An election forum Monday night brought Iqaluit voters closer to a must-watch race in Iqaluit West, where Premier Paul Okalik is defending his seat from Iqaluit Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik.
Okalik and Sheutiapik were among eight candidates from the capital city who fielded questions from about 60 reporters and members of the public at the all-candidates forum, organized by the Association des francophones du Nunavut.
Sheutiapik told the audience she feels it's time for change, after two terms with Okalik in office.
"I believe it's time for change. It's time for a different type of leadership," she said.
Okalik, who hopes to keep his seat and then be selected as premier for a record third time, defended the government's record and also downplayed concerns that territorial government employees are not free to answer questions from the media.
"There's always people that may say that we're not open. But we're quite open as a government, and we allow for information to be disclosed freely," Okalik said. "So we co-operate with whoever may want to ask."
Both candidates brought different approaches to Nunavut's own Official Languages Act, which was passed earlier this year. Okalik said English, French and the Inuit languages would be given equal priority, as required under the new law.
"I will continue to strive and to make sure that our government offers services in all three languages," he said.
But Sheutiapik said she would make the delivery of services in Inuktitut her top priority "to ensure that we are able to deliver in Inuktitut," she said. "And if we're able to do that, we're ready to deliver in other languages."
'Everyone has an opportunity to seek office': Okalik
Some Nunavummiut and women's groups have voiced concerns about Nunavut politicians returning to office after being convicted of a criminal offence or a violation of territorial legislation such as the Integrity Act.
"It's a difficult question that we had to tackle early on in our first term," Okalik acknowledged.
"We wanted to make it very difficult for those that have been convicted of serious crimes to run for office," he said. "But after getting legal advice, the only real limitation that we could put in place was to prevent them from trying to get re-elected after they've been thrown out of office.
"So that was the limitation that we could put in place."
Okalik added that the Nunavut government is bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure "everyone has an opportunity to seek office if they do so."
"We leave it to the good people of Nunavut to make their choices [in elections] and know the background of individuals when they go to pick their candidate," he said.
Integrity Act violations surfaced as an issue earlier this year, when Baker Lake MLA David Simailak was twice found by Nunavut's integrity commissioner to have put himself in a conflict of interest while he was a cabinet minister. Simailak is seeking re-election in Baker Lake.
"On the issue of the conflict siutation, currently our legislation is open on the subject, but it's something I'm sure we can look at in the future," Okalik said.
Sheutiapik said the city has a zero-tolerance policy that addresses physical, emotional and mental violence.
"That's a message we sent to this community as leaders.… We decided to pass a zero-tolerance resolution in this community. We seriously have to look at that at other levels of government," she said.
"If we can do it at the municipal level, why can't we do it at the other level, set an example, lead by example."
Voters at Monday's forum also heard from candidates in Iqaluit's two other constituencies, Iqaluit East and Iqaluit Centre. Election day is Oct. 27.