Little notice, no translation lead to 'very disappointing' election reform consultation in Iqaluit

The Democratic Institutions Minister kicked off a cross-country tour on electoral reform in Iqaluit Monday, but the event was poorly attended — and some people say some of the blame rests with the federal minister and her team.

'Meetings in Nunavut, particularly in Iqaluit, require Inuktitut translation,' says mayor

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef addresses a mostly empty room at Iqaluit's Frobisher Inn. It's the first stop on her cross-country tour on electoral reform.

The federal government kicked off a cross-country tour on electoral reform in Iqaluit Monday, but some people are questioning how much the government actually took away from the consultations.

During the fall federal campaign season, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised that the 2015 federal election would be the last election decided by the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, where the candidate with the most votes in a riding wins the seat, regardless of if they have a majority of votes cast.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has been put in charge of delivering on Trudeau's promise, and now she's holding public meetings in every province and territory to find out how Canadians want to elect their leaders.

This morning, Monsef held a two-hour public meeting at Iqaluit's Frobisher Inn, but the event was poorly attended — and some people say some of the blame rests with the minister and her team.

'Very disappointing'

'I feel like if you’re going to be talking about electoral reform, you have to use the same sorts of mediums you get the masses to come out to vote,' said Udlu Hanson. (Rachel Zelniker/CBC)

Iqaluit resident Udlu Hanson called the minister's visit to Nunavut "very disappointing."

"It was very last minute, and when you consider how many Inuit are still out on the land, enjoying the weather before school and fall starts."

While Hanson credits the government for taking the time to make the trip, she said the poorly advertised event — held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on a work day — functions to further exclude the North from national conversations.  

But a lack of advertising and public engagement weren't the only problems participants identified.

The government did have a French translator on hand, but people hoping to listen in Inuktitut were out of luck.

'Meetings in Nunavut, particularly in Iqaluit, require Inuktitut translation,' said Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern.

"Meetings in Nunavut, particularly in Iqaluit, require Inuktitut translation, otherwise there is a significant portion of our population who will not be able to understand or participate," said Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern.

A message for Ottawa

While Redfern and Hanson criticized the government's organization efforts, they were clear about the kind of reform they want to see.

"I think the current system is working, but there is definitely issues with the Fair Elections Act," said Redfern.

"Here in Nunavut a lot of people don't have identification or addresses, and need to be vouched, so making the democratic system more accessible would be a good thing for Nunavut."

Hanson said regardless of what electoral system Canada decides on, she's mostly concerned about the number of people representing Nunavut in Parliament.

"I don't think Nunavut or Inuit as a whole should be subject to one person, considering all the social, economic and international issues that we have."

The government says it's listening

Minister Monsef acknowledged the concerns raised by people like Redfern and Hanson, and says the meetings have served as a learning experience.

"What we heard today is how important social media is for various communities here, and so it will be playing a more prominent role in our conversations and in our outreach ahead of time."  

However, Monsef wants people to know that her day in Iqaluit was valuable, and she'll be taking what she heard back to Ottawa.

"The main takeaway for me is that people in communities up North want to be engaged, and want to be heard.

"I'll be sharing with my colleagues some of those logistics around how to have these conversations more effectively."

Monsef also said she really appreciated learning more about Nunavut's consensus style of government, and thinks there are important lessons Ottawa could learn from the North about collaboration. 

What's next?

The Liberal government has not said how it will decide on the shape an electoral reform will ultimately take, and whether Canadians can expect a referendum.

A Special Committee on electoral reform is studying alternatives, and will visit Iqaluit later this year for further consultations.

Based on their work, the committee will submit a report to the House of Commons with recommendations by Dec. 1, 2016.  

Monsef will continue her tour of the territories Tuesday in Yellowknife, where she'll host a town hall with MP Michael McLeod at 7:00 p.m. at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

A meeting will take place in Whitehorse Wednesday, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Coast High Country Inn.