Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Nunavut May 02, 2016 - 11:30 am

Nunavut lands referendum information campaign is a failure

"The quality and quantity of information on the land referendum website has changed regularly"

Did the Government of Nunavut conduct an effective information campaign for the May 9, 2016 land sales referendum?
Did the Government of Nunavut conduct an effective information campaign for the May 9, 2016 land sales referendum?

The Government of Nunavut has decided to hold a referendum to ask Nunavummiut whether land should be sold privately within municipalities.

I am writing to voice concerns about the information presented throughout the consultation process.

The general timeline of the decision is as follows:

• in March 2014, the Government of Nunavut started to prepare for the land referendum.

• in May 2014, Cabinet approved the GN to proceed with the Land Referendum.

• in October 2015, Cabinet decided that the Land Referendum would take place on May 9, 2016.

As part of the consultation process, the GN has created a website, documents, brochures and posters in an attempt to inform Nunavummiut about the land referendum.

The disorganized and confusing documents supposedly seek to enable Nunavummiut to make an informed decision on a critical issue.

What concerns me is that the quality and quantity of information on the land referendum website has changed regularly, raising the question of whether communities that were consulted were provided with adequate and uniform information.

It has become a patchwork of information with add-ons and deletions, changing regularly, making it difficult to keep up.

For example, during the first public consultation event in Iqaluit on March 3, 2016, a GN official indicated that they had recently met with some of the financial institutions and an insurance company regarding the lands referendum.

The GN official proceeded to speak about the possible banking and insurance implications that would result from a Yes vote and that they would be updating the website to explain this new information.

This important new information, such as possible reduced fuel spill insurance coverage, should have been figured out before the community consultations even began.

If this information was available from the start, it would have provided community members an opportunity to ask questions and discuss them while GN officials were visiting their communities.

During the second Iqaluit consultation event, a question was raised about the constant changes to the information on the land referendum website and what the GN was doing to ensure communities that they have already visited are informed of this new information.

The GN response was that the GN informs Senior Administrative Officers in each community who are then responsible for informing their community members.

This appears as though the GN is trying to pass on the responsibility to inform Nunavummiut about the lands referendum. There is also the question of how informed SAOs are of the issues at hand.

A couple of questions that arise from this are:

i) what mechanism is in place to ensure that each SAO is passing along all new information to the community?

ii) does the GN think it is sufficient to pass along information to SAOs and expect them to inform the community?

The GN decided on the May 9, 2016 date for the vote in order to provide enough time for a public awareness campaign.

It is apparent that the GN requires more time to inform Nunavummiut about the issues and implications of the land referendum if new information is continuing to be revealed this late in the process.

The GN has had plenty of time to gather in-depth information as outlined in the timeline noted above, but for whatever reason they have not done so.

The GN is failing in their duty to properly inform and consult Nunavummiut, if the goal is to have Nunavummiut cast an informed vote.

I also question the length of time the GN allowed itself to conduct community consultations. According to the GN land referendum website, they started consultations in late January 2016 and concluded them at the end of March 2016.

This seems like a rather short timeframe to conduct a Nunavut-wide public awareness campaign on a critical and complex issue.

There should have been a two-phase consultation. The first phase being an information gathering process as well as determining what information and questions were being raised by communities.

The information gathered and answers to those questions raised by communities could have formed the basis for a second round of consultations. As it so happened, people in some communities asked questions that others in other communities did not ask, but would be interested in discussing the answers.

The premier and his cabinet must recognize the GN’s failure to properly inform, engage and consult Nunavummiut on the lands referendum.

Premier, do the appropriate and responsible thing by delaying the vote to ensure Nunavummiut are better informed. Private land ownership could result in profound changes for Nunavut and Nunavummiut.

If the premier and his cabinet choose not to delay the vote, please vote No. We deserve better as Nunavummiut.

According to the GN, if the result is a No vote, we could revisit this land referendum issue in five years. Perhaps that will give the GN enough time to get its act together and gather the information required to properly inform Nunavummiut.

A long-time resident of Nunavut
(Name withheld by request)

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