North·In Depth

'Done with land plebiscites': Nunavut unlikely to hold another referendum soon

The government of Nunavut says it is unlikely that the territory will hold another land referendum in the near future.

‘People have been asked, they've made their decision known,’ says assistant deputy minister

'Unless cabinet directs us otherwise it's my opinion that we're done with land plebiscites,' says Darren Flynn, the assistant deputy minister, Community and Government Services. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The government of Nunavut says it's unlikely the territory will hold another land referendum in the near future.

While voter turnout was only 34 per cent across the territory, people in Nunavut spoke loud and clear on Monday. Every single municipality voted overwhelmingly No to the historic land referendum on whether to sell municipal lands.

"Unless cabinet directs us otherwise it's my opinion that we're done with land plebiscites," said Darren Flynn, the assistant deputy minister, Community and Government Services.

'People have been asked, they've made their decision known,' says Flynn. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
This was the second land referendum in Nunavut, the one in 1995 also resulted in an overwhelming No vote.

"We've gone and we've satisfied what we saw as a requirement after 20 years to go back to the people and ask them, people have been asked, they've made their decision known," said Flynn.

According to Flynn, from here on in it will be up to every individual municipality if they want to overturn the results of the past two referendums.

Flynn said according to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement another land referendum can be called at any time; municipalities do not have to wait another five years before they can hold a vote on the sale of municipal lands.

However, there is no requirement for another vote to be called.

'That money could have gone to better use'

"I am relieved first of all," said Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI).

'That money could have gone to better use such as food security,' says NTI president Cathy Towtongie. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
"The NTI executive pushed for a No vote. Prior to that I met with the minister Joe Savikataaq because NTI was not consulted and I informed him that there were a lot more questions than answers at this time," added Towtongie.

The cost of this referendum was $2 million said Flynn with much of the funds going towards translation and travel to the communities to host information sessions at all the hamlets across the territory.

"That money could have gone to better use such as food security," said Towtongie.

Towtongie said that despite the information material created by the territorial government and the information sessions hosted across Nunavut, many Inuit were not properly informed about the implications of a Yes vote.

The Inuit organization hopes that in the future every municipality will be consulted before a referendum is called.

'An awful lot of work to do'

Iqaluit's mayor, Madeleine Redfern, says the outcome of the land referendum lifts a burden off the city's shoulders.

'We’ve got an awful lot of work to do even with a No vote,' says Iqaluit's mayor Madeleine Redfern. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)
 

Redfern said municipal councils across the territory were concerned about the new tasks they would have to undertake with a Yes vote.

"We felt that a lot more lead time and preparation would have been useful if the vote had gone Yes," said Redfern.

"I think that we now realize that we've got an awful lot of work to do even with a No vote," she added.

Redfern says now that the vote is over it's time for municipalities to resolve some of the issues flagged by the referendum, such as mapping out municipal utilities in relation to property lots.

The government of Nunavut says that although the land referendum is over, they are still ready to assist any municipalities in need of training and supports to prepare them for the possibility of handling the sale of municipal lands in the future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.

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