Church scolds government for deficit obsession
Anglican clergy have warned that the pace of fiscal reforms in the North is hindering development and will condemn Arctic communities to another generation of dependence.
In a sharply worded letter to NWT premier Don Morin, the executive committee of the Arctic diocese has called for a review of the territorial government’s deficit-reduction strategy.
“We would encourage you and your colleagues in Cabinet to provide an opportunity for the public to catch their individual and collective breath,” wrote Bishop Rev. J Christopher R. Williams in a letter to Morin dated Feb. 11.
“To continue could cause immeasurable damage to the very fabric of our community life.”
As of presstime this week, the GNWT had not responded to the bishop’s letter.
Feelings of insecurity
Cuts to social assistance, health care and education over the last two years have all contributed to a general feeling of insecurity and despair, clergy say. And not just in First Nations and Inuit communities.
“Not everybody came up North to strike it rich and get what they can and head back down south again,” said Williams in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.
“Some people came with a desire to be of service to people and to seek to do some good, and I think they’re the ones who are hurting at the present time.”
The Anglican Church counts roughly 40,000 adherents in 51 communities across the North, including northern Quebec.
Clergy themselves say they need some relief from the pace of government downsizing. One of the effects of the cuts to government services has been to increase their workload.
“One of the areas being cut back is in the area of health, and especially mental health and social services,” Bishop Williams noted. “These are the areas which people, if they wanted to turn to them, now have no opportunity, so they tend to turn to the clergy.”
“Often the more desperate we get, the more religious we become.”
Rev. Roger Briggs of Iqaluit, who has lived and worked in a number of northern communities since the 1950s, acknowledged the need for governments to get their finances in order. But he suspects the withdrawl of subsidies is being carried out with little care for or understanding of their long-term impact.
No vision in budget
“One of the real concerns that I see is there has been a deliberate decsion to cut, but in the context of what? What is the vision of what will be left after all this cutting?
“It’s been bottom-line stuff, done on a purely balance-sheet level as far as I see. And the human face has not been taken into account.”
Briggs has witnessed first-hand the effects of budget restraints on parishioners squeezed by sharply increased living costs.
He has also begun to wonder how long some valued non-aboriginal residents can tolerate the continued erosion of financial benefits they’re accustomed to.
“There are some very experienced southerners who have been up here for a number of years, who came up genuinely to give themselves to the development of the North, who are finding themselves on an economic level forced to resign their positions.”
Just last week, Briggs said an executive assistant with the GNWT who couldn’t make ends meet said goodbye and headed back south.
“It became quickly obvious to her that with the work she was doing and all her living costs, she had very little money left at the end of each month to be buying things like food.” Briggs said. “She has left the community.”
In Nunavut, where the transition to self-government implies a substantial transfer of knowledge, Briggs thinks the loss of these longtime residents will be felt deeply.
“It’s starting to erode the expertise which has got to be there at all levels as you move into self-government,” Briggs said.
“What you’re losing is experience.”