The life story of Nunavut’s new premier reads like a modern history of the Inuit.
But Paul Quassa says he wants to look forward, not back.”We want Nunavut to shine,” says Quassa, who was sworn in last week as the territory’s fourth premier. “We want to see a truly brilliant territory.”Quassa, 65, was born near Igloolik on the Melville Peninsula, where the west coast of Hudson Bay flicks up toward Baffin Island.”I was born in an igloo,” he says. “My generation is the last generation to have experienced the traditional way of living prior to people being moved into communities.
The list of Nunavut’s problems is long and it can seem as if they are tangled irretrievably together. Quassa has his own ideas about where to start tugging at the knot. “Education, training,” he says. “Our territory is a very young territory. We have to think in a long-term plan and we have to think about our future generation.” Look for another version of that failed Education Act during the new session, Quassa hints. “Education is always a big issue in the territory. This is one of the areas we’ll be talking about when we talk about our new mandate.”
Expect continued funding requests of the federal government for infrastructure, too. Quassa points out Nunavut remains the only jurisdiction in Canada with no outside road links. “We are part of Canada,” he says. “Coast to coast to coast.” One thing he’d like to see more of in Nunavut over the next four years is confidence. “We want a population that’s vibrant, that’s not afraid to get into the workforce, a population that is more educated in both Inuktitut and English. We want a population that’s outgoing and positive.” Quassa says it all goes back to the presence of his signature on the land-claim document that helped create the territory he now leads. “I knew the vision then and the vision hasn’t changed.”
Northwest Territories Premier Robert McLeod says it is offensive and patronizing for southern Canadians to tell northerners they can’t benefit from oil and gas development because it’s time to save the planet.
McLeod is in Ottawa this week hoping to start a national debate about the future of the North, a year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at least a five-year ban on new oil and gas development in the Arctic because an oil spill in the region would be “cataclysmic.” McLeod has criticized the decision as one-sided and ill-informed from the start and says, with that one decision, “everything we have built is in jeopardy.” This week, he said southern Canada has benefited for years from resource development that polluted the air and is causing the North significant environmental grief and yet it now wants to tell the territories they can’t develop their own fossil fuels while the South keeps pumping out oil and gas. “The rest of Canada needs to realize we have people that live in the North as well with dreams and aspirations and hope for a better future and we shouldn’t be penalized because of where we live,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to stop our own development so the rest of Canada can feel better.”