Premier Joe Savikataaq says he’s always stated Nunavut has three critical needs: a territorial treatment centre, an in-territory Elders’ centre and more money for more houses.
But, during a Dec. 14 interview, Savikataaq first addressed the chaos in the legislative assembly between the October 2017 election and the present, including Paul Quassa’s ousting as premier and Pat Angnakak quitting cabinet after she was stripped of her duties.
“We had a bit of a rough time for a while but, not to worry, we’re here to carry out our mandate. We have so many issues that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, we had side issues come and sideline us a bit,” said Savikataaq.
“I’m here to make sure to steer the ship in the right direction on a steady path so we can fulfill our mandate and give Nunavummiut what they deserve. All of us MLAs want to leave Nunavut in a better state than when we came.”
Savikataaq says conversations are underway on both an Elders’ centre and a trauma and treatment centre for the territory.
“We’re working on trying to get Elders’ care within Nunavut, still. But Nunavummiut should know and understand that we’re negotiating with the federal government. We just don’t have the finances to just get it up and done, and do it on our own,” he said.
“We’re looking at different alternatives, too, in terms of trying to get a physical structure in place while this government is still here. Big projects like that are on a five-year capital plan cycle. As you know, we’re a four-year government. Negotiations are in progress.”
The premier says the Department of Health is also in negotiations with the feds on funding for a trauma and treatment centre.
“The angle that the Department of Health is going on that is since cannabis is legalized now. The federal government legalized it, therefore they should be able to fund us to deal with the negative consequences that could happen from cannabis being legalized,” he said.
“They’ve been hinting, but we don’t have anything concrete.”
Finally, Nunavut continues to need funding for houses.
“We need more houses for overcrowding, food insecurity and all the other ills that come with an overcrowded house. There’s not one good thing that comes from an overcrowded house. You’ve got health issues, you’ve got mold issues, you have no-attendance issues, you’ve got family violence issues. The list goes on and on and on,” said Savikataaq.
This year, Human Resources will be its own department. Savikataaq says it’s very much needed.
“It won’t be on its own until April 1, when the budgets come out, but we have a designated minister now, a designated deputy minister. The deputy minister’s job is to get the office operational by April 1. The mandate will be, after April 1, to try to get the Inuit employment numbers up and try to fill all the vacancies. Those are the two key areas I will instruct them to concentrate on,” he said.
The new department will also have a “robust” Inuit employment division. Savikataaq says every department has an Inuit employment plan.
“They’re all in the draft phase,” he said, adding, “The GN is looking strategically at where there are gaps, where job descriptions can be re-written, where there can be mentorships, job laddering, shadowing, internships.”
Speaking of Inuit employment as ongoing and evolving situation, Savikataaq notes there’s a very small pool of educated, qualified, trained Inuit.
“So we have to work to increase that pool that is available, for not just the GN. The federal government, the mining companies, the Inuit organizations, the businesses – they all want them,” he said.
“We’re doing all we can to get our Inuit employment up. But Inuit gotta help out, too. They gotta get educated. They gotta be willing to get trained. I tell you, if you’re a well-educated, trained Inuk, you will never be unemployed. There’s a big demand for that niche there,” he said.
Looking ahead to this time next year, Savikataaq says he’d like to announce successful negotiations with the federal government for the much-needed centres for Elder care and trauma and addictions treatment.
“To say, ‘There’s money coming in now, so you can’t turn back.’ There’s no physical way that we could do it within one year, even if we got the money now. But I’d like to say that these projects have started, there’s a building being put here, there’s a foundation. And that the federal government gave us more money to build more houses.”
He adds another wish for 2019:
“The one real one that I guess you could say is possible is when all 22 MLAs are happy and working together.”
Premier Joe Savikataaq’s snapshots of accomplishments and works in progress:
“We’re still negotiating. The federal government was hoping for an AIP (agreement in principle) by the end of this calendar year. Obviously, that’s not happening. We’re contemplating that they’ll have an offer for us somewhere in the new year.”
On the Qulliq Energy Corporation:
“QEC has put through net metering where private individuals can put up renewable energy and offset their own cost of power. QEC has also changed their Act so that they can buy power independently from commercial renewable sources, too.”
On the Education Act:
“We’ve been working on the Ed Act review and that’s ongoing. They would have been done (Dec. 12) but they had weather issues so Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk are the only communities left to be consulted with. We’re trying very hard to get the amendments in and get the amendments passed within this government.
“I’m not sure of the timeline (to table a bill for consideration) but sooner than the last government – as long as it’s done properly, but within the timeframe. With the last government, it was just introduced too late.”
“We need to have a bilingual education, but we can’t force people to be bilingual certified teachers.”
On GN workers speaking Inuktitut:
“I know the former premier did state that Inuktitut was going to be mandatory for GN workers, but that was never a government position. It never went through cabinet. Nunavummiut should be able to get the service they want in the language they choose. If it’s Inuktitut then they should be able to be served in Inuktitut. If government workers want to learn Inuktitut, it’s there for them to learn. But to say it’s mandatory and if you don’t learn to speak Inuktitut, you’re gone … that doesn’t make sense to me.”
On sexual harassment in the workplace:
“What I’ve done is there’s a new working group – female DMs (deputy ministers) are working with Pauktutiit. All that is going to coincide with the harassment policy for the new HR (Human Resources) department. All that is coming together.”
On the Department of Family Services:
“We recently changed the income support program a bit so that there’s more money available for single people.”
On the Department of Economic Development and Transportation:
“The two biggest issues are the port and marine infrastructure here in Iqaluit and in Pond. They’re on schedule and on budget. Both should be completed by the end of summer 2019.”
On the Department of Environment:
“They’ve just had, with the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, their hearing for polar bear management. It’s in draft form right now. The board will be giving the department a final draft to look at and approve, if it’s agreeable.”
On the Department of Culture and Heritage:
“They’re just going along and doing their thing.”
On the Department of Health:
“They had successful TB screening clinics, one in Qikiqtarjuaq and Whale Cove just finished up. The federal government has committed to eliminating TB and is working with ITK. I think there are plans for other communities, because the uptake has been so good. ”
On the Department of Finance:
“They’re getting smaller now because HR is going out – but one of the things they’ve done and had to do is the Cannabis Bill, because that was more or less forced on us. That was very time-sensitive because it had to be done by a set date. ”
On the Department of Community and Government Services:
“CGS is working on connecting Nunavummiut more with infrastructure. They’re working with Northwestel to upgrade all the bandwidth in all the communities. That should be fully operational sometime in the summer of 2019. They’re also working on getting fibre from Greenland to Iqaluit. It would go to Kimmirut and back overland to Iqaluit.
“The medical and duty travel contract will be coming out shortly. The tender for RFP (request for proposals) will come out very shortly. It will be open for a few months because it’s very complex and very … it’s a big contract. It’s probably going to be a five-year deal, with options to extend.”
On the relationship between GN and NTI:
“We’re here to work with them. The land claims is our contract and we have to work with them. We’re doing our best to work with them. We consult with them. It seems that no matter what we do, they always say we haven’t consulted enough.”
“It would be very unfair to have an overall blanket statement on it because they work with each department differently. On some projects they’re working together very well, others there’s a bit of hiccups here and there. For example, on devolution we work as one team. There’s no issues whatsoever. Then you go to the Ed Act and there’s a few issues there.”