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Premier Paul Okalik surveys the state of Nunavut

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 31/01) - Premier Paul Okalik has unquestionably settled into his role as government leader.

Trading in the sealskin tie and vest he sports in the legislature for a casual white dress shirt, the 30-something political boss spoke easily and comfortably during an interview about the year gone by and of the one about to begin.

NNSL Photo
Premier Okalik

"This past year was much like the others," said Okalik, a week before his third Christmas as the premier of Nunavut.

"We're not as new anymore and things are becoming a bit easier in terms of day to day operations."

That ease, he said, stems from the headway made by government departments. Awards have been won for innovation, high school graduation rates are up, the Akitsiraq Law School completed its first semester, more police officers were hired to work in the territory and another 150 families are living in new public housing units.

The end result, he said, is a healthier territory.

"The indicators are that we're going in the right direction," said Okalik.

"I believe we've done our share so far, but we have to do more."

To that end, and acting on advice handed down by MLAs during this fall's cabinet review, Okalik shuffled the government's executive council earlier this month.

Most significantly, he moved Jack Anawak from community government and transportation to culture, language, elders and youth. Okalik said the move was in support of the government's mandate to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit -- Inuit traditional knowledge -- into the everyday workings of the bureaucracy. Touted by many in the territory as a severe demotion for Anawak, Okalik said the shuffle would better utilize Anawak's strengths.

"Jack has been around politics and has spoken very passionately about IQ and what we need to do as a government," said Okalik.

"The fact that it has a $7-million budget is not a consideration for me. It's the objectives we are facing as a government. Jack has proven himself to be a strong leader and that's what we want in CLEY because it's a real challenge," he said.

Along with beefing up the commitment to make the government more Inuit-friendly by using traditional knowledge, Okalik said Nunavummiut could also look forward to the construction of more infrastructure in the next year.

Citing the completion of more educational facilities and health centres as a few of the projects on tap, the premier also hinted at an upcoming shuffle of the territory's deputy ministers and to impending visits, not only by Queen Elizabeth, but by leading aboriginal figures as well.

Reluctant to grade his own performance or to admit any mistakes he and his colleagues made in 2001, Okalik did say the past year was not without its share of growing pains and tragedy.

"We had our first shooting of an officer. I have responsibility over policing of the territory as minister of justice, and that wasn't an easy thing to deal with. It was a tragic story," he said.

News of the closure of the territory's two functioning mines was also a tough blow. Okalik said in the long run it means less revenue for Nunavummiut, translating into the possibility of further economic hardship.

Stating his desire to run in the next election and to continue in his role as premier, Okalik said his goals for the next year are to continue to work hard, improve opportunities for residents and find ways to boost the economic outlook of communities not slated to receive decentralized government positions.

As for New Year's resolutions, Okalik said he didn't have many now that he'd successfully given up smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.

"I'll try and do a better job as premier," he said. "But I've got the best job in the territory. What else could I ask for?"