Nunavut byelections could wreak havoc on premier, cabinet selection

The political uncertainty caused by at least one byelection to be held after Nunavut's general election could delay the selection of the territory's premier and cabinet.

The political uncertainty caused by at least one byelection to be held after Nunavut's general election could delay the selection of the territory's premier and cabinet.

Under Nunavut's consensus model of government, MLAs select the premier and cabinet members among their own ranks at the Nunavut Leadership Forum, usually held two to three weeks after the election.

But while Nunavummiut will elect most of their MLAs during the Oct. 27 general election, Elections Nunavut also has to hold two byelections this time around.

One will be held a week later, on Nov. 3, in the South Baffin constituency. A byelection in the Akulliq constituency has yet to be scheduled, pending a decision by the Nunavut Court of Justice on a charter challenge by former Nunavut politician Jack Anawak.

The byelection in Akulliq — which includes the communities of Repulse Bay and Kugaaruk — can't be scheduled until after the court decision is issued, but it wouldn't be until late-November at the earliest, election officials say.

But Tagak Curley, who has already been acclaimed as MLA for Rankin Inlet North, told CBC News that he wants the Akulliq seat filled before the leadership forum is held.

"We have three distinct regions, and so that member is important to play a part in choosing cabinet members," he said Wednesday.

Akulliq straddles two of Nuanvut's three regions, with Repulse Bay in the Kivalliq region of central Nunavut and Kugaaruk in the Kitikmeot region to the west. The South Baffin constituency, which is in the Qiqiktani region, will likely have its MLA in place in time for the leadership forum.

"Even if we combined Kivalliq and Kitikmeot [regions], sometimes you're not guaranteed whether you're going to get into cabinet," Curley said.

"I think someone has to do a bit of planning with this thing."

Three candidates had been vying for the Akulliq seat, but the election was cancelled there while the court heard the charter challenge by Anawak, who was deemed ineligible as a candidate by Elections Nunavut.

Anawak's challenge, which was presented to Justice Earl Johnson on Tuesday, argues that the Nunavut Elections Act violates his charter rights by requiring candidates to have resided in Nunavut for 12 consecutive months before election day.

It is not known when Johnson will make a decision.

But even if the decision is handed down this week, chief electoral officer Sandy Kusugak said the earliest possible date for the Akulliq byelection would be Nov. 24. But that's still far from certain, she added.

"I have to consider what is administratively workable, that I can produce materials that are dated and get them to the both Kugaaruk and Repulse Bay," Kusugak said.

Until the cabinet and premier is selected, current Premier Paul Okalik and his cabinet remain in place. Any delays in choosing cabinet members could pose a problem, as several of the current ministers are not seeking re-election and the cabinet members who are running again could be defeated on Oct. 27.

The office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly told CBC News that the situation has caused immense challenges, and staff are now looking at various possible solutions.

Okalik was given his second mandate as premier at the last Nunavut Leadership Forum, which was held on March 5, 2004, about three weeks after Nunavummiut went to the polls on Feb. 16, 2004.