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Nunavut education minister makes last ditch effort to save Bill 37

Education Minister Paul Quassa appealed to MLAs Wednesday to debate any issues about Bill 37 instead of letting it die.

Quassa says committee's rejection of proposed languages legislation "not consensus government"

Education Minister Paul Quassa says he hopes Wednesday's speech moved MLAs to debate Bill 37. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

Education Minister Paul Quassa made a last ditch plea to Nunavut MLAs Wednesday to open proposed legislation to change the Education and Inuit Language Protection Acts to debate.

Quassa gave a 50 minute speech outlining the work of his department, how Bill 37 came to be and giving a step-by-step explanation of the proposed changes.

"Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to Nunavummiut today to update them on education initiatives, but also to speak to the members of this house, in a spirit of compromise," Quassa said.

The bill is in danger of dying with this government.  Last month, the Standing Committee on Legislation said it would recommend the bill not proceed.

The bill can only move forward if the assembly receives the report from the standing committee or 120 calendar days have passed since the bill's second reading. The 120 days is up July 7. But there is not much time left. After Thursday, there is only one sitting before October's territorial election.

"I would appreciate the opportunity, through the usual letter writing process and ministerial appearance at committee, to explain all aspects of the Bill and to respond to the questions of the members and the issues raised by stakeholders in their submissions," Quassa said.

The standing committee tabled 40 submissions it received on the bill from Inuit organizations, district education authorities, parents and university professors. Most are against the bill.

Its main objection to the bill is that it would push the deadline for offering bilingual (Inuktitut-English) education to 2029 for Grades 4 to 9, and postponing the deadline for Grades 10 to 12 indefinitely. Currently the deadline for billingual education is 2019.

"Nunavummiut have to hear the other side of the story. Nunavummiut have the right to hear a debate especially when we're talking about new legislation," Quassa told CBC News.

"To me - it's not consensus [government]. If one side is going to decide and make that decision, it's not consensus," he said, referring to the standing committee not moving the bill forward.

"I've been saying all along that I'm very open to discussing it because it's draft legislation. So therefore we can change anything to address any concerns."

Quassa told CBC he hoped Wednesday's speech had an impact on MLAs. But that remains to be seen.

"I think we still need to listen to what our constituents are saying. Constituents have told us as MLAs that they are not happy with the proposed amendments," said standing committee co-chair Pat Angnakak.

"I know the government will have to go back to the drawing board when the next government comes in," she said.

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