The GNWT and Nunavut

By JIM BELL

You have to give the GNWT credit for one thing.

They’ve shown, in their recent response to the Nunavut Implementation Commission’s Footprints 2 report, that they’re willing to learn from at least some of their mistakes.

“Footprints 2,” in case you haven’t yet heard, is a thick pile of paper that sets out the NIC’s latest recommendations on how Nunavut should be created. It’s named after “Footprints in New Snow,” the Nunavut commission’s first attempt to outline how Nunavut’s new government might be organized and built.

Back in May of 1995 when the commission published its original Footprints report, the people who ran the GNWT made a big mistake that came back to haunt them in a most embarrassing manner. The GNWT did their best to ignore the NIC ­ and unlike Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., provided no response to the NIC’s ideas.

Not surprisingly, that strategy backfired. In April of 1996, Ron Irwin announced a series of crucial Nunavut decisions made by the federal cabinet, decisions made with little or no input from the GNWT.

Not until after Irwin’s announcement did the GNWT publish its views on the NIC’s work ­ at a May 1996 gathering of Nunavut leaders in Arviat.

This time however, the GNWT wasted no time in responding to the NIC’s work.

Only a few weeks after its release, Deputy Premier Goo Arlooktoo, at a press conference in Iqaluit, released the GNWT’s formal response to Footprints 2.

At long last, the GNWT’s ideas about how to create Nunavut ­ along with all the strengths and weaknesses of those ideas ­ may be examined and debated by the public.

Predictably, Yellowknife government’s approach to division and the creation of Nunavut is cautious and conservative. The GNWT rejects most new ideas advanced by either the NIC or Nunavut Tunngavik, and much of their response reads like an endorsement of the status quo.

Indeed, the GNWT appears to favour a Nunavut that is a carbon copy of the current Yellowknife government. If that’s true, it’s a position at odds with the wishes of most Nunavut residents.

For example, the GNWT’s positions on issues like decentralization and staff housing are riddled with inconsistency, and they reek of hypocrisy.

For people in communities like Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Baker Lake, Arviat, Igloolik, Cape Dorset, and Coppermine who believe that they’ll get territorial government jobs within a decentralized Nunavut, this is of great concern.

That’s because, in a lengthy section that raises many concerns with the decentralization model proposed by the NIC, the GNWT suggests that decentralization may not now be affordable.

That’s a legitimate concern. But coming from the GNWT, it reeks of hypocrisy. The GNWT’s own policies have also made decentralization more difficult to achieve. Because of GNWT policies such as departmental amalgamation, restructuring, privatization, job layoffs, and other changes, there are fewer jobs and functions left to decentralize in Nunavut.

Later on, the GNWT notes that the NTI-Ottawa infrastructure agreement, under which the construction of Nunavut’s legislative assembly and other buildings will be financed by private capital, provides for supply of staff housing to some Nunavut government employees.

This “has the potential to create divisiveness between employees,” the GNWT says. This is the government that has been throwing employees out of staff housing for the past four years.

And it’s the same government that for the past two years has ignored NIC recommendations to suspend the sale of staff housing ­ partly because of fears that the policy will make it impossible for Nunavut to recruit new staff.

The GNWT’s conservatism is revealed by its rejection of the NIC’s common sense suggestion that Nunavut’s divisional boards of education be replaced by one Nunavut-wide board, and that Nunavut’s health boards be abolished.

For a government that since 1991 has committed itself to the idea of “strength at two levels” ­ strong community governments, a strong territorial government, and diminished regional institutions ­ this is a curious position.

But at least that, and other GNWT ideas are now known to the public and can be openly debated. For that, the GNWT deserves our praise.

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