Communities must set job plan priorities

The GNWT is urging hamlets and community groups to put together viable make-work projects in order to tap into millions of dollars worth of economic development funds



Baffin mayors sat baffled last weekend as a government bureaucrat spouted phrases such as “community economic development,” and “visions for a social, economic and environmental game plan.”

It’s terminology these leaders will have to get used to if they expect to help their communities become self sustaining in the future.

Graeme Dargo, a senior advisor with the GNWT’s department of resources, wildlife and economic development, briefed Baffin regional leaders on the government’s latest job creation initiative – the Northern Employment Strategy.

The territorial government will spend $32 million over the next two years to stimulate economic growth in northern communities, with an estimated $6 million flowing into the Baffin region this year. The goal is to create the 1,911 jobs needed to reach an 80 per cent employment level.

But in order to tap into those millions, communities will have to do much of their own economic planning. They’ll have to determine their priorities and outline a strategy by the end of this summer, to meet their goals.

That means organizing a number of groups at a time when most people are either on vacation or out on the land.

Dargo admitted the program was rushed to have it in place for this summer.

“The strategy was developed extremely quickly,” Dargo said. “We could have probably done a much better job in communicating both at the aboriginal level and at the community level, but there was urgency to move on with this.”

Dargo is responsible for promoting community economic development (CED) in the North. CED, he says, focuses on the social and environmental development of a community, as well as the economic.

“It’s a much more holistic approach to development,” he told leaders.

The population of Nunavut is the youngest in the country with more than 40 per cent of its residents under the age of 15, compared to the national average of 21 per cent. Unemployment is a chronic problem and is expected to worsen exponentially.

In Hall Beach, for example, the official unemployment rate is 35 per cent. Igloolik and Arctic Bay both report 30 per cent unemployment.

Dargo said municipal leaders need to learn how to combine the new employment strategy with community development.

“You need some real leaders at the community level to grab hold of this thing and start driving it from the community up, not top down,” Dargo said. “A key to the success of community economic development is people from the community coming together and taking an active role in designing their own future.”

The territorial government will provide information and technical support for communities to develop plans, but the communities must come up with viable projects if they want access to funding.

But at least one Baffin leader doesn’t believe government job creation will solve the unemployment woes of the region.

High Arctic MLA Levi Barnabas said too many people would simply rather collect social assistance than earn a living.

“The social assistance program has broken down the resolve of people to work,” he said. “It’s obviously an attitude problem.”

Excluding housing subsidies, the GNWT spent $12 million on social assistance in the Baffin region in 1995-96.

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