‘The interests of Nunavummiut have seen some advancement’: Nunavut premier

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As Peter Taptuna told the legislative assembly Sept. 18, Nunavut is young and dynamic.

“At times, we struggle to find our footing, but above all else we have hope, resiliency, strength and passion,” he said.

Peter Taptuna led Nunavut’s Fourth Legislative Assembly as premier from Nov. 15, 2013 to Sept. 24, 2017.
photo courtesy Government of Nunavut

He also called the Government of Nunavut “mature” the week before, in response to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s (NTI) release of a report projecting an estimated $1.28 billion in lost wages to Inuit from 2017 to 2023.
Young and mature, the territory and government are frequently dependent on outside forces to move forward.

In conversation with Nunavut News ahead of the dissolution of the Fourth Assembly, Taptuna was calmly disappointed by the lack of forward movement on land and resource devolution negotiations, and the federal government’s unilateral moratorium on oil and gas development in Arctic waters, as well as carbon tax and the imminent legalization of cannabis.

Taptuna said he was proud that his government made stronger ties with Inuit organizations and the Government of Canada, but progress is slow.

“There was more left to restart in some cases,” he said.

Taptuna and Stephen Harper’s Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt appointed federal and territorial devolution negotiators in October 2014. But the election of a Liberal government in the fall of 2015 stalled the process. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) Minister Carolyn Bennett announced a new federal negotiator on Nunavut Day 2016.

“It is anticipated that an agreement in principal or AIP will be completed within a year. NTI has been a strong partner with us at that negotiating table, and we appreciate that support,” Taptuna later said in the legislative assembly.

Regarding carbon pricing and the imminent legalization of cannabis: “We were really not consulted.”

Taptuna said dealing with such moves is “not something that you just do overnight. There are many, many moving parts to that.”

Being the most expensive jurisdiction, “it’s very difficult to bring our cost down when more and more legislation is put in by Ottawa which actually drives up the cost of living throughout the Arctic.”

 Meanwhile, at the territorial level …

But, Taptuna said, the interests of Nunavummiut have seen some advancement.

“We’ve done a lot of work on our existing programs to make them more effective and efficient, and making programs more beneficial for the people of Nunavut,” said Taptuna.

One huge undertaking he noted is the review and overhaul of the government’s social assistance programs.

“And the delivery of harvester programs. Of course, the country food program along with our many, many recommendations to the minister of INAC on Nutrition North Canada. There’s still a lot of work to do on the federal side because we’re not at this point able to calculate the program actually being utilized to its fullest for our people.”

Taptuna’s government did conduct an extensive review of the Education Act, which led to proposed legislation, the controversial Bill 37. That bill died in the legislative assembly Sept. 14. Ahead of the vote, Taptuna said failing to pass that bill would be one of his disappointments.

However, he’s proud of efforts to make government more accessible to seniors, and of the work done on suicide prevention during his term.

“We renewed the suicide prevention strategy with our partners – Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., RCMP and Embrace Life Council – with commitments that I’d made within the administration to deal with this very, very important issue,” said Taptuna.

“I named a person to be in charge of that, reporting directly to cabinet. It’s ongoing. It’s a difficult task to deal with, but at least we’ve made the efforts and only time will tell if it’s going to improve the numbers.”

Another accomplishment of his government, Taptuna said, is the new law program that began earlier this month at Nunavut Arctic College, in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

“That’s really encouraging because I want to see Inuit professionals, professional Nunavummiut, come into the workforce and live in Nunavut. I’d like to see engineers, pilots, geologists, biologists, water chemists, doctors, lawyers, nurses,” he said.

“Money is always an issue when it comes to training people, but we’ve done quite a bit of training. Also, within the government we’ve been implementing an HR (human resources) strategy.”

A $255.5 million settlement agreement between the GN, NTI and the Government of Canada led to $175 million being used to create the Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corp. in early 2016. Taptuna said that helps in making long-term plans.

On Sept. 18, Taptuna gave a fuller accounting of the government’s mandate, Sivumut Abluqta, in the legislative assembly, wherein he touched on infrastructure investments, mining and the economy, and bills and legislation passed.

“I am so proud of our work,” Taptuna told his colleagues, “and look forward to what the next assembly will accomplish as we continue to step forward together.”

To Nunavut News/North he said, “We were trying to make an easier transition, where we prepared a lot of policy and legislation to make the transition easier for future governments to get into.”

Taptuna has not yet indicated whether or not he will run for his constituency of Kugluktuk in the election scheduled for Oct. 30.

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Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.

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