Inuit leaders watch over cabinet
Ministers dismiss need for informal opposition
by Jennifer Pritchett
RANKIN INLET (Nov 17/97) - Jose Kusugak wants to see a NWT cabinet that's more accountable to the people of Nunavut.
And he doesn't want to wait 18 months for the creation of Nunavut's own government to get one.
"For the longest time they've been bulldozing things through," the Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president said during an interview at his Iqaluit office last week.
Kusugak cited the recent changes in health care in the Keewatin and Baffin regions, as well as the pipeline proposed for the Keewatin, as areas where politicians haven't listened to the people.
This can't continue, he said, maintaining that the shadow cabinet announced after NTI's assembly in Igloolik will force ministers to "think twice before making any decisions affecting Nunavut." The shadow cabinet will act as the first unofficial opposition of the NWT consensus government. It is expected to be organized over the next three weeks and be in place by January.
The shadow cabinet is expected to consist of the NTI executive, possibly the regional association presidents and a full-time position, most likely based out of Yellowknife to co-ordinate the effort.
NTI has allocated $100,000 to cover costs of staff to provide the necessary support for the shadow cabinet. Not surprisingly, Nunavut members of the cabinet are not convinced the effort is worthwhile.
Public Works Minister Goo Arlooktoo said he believes the shadow cabinet is a waste of money for Nunavut beneficiaries.
"The NTI executive is very well paid -- much better than our members -- I believe they should be able to do it," he said. "It is from the existing allocation (of money), but where will it be taken from?" Arlooktoo also said that it's the job of ordinary members to act as an informal opposition.
"Whether or not NTI is suitable for it, that's not for me to say," he added.
Kusugak admitted that it's not really the job of NTI to monitor the dealings of the cabinet, but he said the organization couldn't stand by and continue to let the GNWT make decisions that would affect the Nunavut government.
"It seems that we shouldn't be doing this," he said. "We are like an interest group for the Inuit people. Our role is to implement the Nunavut agreement ... (but) somebody has to do this. There has been no opposition."
Kusugak said that the style of the GNWT has forced Inuit groups to stand up for the best interests of the people to ensure that the Nunavut government starts out with a clean slate.
He said the lack of implementation of Article 24 of the Nunavut Final Agreement has already affected Inuit businesses. In the Baffin region in particular, small contractors haven't been able to bid successfully on construction jobs.
"We have to make sure that the articles aren't being broken," he said. If we're going to develop a good Nunavut government, we have to do this now."
But Finance Minister John Todd said that the criticism of the cabinet is unfair.
"All I'm saying, and I'm a little defensive, is that this government has had to make some difficult decisions that weren't popular," he said. "I think it's a little unfair, but I understand it -- NTI is there to protect Inuit interests." Furthermore, he said, the cabinet has nothing to hide. Still, Todd doesn't discount the desire to keep a close watch over cabinet matters. "I'm not going to loose any sleep over it," he said.