Nunavut regional boards abolished
No more health, no more education boards

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Apr 26/99) - For all intents and purposes, Health Minister Ed Picco will become the new chairperson of the Nunavut health board.

And his counterpart in education, Minister James Arvaluk, will preside over education in the new territory.

That's if all goes according to the government of Nunavut's newest plan.

As announced by Premier Paul Okalik last Thursday afternoon in a room crowded with media and government officials, Nunavut's regional health and education boards will be abolished.

As of April 1, 2000, the three health boards will be dissolved and as of July 1, 2000, the regional education boards will also disappear. Whereas the boards formerly presided over matters in their own regions, the respective bureaucratic departments, namely health and education, will now hold the reins.

The idea behind the significant decision is that by eliminating the long-standing bodies, elected representatives will become more accountable to their constituents and more control will be returned to each individual community.

This means that the MLAs, with the help of the community health committees and the district education authorities, will oversee and handle the delivery of all the programs and services previously governed by the boards.

"In addition to phasing out the regional boards, those departments (of health and education) will work to strengthen local agencies such as the community health committees and the district education authorities," said Picco.

And while the idea is not a new one -- it was included in Footprints 1 and Footprints 2 and researched by the Nunavut Implementation Commission and the Office of the Interim Commissioner -- it did take some officials by surprise.

Dennis Patterson, the chair of the Baffin regional health and social services board, said that he was caught off guard by Thursday's unexpected announcement.

"I thought we were doing quite a good job actually. I thought the new government might undertake a consultation and review process before making such a significant decision," said Patterson.

He has since notified his board members and tabled the impending dissolution for discussion during their next meeting in early May.

And while he was surprised, Patterson said the board would do everything they could to assist the government with the transition.

"We'll want to spend some time orientating MLAs to how we do business and letting them know that if their phone numbers are unlisted, that will have to end."

Several larger questions remain unanswered at this point including how the 19 new MLAs will deal with the added pressures and how previous contracts and agreements will be honoured -- a point that Patterson noted he was concerned with.

"I want to make sure the partnerships are preserved and our partners are given the assurance that despite the dissolution of these boards, these relationships will continue," said Patterson, referring to the three long-term agreements his board holds with First Air, Nova Construction and Ottawa Health Services Network.

Such matters will be discussed further over the next few weeks and legislation is set to be introduced when the Nunavut legislative assembly convenes in May.