Nunavut MLAs-elect learn the ropes, some start campaign for premier

Newly elected Nunavut MLAs are in Iqaluit this week to learn the ropes. But among the orientation and paperwork, campaigning has begun for the territory’s next premier.

‘People have asked if I'll be running for premier ... I have agreed to do it’ says former NTI president

John Quirke, legislative clerk in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, said incoming MLAs will spend the week learning the ropes. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Newly elected Nunavut MLAs are in Iqaluit this week to learn the ropes. But along with general orientation and paperwork, at least one has announced her willingness to become the territory's next premier.

It's the first time all the newly elected MLAs are together since being elected last month. Current Premier Peter Taptuna did not seek re-election, so the job of leading the territory's fifth assembly is up for grabs.

In Nunavut's consensus-style government, a premier is elected in a secret ballot by MLAs.

Cathy Towtongie, MLA-elect for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet says she'll stand for premier when the time comes. (submitted by Nadia Ciccone)

Some, like MLA-elect for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet Cathy Towtongie, are not shy about making their intentions known.

Towtongie is the former president of Nunavut Tunngavik, the organization that represents Nunavut Inuit.

"People have asked if I'll be running for premier and I have agreed to do it. I've been a leader for Nunavut before and I've visited all the communities of Nunavut," Towtongie told CBC News in Inuktitut.

"We need to think of housing, mental health, suicide prevention and jobs," she said.

'Good group of people' 

MLAs were excited to get to work Tuesday.

"I think we have a good group of people. There's a lot of experience. There's a lot of diversity," said John Main, who will be the new MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove. "[I'm] just looking forward to working with these folks."

The new set of MLAs are spending the week doing the kind of orientations common for employees in any new job. According to the legislative clerk John Quirke, they are also learning how to do research at the legislative library and will meet with the territory's Integrity Commissioner one-on-one.

The orientation is not open to the public.

Quirke says Taptuna will meet with MLAs on Friday to look back at his time as premier and as MLA.

"Not only from the work point of view, the professional point of view, but the impact on himself as a person and his family. The ins and outs of being a member — like the old Clint Eastwood movie, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly," he said.

Quirke has been the legislative clerk since the first assembly. He says it is nice to see double the women elected and a different mix of new versus incumbent MLAs.

"We have 11 new members, of which two of them had been in the assembly before. So this is the first time we've had a 50-50 split. In the past three assemblies, we have had a majority of newly elected members always," he said.

Quirke says one MLA is not at the orientation session yet. The next MLA for Aivilik, Patterk Netser, is delayed because of a blizzard in the Kivalliq region earlier this week. He is expected to arrive in Iqaluit on Wednesday.

Next week MLAs will receive a "State of the Territory address," decide on how big the cabinet will be for this assembly, discuss procedures for the leadership forum and hear presentations from government departments, says Quirke.

A new premier and cabinet will be picked at the leadership forum on Nov. 17.

New MLAs will be sworn in on the morning of Nov. 21 followed by the first sitting of the fifth assembly that afternoon.

With files from Jordan Konek