They’re back: Nunavut MLAs start final session Sept. 5
Writ for Oct. 28 election to be issued Sept. 23
With the last sitting of the third Nunavut Legislative Assembly set to start Sept. 5 in Iqaluit, MLAs will try to pass a range of bills before the house dissolves for the Oct. 28 territorial election campaign.
Among these: an act to amend the Liquor Act. This amendment could pave the way for retail beer and liquor sales in Nunavut some time in the future.
And the Public Service Act is also up for debate.
That bill will add a code of value and ethics, and create an independent ethics officer. It will also add a process through which government employees can blow the whistle on wrongdoings within the government, confidentially.
Quittiktuq MLA Ron Elliott said that on the liquor issue, there are two strongly opposed opinions in the house.
“Some people feel like no liquor, no spirits, nothing — it’s just too dangerous. And you’ve got the other side, where it should be free flowing kind of idea,” Elliott said.
“[So] the liquor act will end up being an election issue for some people,” Elliott said.
That’s because this is the last sitting before the current government is dissolved on Sept. 22, with a writ to be issued Sept. 23 for an election scheduled for Oct. 28.
And that means this sitting could last longer, said John Quirke, the clerk of the assembly.
“I expect a few of them will reflect back on what they’ve accomplished and what they’ll like to see in the future,” Quirke said, adding that there are no time limits to replies to the opening address, which might push back the end date of the sitting.
These replies to the opening address can often serve as a kind of campaign platform for MLAs planning on running for re-election.
For now, the end of the assembly sitting is tentatively set for Sept. 17, although this date could be pushed back until Sept. 20.
“It will all depend on progress in the house of course — how bills will be handled in the committee of the whole,” Quirke said.
Elliott said it’s the last time MLAs will get to shine the spotlight on themselves before the election.
“I’m kind of excited, because it’s like at the end of the school year — you’re wrapping everything up and you want to make sure you tie up all the loose ends, and make sure that we have done the best for our constituents,” he said.
“I know for myself my tactic is [it’s] our last kick of the can to get issues that continue on for a couple years.”
Quirke and Elliott expect to see long debates on housing in the territory as well.
“We had a number of members, including myself, who were upset with the allocation of housing over the next couple of years,” Elliott said. “Especially with the $100-million the federal government is kicking into the mix for new housing across the territory.”
The housing issue “could be a whole afternoon,” of debate, or longer, said Quirke.
Peter Taptuna, Nunavut’s minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corp., tabled the housing and homelessness framework and strategy in the spring legislative assembly sitting.
Although this sitting will be interesting, Quirke is already looking ahead to the next sitting after the elections.
After the October election, the number of MLAs will increase from 19 to 22, which “will create very interesting dynamics for the fourth session,” Quirke said.
Quirke said if the next assembly chooses to keep eight cabinet members, that means regular members will outnumber cabinet members by six — or five if you don’t count the speaker of the house, who acts as a referee between the two.
This lopsidedness could open the door for party politics in Nunavut, Quirke said.
Nunavut currently works on a consensus government system and MLAs are not tied to political parties.
“I’m not saying it will happen over night but I think the potential is there. Because of the increase number of members especially on the non-cabinet side,” he said.
Quirke said if bills that issue public funds are defeated in the legislative assembly, it could spell for votes of non-confidence in the government.
“Although we’re not in a party system, the defeat of a money bill does not mean a general election for us, it just means that a review of the leadership,” Quirke said.
Regardless, the legislative chambers have already been redesigned this sitting to accommodate a three more members for next session.
Bills that are currently before the assembly include:
• Bill 32 — An act to amend the Legal Services Act;
• Bill 40 — Representative for Children and Youth Act;
• Bill 58 — Public Service Act;
• Bill 64 — An act to amend the Liquor Act; and,
• Bill 66 — Plebiscites Act.
You can read all the bills on the legislative assembly’s website here.