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4 Northern Public Affairs, December 2013


Literacy & democracy
n October 28, 2013, Nunavummiut went to the polls
and elected twenty-two independent members to
Nunavuts fourth Assembly. Since 1999, Nunavut has op-
erated under a form of consensus government derived, in
part, from the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Terri-
tories. Under that system, the speaker, premier, and cabinet
are chosen by the newly elected members in a leadership
forum in the weeks following the territorial election.
Nunavuts fourth leadership forum was held on Novem-
ber 15, 2013. Nominees for premier, Paul Okalik (Iqaluit-Si-
naa), Paul Quassa (Aggu), and Peter Taptuna (Kugluktuk),
laid out their visions for Nunavut under their leadership.
After a long day of questions and discussion, Peter Taptuna
was elected premier in a secret ballot. George Qulaut (Amit-
tuq) was acclaimed as Speaker, while nine cabinet ministers
were selected an increase from the previous eight.
In some ways, the 2013 Nunavut election could be
characterizeo as one ol change. Taptuna is Nunavut`s nrst
premier nuent in Inuinnaqtun ano to represent a rioing out-
side of Iqaluit. There was a 68% turnover from the previous
Assembly. The number of women in the Assembly has not
changed, and because of the increase in total members, the
proportion of female MLAs has, in fact, decreased.
In other ways, this Assembly is already showing signs of
continuity. Taptuna was the only nominee who served in the
previous Assembly. In his responses at the leadership forum,
his top priorities education, economic development, and
housing were not markedly different than those of his
predecessor, Eva Aariak. The new cabinet has a mixture of
new and experienced MLAs, including both Quassa and
Okalik, the latter serving as Nunavut`s nrst premier lrom
1999 to 2008.
Consensus government was, at one time, defended as
an important innovation in Northern governance, renecting
both the nexibility ol the Westminster parliamentary sys-
tem and traditional Indigenous values. Today, in both Nun-
avut and the Northwest Territories, consensus government
is facing increasing criticism for its political and legislative
The absence of political parties, for example, means
there is no formal mechanism for developing a coherent,
broadly-shared vision for the future of the territory going
into an election. Instead, voters elect regular MLAs who in
turn elect the premier and cabinet. These MLAs may or
may not share similar views, let alone priorities, and so it
is up to the premier to marshal the necessary coherence in
cabinet while voters are left on the sidelines to watch the
process unfold.
Of course, a formal party system is not necessarily the
solution to this problem. A slate of candidates running on
a common platform could emerge to challenge the status
quo. But such a group woulo lace the oilnculties ol long
oistance organizing il it wisheo to nelo canoioates across
the territory, not to mention the work of implementing its
vision in a legislature built for consensus rather than parti-
san decision-making.
The selection of Nunavuts premier by secret ballot
has also become increasingly problematic. Members of the
public and media are unable to vet nominees for premier
during the election period, nor during the leadership forum.
And while MLAs do ask questions of the nominees, candi-
dates comprehensive visions for Nunavut remain obscure
and, usually, unarticulated. In addition, during the election,
most candidates for MLA remain mum about their leader-
ship plans, further obstructing the publics ability to eval-
uate potential premiers, ministers, and, ultimately, to take
the measure of a future government. This brings us to our
special section on literacy in this issue, curated by the Nun-
avut Literacy Council, the NWT Literacy Council, and the
Yukon Literacy Coalition. A healthy democratic politics
requires an educated and literate population. Consensus
government demands an engaged electorate, one that can
analyze the political positions of candidates in twenty-two
rioings. Without the benent ol political parties, or the oirect
election of the premier, the informational burden on Nun-
avummiut is high.
Education was a central issue for Inuit in the struggle
for Nunavut, and it remained central in the 2013 Nunavut
territorial election. Candidates took positions on social pro-
motion in schools, standard-setting, and legislative reform,
while training and adult education also registered on candi-
dates platforms. In one of the elections great upsets, for-
mer premier and education minister, Eva Aariak, was de-
feated by George Hickes Jr., who ran to make education a
top priority. And, as noted above, the newly elected MLAs
in turn brought their concerns about education to the lead-
ership forum in November.
Across Northern Canada, literacy programming is
helping to address the basic needs of many Northerners
with already low literacy and essential skills. Literacy is the
bedrock of any informed citizenry, denoting not only the
ability to read and write, but also the ability to function in
and critically analyze the world.
Unfortunately, while Northern literacy organizations
are leading the way in developing innovative and culturally
relevant programs, the federal government appears to be
downgrading literacy among its policy priorities. As Brigid
Hayes argues in this issue, the federal governments narrow
focus on training for the labour market through the Canada
Jobs Grant, coupled with budget cuts and under spending,
is likely to reduce access to programming for the most vul-
Consensus politics or any democratic politics, for
that matter cannot function properly without an edu-
cated and literate population. For this reason, those candi-
dates who were elected on a platform to improve education
deserve the support of the entire legislature. Let us hope
they will be successful in spite of the challenges of consensus
El.tio io io Ioloit, `ooo.ot, O.tor, !013.