Nunavut MLAs throw another roadblock in front of child, youth advocate
Speaker Hunter Tootoo casts tie-breaker to defeat government
(updated at 10:00 a.m.)
Puzzled and frustrated, Premier Eva Aariak walked out of the Nunavut legislature March 4 after suffering a defeat that will see people in the territory wait even longer to see an independent child and youth advocate created for Nunavut.
Late in the afternoon, most regular MLAs voted in favour of a motion that asks for an additional 120 days of consultation on Bill 40, the Representative for Children and Youth Act Act, which would create an independent child and youth advocate office in Nunavut.
Nanulik MLA Johnny Ningeongan, chair of the committee of the whole, moved the motion, saying Inuit haven’t had a chance to learn about the act.
He said the MLAs committee wants to hold public hearings “in a number of communities over the coming months” and that they will issue a detailed schedule in the near future.
Aariak and the other five cabinet ministers in the house voted against the motion. Environment Minister James Arreak, the seventh minister, is in Thailand this week attending the CITES gathering.
Nattilik MLA Jeannie Ugyuk and Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliot voted with the government in opposition to the motion, but eight other regular MLAs voted in favour of it.
The result was a rare 8-8 tie, which was broken by Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo, the speaker, whose decision to support the motion came at the same time as the honking of a school bus outside, causing many in the assembly chamber to laugh.
“The results are eight for the motion and eight against the motion. I would say that the will of the House is not known as it’s a tie. In order to allow the process to continue, a longstanding tradition to ensure that the process can proceed, I will be voting in favour of the motion,” Tootoo said.
“I declare the motion carried. Did anyone have that orchestrated?” he quipped, referring to honking horn.
Aariak opposed the delay, saying MLAs should ensure Bill 40 continues to move through the Legislative Assembly.
“I urge all members of the legislature to carefully consider this motion. The time for action is now,” Aariak said.
Members of the legislature’s standing committee had already requested, and gained 120 days to consider Bill 40 last November.
And Keith Peterson, MLA for Cambridge Bay, where the idea for a child advocate was first suggested, urged an end to more consultation on Bill 40.
“You can’t keep consulting, consulting, consulting and consulting because tough decisions don’t get made on these important issues,” he said.
But Tununiq MLA Joe Enook, who, like Akulliq MLA John Ningark, spoke in favour of the motion, said he wanted “a little bit time” to talk more to ordinary people, who are unemployed, not RCMP members or social workers and elders. He maintained that the feedback on the bill had been “one-sided.
Enook also said a few members continued to have concerns about the bill.
“What about the elders? What about the guardians? What will happen to them if we enact this legislation?” he said.
After the vote, Aariak told Nunatsiaq News that it is “unfortunate” the act will be delayed even longer.
She said she couldn’t understand how anyone couldn’t support something that would benefit children in Nunavut.
Now a new round of costly, public consultations will take place, likely during the spring and summer when many in Nunavut go out on the land.
In her criticism of the motion for extension, Aariak pointed to the many consultations that have already been completed, including teleconferences, questionnaires, a toll-free telephone line and a voice mailbox to solicit feedback and numerous other meetings with organizations that represent Inuit and youth.
Bill 40 also had the support of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., whose president Cathy Towtongie wrote that “this legislation will provide a much needed voice for children and youth in Nunavut. This will be an opportunity to ensure that the rights of our children and youth are upheld and protected.”
Last June, the Legislative Assembly sent out a call for submissions on Bill 40 last June via the its website.
“I understand that, to date, the standing committee has not received any submissions from the public. Mr. Speaker, perhaps this is because of the very extensive consultations that the government undertook in developing Bill 40. People have had their say and we have listened and incorporated their concerns,” Aariak said.
The bill would create an office of an independent child and youth representative for Nunavut.
As an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly, the representative would provide advice and recommendations to government to “improve the laws, programs and services for our children and youth and ensure they are effective and relevant,” Aariak said.
And in exercising his or her duties, the representative for children and youth “must apply Inuit societal values,” she said.
Bill 40 also ensures that:
• the concerns of children and youth relating to government services receive appropriate attention;
• the rights and interests of children and youth are protected and advanced by the Government of Nunavut;
• the views of children and youth are considered by government departments and designated authorities; and,
• children and youth have access to the services of government departments and designated authorities.