At the time this article was
written Brian Armstrong was the
Coordinator of Training and Information with Elections NWT in Yellowknife.
On April 1, 1999, the map of
Canada changed for the first time since Newfoundland joined confederation in
1949. The creation of Nunavut is a truly historic event in the evolution
of the north. The new territory is made up of 28 communities with a
population of approximately 25,000 people. Over 80 percent of the population
is made up of Inuit residents, which makes Nunavut the jurisdiction with the
largest aboriginal majority in Canada.
The Inuit of the Northwest
Territories have long aspired to have greater control over their lives and
their land. The very first plebiscite held in the Northwest Territories
was on the question of division of the Northwest Territories. It was held in
1982 with 56 percent of residents voting in favour of division. In 1992,
a plebiscite was conducted to approve the boundary line for division. The
boundary was approved with 54 percent of eligible voters supporting the line.
Although support for division and the boundary line was much greater
among communities in the eastern Arctic.
In 1993, the federal government
concluded a land claims agreement with the Inuit of the eastern Arctic which
gave them control over 350,000 square kilometres of land along with $1.14
billion dollars payable to the Inuit over 14 years. The Nunavut Act
was passed in Parliament that same year. This piece of federal
legislation allowed for the creation of Canada’s third territory.
Along the path to creating
Nunavut, residents of the eastern Arctic were asked to decide which community
should be the capital. The Nunavut Capital Vote was conducted on December 11,
1995 and the town of Iqaluit received 60 percent of votes cast beating out the
community of Rankin Inlet which received 40.
Proposals for Electing
Members to the Legislature
Leading up to division, a number
of unique but controversial options were put forward by the Nunavut
Implementation Commission (NIC) for electing members to the first Legislative
Assembly. NIC was established under the Nunavut Act to make
recommendations on the structure of government for the new territory. In
March of 1995, NIC issued a report entitled, “Footprints in New Snow”, that
recommended the consensus form of government used in the Northwest Territories
be used in Nunavut. In keeping with the consensus model, NIC recommended that
consideration be given to the direct election of the Premier. They also
recommended that residents of the eastern Arctic be consulted on the option of
having dual-member constituencies where one male and one female from each
electoral district would be elected to the first Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
In an effort to obtain the views
of residents on this matter, a public vote on guaranteed equal representation
in the first Nunavut Legislative Assembly was held on May 26, 1997. The
results of the public vote were 57 percent voted against the proposal while 43
percent supported it. It was decided that the direct election of the
Premier would not be considered for the first election and that it was an issue
that could be considered by the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
The First Nunavut Election
The first Nunavut election was
originally scheduled to be held after division of the Northwest Territories.
However, amendments to the Nunavut Act were passed in order to
allow for an early election. This way, the Members of the Nunavut
Legislative Assembly could be sworn in on April 1, 1999 and begin governing
Before the election could take
place, the electoral boundaries needed to be set. The Nunavut Electoral
Boundaries Commission recommended 17 seats for Nunavut. The 13th
Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories approved the recommendation
of the Commission with some minor changes. The matter was then brought forward to
a meeting of the Nunavut Leaders where it was decided that the first Nunavut
Legislature should have 19 seats. That decision was then approved by the
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, which was a requirement
under the Nunavut Act.
Conducting an election for a new jurisdiction that did not
legally come into existence until after the election posed some unique
Since Nunavut did not exist,
there was no legislative base except authority the Government of Canada could
prescribe through Parliament. A working group chaired by the Clerk of the
Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly was established to develop the
procedures that would be adopted for the conduct of the first election.
Members of the working group included representatives from: the
Government of Canada; the Government of the Northwest Territories; Nunavut
Tunngavik Incorporated, the organization representing the Inuit under the land
claim agreement; and the Nunavut Implementation Commission.
Residency, along with Canadian
citizenship and age, are the fundamental eligibility requirements for any
election in Canada. The issue of residency was complicated by the fact
that the election was taking place before the creation of Nunavut. This
meant that individuals moving between the western Arctic and the eastern
Arctic, in the year leading up to the election, may or may not be able to vote
in the first Nunavut election.
