MLAs hound government over Grays Bay pullout
“This government should not be a brick wall to the opportunities of our Nunavummiut"
This week MLAs continued to hammer the territorial government on how it chooses to trim costs, as set out in its 2018-19 budget, tabled in the Nunavut legislature on Monday.
And they honed in on the government’s decision to back out of its partnership with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association as a proponent of the Grays Bay Road and Port Project.
Anger about that decision led to tense moments on Thursday afternoon, when Aivilik MLA Pat Netser accused the government of lying about how it backed out of the big western Nunavut project with the agreement of the KIA.
Netser said, “as a Kivallirmiuq, I also want our sister region in the Kitikmeot to know how I support their efforts into creating opportunities for their people.”
“I also want my fellow MLAs to know how the Kitikmeot Inuit Association was treated by this government in a disrespectful and unfair manner. It is a shame. This approach can also impact other region.”
His comments followed revelations on Wednesday when Economic Development Minister Joe Savikataaq said that the GN had decided to pull out of the Grays Bay project, even before the federal government had rejected its funding proposal under the federal trades corridors program.
That program would have covered 75 per cent of the project’s approximately $500-million price tag.
Under questioning from Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak, Savikataaq said the GN told the project’s proponent, the KIA, of its decision to pull out of Grays Bay before Ottawa had confirmed they had rejected the funding application.
Savikataaq said that decision flowed from the new government’s mandate, Turaaqtavut, produced at a retreat of all MLAs in Pond Inlet earlier this year.
“In Turaaqtavut we come up with our priorities and we’re all part of the Turaaqtavut mandate. We all agreed to it in Pond Inlet in full caucus. This is a new government and a new mandate,” Savikataaq said. “This new government decided that we have our priorities and we only have so much money to spend. We have the debt cap to worry about.”
That prompted Netser to accuse Savikataaq of lying. He said Grays Bay was never brought up in Pond Inlet.
“He says we all agreed to this mandate up in Pond Inlet to drop the Grays Bay road project. We did not discuss that, Mr. Speaker. Do any of you remember discussing the project? None of us. He lied to us,” Netser said.
His comment prompted a point of order, along with a reprimand from Speaker Joe Enook to watch his language: “We have to refrain from using certain phrases and words. Please be careful with the words and phrases that we use because we can be called to order.”
Lorne Kusugak, the minister for Community and Government Services, wanted an apology and retraction.
But Netser, while tempering his language, did not back down,
“We never agreed to withdraw our support for such an important project that Nunavut would benefit from.” he said. “To imply and to rationalize the GN’s withdrawal of support on the basis that we all agreed to [it] in Pond Inlet is misleading and false.
Even before Thursday’s explosion, Netser criticized the government’s pullout from the Grays Bay port and road project, which he said would have added $10 billion to the Nunavut economy.
Netser said he believes the government needs to “be a champion in moving major projects forward, such as the Grays Bay project, which will help this government create revenue and jobs for our people.”
“This government should not be a brick wall to the opportunities of our Nunavummiut,” he said.