His accomplishments include contributing to the creation of the Inuit Heritage Trust, the Nunavut Implementation Training Committee, and the Nunavut Social Development Council. He also took part in the creation of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, one of the critical elements in the settlement because of its role as a focus for balancing the interests of the Government of Canada and the central Inuit concern for the health of the wildlife resources that they harvest.
Okalik earned a BA in Political Science and Canadian Studies from Carleton University in 1994 and a law degree from the University of Ottawa in 1997. He worked in a legal aid office in Iqaluit from 1997 to 1999, when he was called to the bar. In February 1999 he was elected as the Member for Iqaluit West of the first Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, which came into existence in April 1999. As is the case in the Northwest Territories, political parties do not figure in politics at the territorial level in Nunavut. In the absence of the usual partisan mechanism for selecting a first minister in Canada, all the MLAs vote on this selection. In March 1999 his colleagues chose Okalik to be the first premier of Nunavut. He also serves as Minister of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs and as Minister of Justice.
As the first Nunavut premier, he faced extraordinary challenges. These included completing the process of organizing and staffing the Government of Nunavut in a manner that met Inuit expectations that their government would be as decentralized as possible and embody Inuit traditional knowledge and values. At the same time he faced an urgent need to promote economic development in a region of Canada with very high rates of unemployment and to address the serious social problems of the new territory. In 2005 CARLETON UNIVERSITY awarded Okalik an honourary Doctor of Laws.
Okalik was easily elected to a second term in 2004, but in 2008 Okalik achieved a narrow victory over Iqaluit mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik, for his seat in Iqaluit West. In the election for premier that followed Okalik's campaign focused on the territory's improved economic situation and balanced budget, it's reduced unemployment rate (13% in 2004 to under 9% in 2007), the recent Education Act that ensures students will be taught in Inuktitut, and the Language Act guaranteeing that Nunavummiut will receive essential services in their native tongue. However, he had previously been taken to task for derogatory comments made to Sheutiapik at a public function, and several MLAs subsequently called for his resignation. On 14 November 2008, the MLA for Iqaluit East, Ava AARIAK, was elected Nunavut's new premier and the second in the territory's history.
Author GURSTON DACKS Revised: LORRAINE SNYDER
Links to Other Sites
A biography of Paul Okalik with photographs and other archival resources. From the “Canadian Confederation” website, Library and Archives Canada.