Education, corrections highlight week in Nunavut legislature
Energy also in minds of MLAs as session gets set to wrap Tuesday
Nunavut MLAs will wrap up their winter sitting at the legislative assembly this week and if last week was any indication, they'll have plenty to think about. Here's everything you need to know about the week of March 8 to 15 in the Nunavut legislature, as told to CBC North's Qulliq by legislative assembly reporter Jane Sponagle.
Big week for Quassa
Last week, there were two major announcements by Paul Quassa, the minister responsible for both Nunavut Arctic College and the Department of Education. Quassa announced that the government is further looking into a university for the territory — a stand-alone university, a university college, a pan-territorial university, an Inuit Nunangat university, or some combination of those options — and he hopes to announce a plan and concept during the legislature's spring sitting.
Auditor General's report causes waves
A scathing report on Nunavut's corrections system from the Auditor General of Canada was tabled in the legislature this week, stating that the territory's justice department is not living up to key responsibilities, and that is putting staff and inmates at risk.
The report's crosshairs were most tightly fixed on the maximum security Baffin Correctional Centre. Many of its 17 recommendations were intended to modernize the facility, including by adding more beds; fixing poor conditions such as mould, fire hazards, and overcrowding; and improving the programs and services available to inmates.
"I think it's in line with what we're trying to accomplish, which is to ensure a safe and secure environment for all involved, and make sure our facilities serve our purpose," he says of the recommendations.
Okalik pointed to the government's limited budget and long list of priorities as obstacles for bringing the Baffin Correctional Centre up to the proper standard, and said now that the territory's medium-security facility, Makigiarvik, has been built, the department can now focus on the issues at the maximum-security jail.
Alternative energy a hot topic
Early in the week, South Baffin MLA David Joanasie questioned where Qulliq Energy Corporation, a Crown Corporation owned by the Nunavut government, was with its alternative energy policy. Joanasie asked specifically about net metering, a program that allows consumers to produce their own energy to offset their electricity bill, stating that the community of Cape Dorset is interested in the possibility of solar generation. Keith Peterson, the minister responsible for Qulliq Energy, says the policy is still in the draft stages.
MLA George Hickes also brought up the issue of alternative energy, asking Premier Peter Taptuna if he was stressing Nunavut's need to stop using fossil fuels when he meets with other premiers, as nearly 100 per cent of the territory's power plants are run on diesel.
Taptuna responded by saying Nunavut still does not use as much fossil fuel as other jurisdictions, and doesn't have the money for alternative energy sources.
"We're not as fortunate as other jurisdictions where they have collected royalties for years to put into their coffers, so they can actually build alternative energy infrastructure, such as hydro dams," said Taptuna.
In 2013, a hydro-electric project outside of Iqaluit was estimated to cost $450 million. Taptuna says it would cost even more now.
Hickes says the alternative energy would be good for Nunavut, and "solidify costs all across the territory."
Taptuna says they are lobbying the federal government for an increase on the debt cap and more housing, as well as money for power plant upgrades.
The winter sitting of the Nunavut legislature is expected to wrap up on Tuesday, March 17. For up-to-the-minute updates, follow CBC North legislative assembly reporter Jane Sponagle on Twitter at @jsponagle.