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Assembly showdown kills Bill 37

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, September 18, 2017

Bill 37, an Act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, is no more.

After impassioned requests from several cabinet members that colleagues keep in mind Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) when considering whether to move Bill 37 from the Standing Committee, where it was stalled, to Committee of the Whole for open debate, regular members of the legislative assembly voted together to defeat Education Minister Paul Quassa's motion.

"Bill 37 has been discussed in the media, but only certain aspects of it. There is much more to the bill than what was a part of the public discourse and people need to hear them," said Quassa, prior to the vote on his motion Sept. 14.

He referenced a letter to the Standing Committee in which he sought to speak to the committee members and offered concessions. So far, these concessions have not been made public.

"Bill 37 has many components and they can each be examined individually and weighted for merit. Each aspect represents an opportunity to improve the Education Act in some way, and that's what we tried to do," he said.

"The whole intention was to improve student outcomes, and that's what Bill 37 was supposed to do. We didn't try to make education worse; we tried to make it better."

Quassa was the first to speak of IQ as the foundation of members' role in government.

Premier Peter Taptuna, who seconded Quassa's motion, picked up the thread, and focused on process. He implied the process, whereby the standing committee was allowing Bill 37 to fall off the order paper, was not the process of a consensus government steeped in IQ.

"Minister Quassa's motion is asking this house to move the bill to the Committee of the Whole for free and open debate. That is our process," said Taptuna.

"In the spirit of our Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principle of aajiiqatigiinniq, decision-making through discussion and consensus, and piliriqatigiinniq, working together, and tunnganarniq, being open, welcoming and inclusive, I support the motion. I ask my colleagues to also support the motion."

In early May, after receiving 40 submissions from district education authorities, Inuit organisations and individuals - all but one criticizing Bill 37 - chairperson of the standing committee Tom Sammurtok unceremoniously put out a news release stating, "Given the overwhelming lack of consensus in support of the bill in such areas as language of instruction, the role of District Education Authorities and increased employment of Inuit teachers, the standing committee is of the view that it should be allowed to fall off the order paper when the current assembly dissolves later this year."

These submissions are available on the legislative assembly's website.

Taking the bill to the Committee of the Whole was a way to revive the bill and carry out discussion among all members of the assembly as equals.

Minister of Culture and Heritage George Kuksuk and Minister of Health George Hickes each spoke, supporting Quassa's motion. Hickes, who was a member of the review committee for the Education Act, noted the time, effort and money devoted to developing Bill 37, and said it was this government's responsibility to see it through.

Quassa requested a recorded vote, whereby each member is identified along with their vote. The eight cabinet members stood together in favour. Eleven regular MLAs stood in opposition. Uqqummiut's Pauloosie Keyootak and Aivilik's Steve Mapsalak were absent.

And so Quassa's motion was defeated.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s president Aluki Kotierk and some of her staff were present for the vote.

"I feel so appreciative of the regular members ... I know there were comments made about using Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit - it's a way for us to discuss it and important for us to discuss it, but I think that if government had really wanted to use and put to life Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit they would have done it way before the last session of their government. Because aajiiqatigiinniq, to be able to discuss about things, would have been happening all along and we would not have gotten to this point," Kotierk told Nunavut News/North.

"And I would hope that this is a clear indication that the new government will have to ensure that they use aajiiqatigiinniq and that they do have conversations with Inuit. I say Inuit - I know that government currently often talks about it being a public government but, I've said so many times, it's a public government and the majority of the public are Inuit."

Kotierk expressed her gratefulness for Inuit "of varying ages, people from various sectors, from various organisations" submitting their comments on Bill 37, "because all the voices came across as a united strong voice. That made all the difference. It created so much dialogue."

"All of us, I think, want to get to a point where Inuit students who graduate from our education system are fully bilingual in Inuktut and English, as well as being bi-cultural, so that they have a good grounding in their Inuit identity but are still able to function very well in a modern society. That should be the goal of all of us, whether we're an Inuit organisation or a public government," she said.

"I'm hoping that the new government, or renewed government as it may be, puts some real thought into how they will govern as a public government and how they will be able to put more focus on the majority of the public, which is Inuit."

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