A slim win for Nunavut's first premier
No balloons or painted campaign buses, and barely any door-to-door soliciting. Unlike the noisy campaigns to the south, the first election in Nunavut was informal and low-key. Residents in small communities already knew the candidates running — and their families. When people went to the polls in 1999, they did it on their own terms, electing a consensus government and making special provisions for voting in a vast territory. They were looking for candidates to tackle the region's toughest obstacles: poor access to health care and high suicide and unemployment rates.
As explained in this CBC Television report, Nunavut's premier is chosen by the members of the legislative assembly.
Although CBC reporter Raj Ahluwalia's sources said Okalik won by one vote, the Nunavut government did not officially release the results of the secret ballot.
Okalik, 34, who will become Canada's youngest premier, seems to understand his constituents. Residents of Nunavut want a reduction in the high suicide and unemployment rates, and better education for their children. The new premier has first-hand experience with these obstacles.
His family's traditional lifestyle was taken away in the 1960s when RCMP officers forced nomadic Inuit to settle into communities. His family was destroyed by the change: Okalik became an alcoholic who drifted from job to job and went to jail for stealing money. His brother committed suicide when Okalik was 15.
. Okalik did his undergraduate schooling at Carleton University and subsequently earned a law degree at the University of Ottawa. A Contemporary Canadian Biography on Okalik said he decided to go to school when he learned his girlfriend was pregnant with their child. After hearing the news, Okalik gave up drinking and applied to Carleton.
. Okalik is from Pangnirtung on Baffin Island but at a young age was sent to an English residential school 300 kilometres away.
. Okalik helped negotiate the Nunavut land claim agreement signed by Brian Mulroney in 1993.
. Okalik talked about his brother's suicide in this CBC television clip.
. The new premier pledged to "Inuit-ize" education by implementing Inuktitut as the first language.
. Jack Anawak came to the running with extensive business and political experience: He served as a federal Liberal MP for two terms, owned a co-op store, was first interim commissioner overseeing the territory's implementation and was elected as Rankin Inlet's mayor (1985).
. Anawak was also a member of the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, which came up with The Nunavut Proposal in the mid-1970s.
. Anawak's appointment as interim commissioner was looked upon negatively by some residents. An editorial in the Nunatsiaq News read: "It smells like the kind of old-fashioned patronage appointment the Liberals promised they would do away with."
. In April 2003, Anawak departed from Nunavut's Cabinet.
. On Feb. 16, 2004 Nunavut conducted its second general election in 18 of the territory's 19 districts (MLA Tagak Curley was acclaimed in Rankin Inlet North.) Premier Paul Okalik and seven other incumbents were reelected, and Okalik returned to the premier's job despite a strong challenge from Tagak Curley. Curley is a traditionalist Christian hunter who had vowed to speak nothing but Inuktitut to reporters. Jobie Nutarak was selected as Speaker by the other MLAs.
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: March 5, 1999
Guest(s): Paul Okalik
Host: Ben Chin
Reporter: Raj Ahluwalia
Last updated: March 6, 2014
Page consulted on March 6, 2014
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