'The bill is dead': Nunavut MLAs vote against debating Bill 37

Despite Education Minister Paul Quassa's desperate final attempt Thursday afternoon to save Bill 37, it is dead after regular MLAs voted against a motion to bring it forward for debate.

MLAs say they were responding to constituents' wishes by voting against debating bill

Nunavut's Education Minister Paul Quassa says he was disappointed by Thursday's vote that defeated his motion to debate Bill 37. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa made a desperate final attempt on Thursday to save Bill 37 but came up short.

The bill — which would have made controversial changes to the Education and Inuit Language Protection Acts, like removing the government's obligation to provide a child's education completely in Inuktitut — went belly up after MLAs voted against a motion to bring it forward for debate.

"The bill is dead," Quassa said after the meeting, adding he was disappointed.

"It's unfortunate that Nunavummiut did not have the opportunity to hear the pros and cons from their MLAs right in the house.

"We were open to hear different views. We were open to amend. We were open to concessions."

The bill, which also looked at changing how District Education Authorities operate, had been the centre of public debate since it was introduced in March, but had never been made it to the floor of the legislature to be debated by MLAs.

Quassa's motion to bring Bill 37 to Committee of the Whole for that debate was the government's last chance to revive the legislation.

Regular MLAs had promised to kill the bill in May by letting it go stagnant in the standing committee until it dies when the government is dissolved later this month.

In his plea to MLAs, Quassa argued that they had agreed that making improvements to the Education Act "would be a centrepiece of our mandate as a consensus government."

Quassa, Premier Peter Taptuna, Languages Minister George Kuksuk and Health Minister George Hickes all spoke in favour of the motion.

Hickes chaired the special committee that reviewed the Education Act in 2015 and presented 23 recommendations.

'Waste of time'

No regular MLAs spoke for or against the bill.

"We felt that it would just be a waste of time having a debate because everyone knows now how people felt about the first call that we put out and the comments we received," said Tom Sammurtok, chair of the standing committee on legislation, which is composed of regular MLAs.

"Regardless of whether we had the debate or not, the outcome was going to be the same anyway. So why are we even agreeing to go that far with the bill?"

One area Quassa said he was willing to concede on was the deadline for bilingual instruction. It was one of the bill's more unwelcome changes.

The bill proposed extending the deadline for offering bilingual education by 10 years to 2029 for Grades 4 to 9. It also suggested indefinitely postponing the deadline for Grades 10 to 12.

Quassa had to wait 120 days after the bill's second reading before he could make Thursday's motion. That period was up July 7.

Sammurtok said by voting against debating the bill, MLAs were responding to what they have heard from their constituents who did not support it.

On Friday, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk expressed support for the defeat of Bill 37. The territorial Inuit organization had opposed the bill throughout the spring.

"The defeat of Bill 37 is not a victory. The real victory will be when Nunavut has quality education for all our students across Nunavut in Inuktut," Kotierk said in a news release.

"NTI hopes this signals to the Government of Nunavut (GN) that the Nunavut Agreement must be taken seriously."

Any changes to the Education Act are now up to the next government.