Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik formally asked the territory's commissioner to dissolve his government Friday, paving the way for an Oct. 27 territorial election.
Okalik asked Commissioner Ann Meekitjuk Hanson to dissolve Nunavut's second legislative assembly hours after she gave assent to 11 bills — including a new Education Act and a unique Inuit Language Protection Act — late Thursday night.
"Last night in particular was a very symbolic evening for us," Okalik told reporters Friday.
"We accomplished much of what we set out to do. But as you know, there are many challenges in our wonderful territory. And we have to turn the page and turn to those challenges that are ahead of us."
Other bills that became law Thursday night include a Midwifery Profession Act and several additions to the 2008-2009 budget.
Only Bill 35, the proposed energy efficiency act, seemed to have fallen off the order paper. It proposed banning the sale of energy devices that don't meet certain energy efficiency standards.
It is not known whether Bill 35 will be resurrected after the new assembly is elected.
The election date has been known since March, when the government proposed it.
Private, public sectors covered by new language law
MLAs unanimously voted Thursday night to pass the Inuit Language Protection Act, which will give the Inuit languages — including Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun — the most powerful protection among Canada's aboriginal languages.
The new law guarantees that services in both the public and private sectors are provided in an Inuit language.
"If you want to operate in Nunavut, we have a law called [the] Inuit Language Protection Act," Louis Tapardjuk, minister of culture, language, elders and youth, said Thursday evening.
"That's a tool and instrument that we'll be using to stop the erosion of Inuktitut language."
Tapardjuk said the act guarantees that unilingual Inuit are given services in their language of choice. However, he said that won't happen immediately: The legislation gives time for everyone — including government, businesses and community organizations — to get ready to provide Inuit-language services.
Starting July 1, 2009, children in the public education system will have the right to Inuit-language instruction, at least for those in kindergarten to Grade 3. Inuit-language instruction for older grades will be introduced gradually before July 1, 2019.
As well, the new law creates a Ministry of Languages, which will immediately work on implementing the legislation.
In June, MLAs passed Nunavut's own Official Languages Act, making the Inuit languages, English and French the territory's official languages.
Education Act 'an important part of Nunavut history'
Before the Official Languages Act was passed, Nunavut used language legislation carried over from when it was part of the Northwest Territories.
That was also the case with Nunavut's education laws, which were replaced Thursday with the territory's Education Act.
Eight years in the making, the Education Act passed to the delight of teachers and education officials, all of whom endorsed the new law enthusiastically.
"I'm just pleased that after many, many, many, many hours of dialogue and discussion and consensus-making, that it's been passed," said principal Darlene Nuqingaq of Iqaluit's Aqsarniit Middle School. She called the legislation "an important part of Nunavut history."
Alice Ladner, executive director of the Coalition of District Education Authorities (DEAs), said parents will benefit from the new law. "I think that we'll see that parents in all communities in Nunavut will find that they have a lot more importance in the education of their children," she said.
"They're able to put more input and have more say in their children's education."
The Education Act will also inject more money into the public education system and have elders brought in to the classroom more often, said Jimmy Jacquard, president of the Nunavut Teachers' Association.
"There's lots of provisions, like daily physical activity at school," he said. "There are clearer roles for DEAs; also, a DEA coalition that will help in the training of DEAs. There'll be a lot more communication between DEAs. I think that overall it's all positive."
Education Minister Ed Picco acknowledged the act won't please everybody, but it comes with a provision for a review every three years, allowing for improvements to be enacted.