will need special guarantees if Ottawa goes ahead with changing Canada’s federal election process.

That much was apparent among the diverse range of opinions offered by witnesses during an evening appearance before the Special Committee on Electoral Reform at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn, Oct. 17.

The committee is touring the country collecting data on viable alternative voting processes to replace Canada’s first-past-the-post system—a promise made by the Liberal government during the federal election last year.

This consultation followed an Aug. 29 consultation in Iqaluit hosted by Maryam Monsef, the federal minister of democratic institutions, a meeting that was panned by critics because it was poorly advertised, held during the day, when few could attend, and because there was no Inuktitut translation.

The special committee held sessions Oct. 17 in the afternoon and the evening, to accommodate as many speakers as possible.

Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik, alongside former Nunavut MP and New Democrat candidate Jack Anawak, Baffin Chamber of Commerce President Victor Tootoo and Iqaluit resident Franco Buscemi, told committee members that Nunavut risks losing its identity on the national stage if the country moves towards alternative electoral systems—among them, proportional representation.

“I would have reservations about proportional representation,” Okalik told the committee, warning against a system that would almost certainly guarantee a string of minority governments.

“Being a Canadian, I would be concerned such a system could fracture our nation into regional, linguistic and cultural divisions,” he said, adding—if he had to choose—an alternative ballot system would be the simplest solution for Nunavut.

Anawak—also opposed to proportional representation—called instead for an additional seat in the House of Commons for Nunavut, citing the immense travelling distances and expenses incurred by a single MP representing a constituency one-fifth the size of Canada.

Buscemi echoed Anawak’s plea for more guaranteed seats for Nunavut in Parliament, but suggested MPs and senators representing each of Nunavut’s three regions: Qikiqtaaluk, Kivalliq and Kitikmeot.

“The system we have now, I don’t think it’s broken,” added Tootoo, who said the real problem was voter apathy.

“You need to be able to incite people to vote. It’s not with a stick, I think you do it with a carrot.”

Tootoo called for mobile polling stations that can be brought to elders to vote, or people with disabilities.

“Who really cares when the next election is?” Buscemi said, if many Nunavummiut struggle with poverty, abuse and housing shortages.

All four witnesses supported lowering the voting age to 16-years-old.

“Because of [a 16-year-old’s] instant access to education… regarding our electoral system [in high school] you’ll have more informed voters,” Tootoo said.

Special committee member and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May defended Justin Trudeau’s promise to replace the current electoral model.

“Mr. Trudeau said very clearly 2015 would be the last election held under first-past-the-post,” May said, adding that 63 per cent of voters in last year’s election voted for parties that supported changing the electoral system.

“Its unusual over the course of our hearing across the country to hear so many people saying [they] don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Okalik responded to May he had “no strong views” on the current system, but reiterated that an alternative ballot system would be best for Nunavut if the government insists on changing the electoral process.

“I’m Liberal and I voted Liberal but they already broke some promises for Inuit anyways, so they can break this promise easily,” he said

“In order to support it, it would have to be made very clear. This is Nunavut and it’s different than any other jurisdiction in Canada,” Anawak added.

“You’re talking about potentially disenfranchising whole factions of our nations, so I would insist on a vote for our country if we’re going to change it drastically,” Okalik said, in reference to a national referendum on electoral reform.

The Special Committee on Electoral Reform concludes its tour with a final consultation in Ottawa, Oct. 26.

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