Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 31, 2016 - 4:00 pm

Show us your record on Nunavut human resources, Peterson tells Okalik

Finance minister deflects questions on creation of public service commission

JIM BELL
Human Resources Minister Keith Peterson, middle, address the legislature's committee of the whole June 2, 2016 with Deputy Finance Minister Chris D'Arcy, to his right, and Jeff Chown, Nunavut's comptroller general. In that sitting of the committee, Peterson fielded numerous questions about human resource functions that the Department of Finance is now responsible for. (PHOTOS BY LISA GREGOIRE)
Human Resources Minister Keith Peterson, middle, address the legislature's committee of the whole June 2, 2016 with Deputy Finance Minister Chris D'Arcy, to his right, and Jeff Chown, Nunavut's comptroller general. In that sitting of the committee, Peterson fielded numerous questions about human resource functions that the Department of Finance is now responsible for. (PHOTOS BY LISA GREGOIRE)

Finance Minister Keith Peterson fended off questions from Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik on the Government of Nunavut’s human resource policies Oct. 28 by issuing a challenge: show us your record too.

Okalik, who served as premier of Nunavut between 1999 and 2008, had asked Peterson about when the current government will carry out a resolution MLAs passed this past June that demanded the creation of an independent public service commission to oversee GN staffing.

That’s the same question that Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak had already asked four days earlier, on Oct. 24.

“We have heard enough as members of the grievances and the challenges our employees face under the current structure,” Okalik said.

But Peterson replied by attacking one of Okalik’s premises: Okalik’s claim that the GN’s human resource problems have never been worse.

So he answered Okalik by suggesting that when Okalik served as premier, the GN’s personnel problems were as bad, if not worse than they are now.

“I would love nothing more than to table all the information we have here, all the sensitive lawsuits, all the fact-finding meetings that our department goes through, and I would love to go back to 1999, bring it right on up to March 31, 2013 that clearly shows there were more problems under the old structure than there are under the new structure,” Peterson said.

“It’s good to see the former minister and former premier so eager to improve the public service. He knows we’ve been dealing with issues since 1999 in trying to improve the HR department,” Peterson said.

Peterson also pointed to reports that unearthed embarrassing revelations about the old Department of Human Resources, such as the Auditor General of Canada Sheila Fraser’s highly critical 2010 report.

That report was based on research that Fraser’s staff began doing in 2008, Okalik’s last year as premier.

In response to the numerous problems and failures described in that report, the GN eventually decided in 2012 to scrap the human resources department and split its functions between the Department of Finance and the Department of Executive.

That’s why, since March 2013, the Department of Finance has handled the recruitment of GN employees and other human resource tasks.

But in June 2016, citing persistent allegations of workplace harassment and other problems, Angnakak persuaded all regular MLAs to pass a motion that calls on the GN to get rid of its new way of doing human resources and replace it with a system borrowed from Yukon: an independent public service commission.

All cabinet members, however, voted against the motion, which passed because regular MLAs supported in unanimously.

When the Human Resources department was dissolved in 2013, GN officials defended the move by saying they had followed a recommendation made by the well-known consultant and former territorial civil servant, Ken Lovely.

But when Lovely’s report became public in January 2016, it turned out that Lovely had actually recommended keeping the Human Resources department intact, with some changes.

One of Lovely’s proposed changes was to move labour relations—which covers negotiations with unions—to the Department of Finance, but he said Human Resources should continue to be in charge of staffing.

Okalik told Peterson that the arms-length Yukon Public Service Commission now appears to be a cheaper solution for staffing than what the GN does now.

But Peterson said if Okalik and Angnakak have information and evidence on the issue that they want to share, then they should table it in the assembly.

Peterson said the government has disclosed to MLAs all the reasons they had for dissolving the old Human Resources department.

“I did announce it publicly. It was done here in the House, three budget addresses, full caucus meetings and I put everything on the table. I’d invite Mr. Okalik and Ms. Angnakak to table their information in the House so that we can examine it here publicly what they have that makes them so sure that a public service commission is the way to go. Please do that,” Peterson said.

As for the possibility of establishing a public service commission, Peterson said GN staff are still working on a response to last June’s motion.

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