In order to vote in the first
Nunavut election, an eligible elector must have:
- been a Canadian citizen
- attained the age of 18 years
- been a resident of the Northwest Territories or Nunavut
for a period of at least 12 months immediately before polling day and have
been resident in Nunavut on polling day
After lengthy discussions, a
number of amendments were made to the Nunavut Act. One of those
provided that the Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, David
Hamilton, would conduct the first Nunavut election. The election was
conducted under the Nunavut First Elections Act, which, for all intents
and purposes, was the Northwest Territories Elections Act with some
minor modifications, by federal order-in-council. It will be up to the
new Nunavut government to bring in new legislation for the next election.
Enumeration took place from
October 1st to 9th, 1998 and a total of 11,510 eligible
electors were on the preliminary list of electors. Revision of the
preliminary list of electors occurred between January 2nd to 18th,
1999. During this period 831 names of electors were added to the list
while 132 were removed. The total number of names to appear on the
official list of electors was 12,209.
Nomination of candidates for the
first Nunavut election closed on January 11, 1999. A total of 71
residents, 60 men and 11 women, filed their nomination papers by the 2 p.m.
deadline. None of these individuals withdrew their nomination and there
were no acclamations. The occupations of the candidates varied widely and
included careers such as: carvers; hunters; trades people; business people;
government workers; and politicians. Eight of the ten members from the
eastern Arctic sitting in the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly ran in
the election. Five of those candidates were successful. However,
all ten remained Members of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly
until March 31, 1999.
Two new voting provisions were
introduced for this election. Voting by special mail-in ballot and voting
in the office of the returning officer enabled those electors who were not able
to vote at the advance poll or on polling day to cast their ballot. In
addition, proxy voting provisions were tightened up to ensure that this method
of voting was not abused. All the public information distributed for the
election was provided in Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, English and French.
Voter turnout on election day
was very high with 88.59 percent of eligible electors on the official list
turning out to cast their ballot. Unofficial results were provided to CBC
Television, CBC Radio and other media organizations that were located at
Election Central ’99 at the Inuksuk High School Gymnasium in Iqaluit.
These results were then broadcast live across the north on election
night. Eighteen men and one woman were elected to sit in the first
Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
The New Nunavut Government
The newly elected members to the
Nunavut Legislature met in Iqaluit in early March to select a Speaker, Premier
and the seven remaining Cabinet Ministers. The MLA for Quttiktuq, Levi
Barnabas, was elected Speaker. Barnabas was a member of the 13th
Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly. Paul Okalik, the MLA for
Iqaluit West, was elected Premier of Nunavut. He is also the Minister of
the Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs. Okalik is 34 years old
and was called to the Northwest Territories Bar during the election
The remaining Cabinet Ministers
include: Jack Anawak, Minister of Justice and the Minister of Community
Government, Housing and Transportation; James Arvaluk, Minister of Education;
Donald Havioyak, Minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth and the
Minister Responsible for the Status of Women; Peter Kilabuk, Minister of
Sustainable Development; Kelvin Ng, Minister of Finance and Administration,
Minister of Human Resources and the Minister Responsible for the Workers
Compensation Board; Edward Picco, Minister of Health and Social Services and
the Minister Responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation; Mrs.
Manitok Thompson, Minister of Public Works, Telecommunications and Technical
The first sitting of the Nunavut
Legislative Assembly took place on April 1, 1999. The 19 newly elected
members were sworn in and the new Clerk of the Legislature, John Quirke, was
appointed. His Excellency Governor General Romeo LeBlanc, Prime Minister
Jean Chretien and the Honourable Jane Stewart, Minister of Indian Affairs and
Northern Development, were all in attendance at the swearing in ceremony.
Nunavut now has a duly elected
public government that reflects the values, beliefs and traditions of the
Inuit. The challenges facing the new Nunavut government are real and the
expectations of the people of the territory are high. What the creation
of Nunavut has done is given the Inuit a sense of hope and a feeling that their
destiny and the future of their children is now in their own hands.