Elder care tops priorities as Nunavut’s new gov’t sits for 1st time

The first session of the sixth assembly begins on March 7. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

‘Implementing a comprehensive elder care strategy’ is among 5 government priorities

As the first legislative sitting of Nunavut’s new government begins Monday, Premier P.J. Akeeagok will table the government’s mandate statement, which will drive the direction of the government for the next four years.

At an all-members caucus in Cambridge Bay in December, five priorities were identified for the mandate:

  • Implementing a comprehensive elder care strategy.
  • Reinvesting in education.
  • Enhancing health, mental health and addictions services.
  • Expanding the housing continuum.
  • Diversifying the economy.

The priorities come as Nunavummiut have staged protests and petitioned for better elder care in the territory, rather than sending elders to the South for long-term care.

The draft mandate statement has been shared with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. before being finalized.

“My expectations [for cabinet] are very high,” said George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Tasiluk.

“I think this is an unprecedented amount of time the cabinet’s been able to prepare for the first sitting.”

Hickes served as a cabinet minister for five and half years, but was not re-selected at the leadership forum on Nov. 17 when the new government was formed. As minister, Hickes held portfolios such as finance, justice, health and housing.

“To be around the cabinet table and see how decisions are made and how information is filtered or how it’s provided is an absolute asset that I know I bring to the table now,” said Hickes.

Hickes isn’t the only former cabinet member to cross the legislative floor. Joe Savikataaq, who served as premier in the fifth assembly, is also back as a regular member.

A file photo of George Hickes, MLA for Iqaluit-Teasiluk. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

“I know how much knowledge the premier and the minister should know,” said Savikaataq. “It is definitely an advantage having been in cabinet and going back to being a regular MLA.”

The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, John Quirke, said the chair of the standing committees will be selected through a motion this sitting.

Quirke also said the assembly will be moving away from some of its COVID-19 procedures. Since the pandemic began, in-person sittings have had members physically distanced with some sitting in the public gallery.

Members will now be back in their regular seats, sitting together and wearing masks. The gallery is still closed to the public.

4 bills on finance

Government House Leader Lorne Kusugak said getting the government’s finances in order is at the top of the agenda. He said the finance minister will bring forward four new bills that will deal with urgent needs as the current year’s budget expires at the end of March.

The new government won’t likely present a draft budget for 2022-23 until the spring sitting at the end of May.

The first bill is the Interim Appropriations Act, which would allow the government to spend money past April 1, Kusugak said.

“The finance minister will be seeking enough money — about $540 million — so that the government departments can continue to serve Nunavut until the end of June 2022,” said Kusugak.

The second bill will ask the Legislative Assembly to approve more than $200 million in new funds for 2022-23 to continue capital work and start new infrastructure projects.

“It’s quite crucial that our government continue to invest in the territorial infrastructure,” said Kusugak.

He said one of those capital projects is Rankin Inlet’s long-term care facility.

The third bill would provide supplementary funds to government departments so they can spend more than what was allocated to them in the last budget, when the fiscal year ends.

There will also be a fourth bill that shows any changes to government assets over the past year. This would show if the government gained or lost any assets: if a government building burned down, for example, then the value of that property can no longer be included in the accounting.

Kusugak says he doesn’t expect any “surprises” this session as the new government needs to deal with housekeeping matters.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Elders, internet and COVID-19 dominate most recent meeting of regional gov in Arctic Quebec, Eye on the Arctic

Jackie McKay, CBC News

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