Ottawa speaks: Ron Irwin’s thoughts on Nunavut

Just before last month’s leaders’ meeting in Cambridge Bay, Ron Irwin, the minister for Indian affairs and northern development wrote this letter to John Amagoalik, the chief commissioner of the Nunavut Implementation Commission.


This letter is intended to share with you my initial views on the major recommendations contained in Footprints 2: A Second Comprehensive Report of the Nunavut Implementation Commission.

To a large extent, “Footprints 2” is a fine-tuning of the organizational design model proposed in Footprints in New Snow which was endorsed by the federal government in April 1996.

At that time, I announced that $149.9 million had been allocated to cover the preparatory incremental and transition costs associated with getting Nunavut established and operational by April 1, 1999.

From a federal perspective, the model proposed in “Footprints 2” continues to meet the broad objectives in relation to organizational design and decentralization of government employment and is consistent with the existing federal financial commitment.

The federal government is very supportive of the Commission’s recommendations to share existing structures such as the Workers’ Compensation Board and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation for an indeterminate time.

I understand the Federal Department of Justice is also in the process of examining the possibility of a unified court system which would undoubtedly result in substantial efficiencies while at the same time provide the citizens of Nunavut with a more streamlined system for the administration of justice.

On the other hand, the Commission’s recommendations relating to telecommunications systems will require further analysis given the potentially significant cost implications.

While I expect that implementation of the model over the next two years will call for further minor refinements, any substantive adjustment to the model at this stage would have major implications for the scheduling of infrastructure development; the ability of the private sector to access the financing needed to begin construction this summer, and the ability of the Interim Commissioner to effectively and practically plan for the recruitment of 150 government employees in 1998-1999.

Furthermore, in any substantive adjustment to the model, it will be necessary to keep in mind that incremental funding through ongoing financial arrangements will be limited.

Staffing the Government of Nunavut will be one of the most challenging tasks the Interim Commissioner will undertake over the next two years.

In addition to the 150 employees to be hired over 1998-1999, the Interim Commissioner must put in place a process to recruit 450 employees in 1999-2000 in addition to the normal staffing requirements which are affected by an average annual attrition rate which, I understand, is in the order of 15 to 20 percent.

It is my view that the ability of the Interim Commissioner to successfully set up the operations of government will only be achieved if existing staff of the Government of the Northwest Territories working in Nunavut are transferred to the Nunavut government and they are provided assurances now that they will be employed on terms and conditions consistent with the conditions of employment established by the GNWT for its employees.

The employment and composition of the workforce must, however, be consistent with the overall objectives of Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

In this regard, in order to attain an interim objective of 50 percent Inuit representation at all levels in the Nunavut public service by 1999-2000, the Interim Commissioner must develop an Inuit recruitment plan as a first priority.

The Interim Commissioner must also work closely with the Working Group on Human Resources and Training to ensure that the training provided through the Unified Human Resources Development Strategy is developing the skills necessary for Inuit to qualify for employment in the Nunavut government and that mid-course adjustments are made where necessary.

There continues to be concern expressed about the adequacy of financing for infrastructure development. It is my view that the federal government’s commitment to finance over $170 million in infrastructure development over the longer term will provide the Nunavut government with the essential infrastructure it requires to become fully operational in 1999 and will accommodate the minor revisions to the organizational design model which are recommended in “Footprints 2”.

It is not my intention to seek any additional funding in the submission to Cabinet in 1998.

The federal government recognizes that, over the longer term, the Nunavut government will want to provide its citizens with the fuller range of services such as health care centers or corrections facilities currently enjoyed by territorial governments. Such infrastructure costs will have to be considered in the light of available financing.

My colleague, the Honorable Paul Martin, Minister of Finance, has the lead responsibility to determine the financial arrangements for Nunavut and the Northwest Territories post-1999.

I understand officials of the Department of Finance have been working with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Nunavut Tunngavik incorporated to develop a process for intergovernmental consultations on financial arrangements for Nunavut and the Western Territory.

The consultation process will address such issues as funding mechanisms, including an assessment of the current formula, determination of the expenditure base for each territory, including the determination of incremental costs and the assessment of the revenue-raising capacity of Nunavut and the Western Territory.

The Interim Commissioner, who has the authority under section 73(1) of the Nunavut Act to enter into financial arrangements on behalf of the future Government of Nunavut, will be a key player in this process.

While “Footprints 2” dedicates considerable attention to the financing arrangements for Nunavut post-1999, the specific recommendations will be considered as this consultation process evolves.

The federal government is, however, committed to ensuring that the financial arrangements reflect the principle of fairness for all northern residents and that the ongoing financial arrangements that into account the organizational design model which was endorsed by the federal government in 1996; and that the parameters of these financing arrangements are communicated to the parties in advance of 1999.

While the federal government remains committed to determining and funding reasonable incremental costs to allow for the continuing provision of programs and services for all residents, it will be necessary to keep funding at affordable and sustainable levels.

The federal government agrees that a basic premise of Canadian federalism is minimum representation for each province and territory in the House of Commons and the Senate and will take the steps necessary to address the matter of separate representation for both Nunavut and the Western Territory in the two houses of Parliament in planning ahead to April 1, 1999.

In conclusion, this letter is intended to give you a broad understanding of the federal government’s views on the major recommendations contained in “Footprints 2”.

The discussions which will continue through forums such as the Nunavut Leaders’ Summit, which is planned for Cambridge Bay in February and the ongoing dialogue among the parties will provide the opportunity to discuss the recommendations in more detail over the months ahead.

I wish to thank you and the Commission not only for your considerable effort in presenting this timely set of recommendations but also for the major contribution you have made to the planning for Nunavut.

Our success in the next stages of implementation will ultimately require a tremendous collective effort and the goodwill and commitment of the parties.

Ronald A. Irwin

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