'It's time Ottawa started 'investing; in… Nunavut'

Northern politicos vie for Ottawa handout office


YELLOWKNIFE – Suitors are already lining up to play host to the new federal northern economic development agency that's slated to start operating this fall.

Northwest Territories premier Floyd Roland said March 5 his government is lobbying Ottawa to have the headquarters for the still unnamed agency located in Yellowknife.

"We've already started making our business case," Roland said during question period in the NWT legislature March 5.

The new agency, part of an election promise that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made in Iqaluit last September, would spend federal government money on northern economic development.

Most of that money would come from a scheme called "SINED," which has been renewed to provide $90 million a year for the three territories.

Officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, which will oversee the agency, have said it will have offices in all three territories and an office in Ottawa.

And they've confirmed the headquarters will be located North of 60, though they haven't said where.

Peter Taptuna, Nunavut's minister of economic development and transportation, said Nunavut is also pushing Ottawa for the agency headquarters.

Iqaluit, he said, is an ideal location because there are 15 direct jet flights per week between the Nunavut capital and Ottawa.

Taptuna said too many federal offices dealing with Nunavut are located in far-flung Western Canadian cities like Winnipeg or Edmonton.

"It's time Ottawa started investing in… Nunavut," he said.

"[But] Nunavut understands and respects the position of the NWT premier. What he states is rather consistent with how the federal government has done things in the past, before the division of the territories."

Dave Ramsay, the MLA for the Yellowknife riding of Kam Lake who questioned Roland on the issue, said in an interview that the NWT capital is the ideal location for the headquarters.

It's a centrally located city with good airline service that's poised to be the hub of enormous economic activity when the proposed MacKenzie Valley pipeline project gets underway, he said.

What Ramsay said the NWT needs from the new agency is similar to what Nunavut needs: seed money for new businesses and ways to reduce the high cost of doing business in the North.

"What we need is economic development in the smaller communities," he said.

Ramsay also wants to see some INAC jobs now based in Ottawa or the neighbouring Quebec city of Gatineau to be moved north.

In the assembly, Ramsay complained that 10 vacant high-paying policy analyst and advisor jobs with INAC are located in Gatineau, QC and not the North.

"They're making decisions on a daily basis and they should be in the North," he said, adding what's lacking is the political will in Ottawa to bring those jobs North. "Whether [those federal workers] would move here or not is another thing."

But he said it would make sense to have Northerners, who understand the territories and have a personal stake in the development of the North, staffing senior policy jobs within INAC.

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