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Regular MLAs insist they're not being fully apprised; postpone health capital budget

For the second time this week, regular MLAs have flexed their muscle by delaying approval of a capital budget.

"We don’t want to be rubber-stampers," Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak said of the role of regular MLAs. photo courtesy of the GN

On Tuesday, it was the Nunavut Housing Corporation's capital budget that was postponed due to a dispute over waiting lists and how new housing builds are allocated for communities.

On Thursday the deferral came after a lengthy debate over the Department of Health's plan for new long-term care centres in Nunavut. Regular MLAs say they're not being fully informed of the details, such as why private partners are not included, how communities are being selected to host the long-term care facilities, how long it will take to build them and what will happen to the existing long-term care centres in places like Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Iglulik.

"I think it is key that we (get) answers to these very fundamental questions before we vote in favour or vote against anything," said Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main, who made the motion to defer budget approval, which later passed.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak said regular MLAs don't expect to be part of every cabinet conversation but they must be better consulted.

"We just want to be part of the discussions and we want to be part of the decision-making. We don’t want to be rubber-stampers," Angnakak said.

Health Minister George Hickes was taken aback by the deferment.

"We have been working on this for years. This is the closest we have come to that first
phase of actually putting bricks and mortar down and building a facility in this territory," he said, adding that a 2016 Department of Health report titled Continuing Care in Nunavut, from 2015 to 2035 was made available to MLAs and it still acts as a guiding document.

"We need this. I do not think anyone can argue that. If we wait any further, it is going to
cost more money, we many have even further capital pressures," Hickes said of the plan to create 156 long-term care beds through new facilities in Iqaluit, the Kitikmeot and the Kivalliq -- where Rankin Inlet arose as a possible destination.

Hickes also answered one of the regular MLAs' questions in regards to the lack of private partners to build and operate long-term care centres in Nunavut -- none can be identified.

"We cannot find any partners that want to practice here in the North. They deem the risk too high," the health minister revealed.

He also said the future of existing long-term care facilities can be discussed as time progresses.

Premier Joe Savikataaq told the regular MLAs that they're not just supposed to state that they have disagreements, they're supposed to ask questions.

"That's the process," Savikataaq said. "If the members don’t agree about this budget, then I guess we will go back to zero because we would have to start all over again."

Main countered that proper process wasn't actually followed in this instance because the regular MLAs never got an in-camera meeting with the health minister to pose questions about the long-term care project.

All MLAs and cabinet agreed that bringing Nunavut's elders home from long-term care homes in the south is the ultimate goal -- it's just a matter of how it's done.