Schooling 'connects &#39e;verything;'

Premier pushes for infrastructure, education funds

By CHRIS WINDEYER

With the Canadian economy staggering and Ottawa expected to hand out billions of dollars in stimulus funds in next week's federal budget, premiers met Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week.

The immediate results of the Jan. 16 gathering were a commitment to speed up an existing federal infrastructure program, tweaks to the banking system to ensure easier access to credit and new rules that allow any worker certified in a trade to have their credentials recognized anywhere in the country.

But the real purpose of the meeting was for premiers to lobby for their cut of billions of dollars in infrastructure money.

Premier Eva Aariak said Nunavut needs cash for infrastructure and, for the long-term, education and skills training.

"We need to be educating our youth at all levels, ensuring that high school graduation is improving, ensuring that post secondary students are supported so that they can become professionals in the area that they are interested in," Aariak said.

The premier is putting education at the top of her government's agenda. There are plenty of issues to sort out: Nunavut has a new education act to implement and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s $1-billion lawsuit against the federal government stems from accusations that Ottawa hasn't spent enough on skills training for Inuit.

And Aariak said improving the education system in Nunavut will boost the economy, improve social conditions and help the Government of Nunavut get closer to its goal of having Inuit make up 85 per cent of its workforce. The figure now is barely over half.

"It [education] connects to everything," she said. "To employment, to social conditions, and when one has more education then they are less likely to be involved in negative actions in the community."

But Nunavut still lacks a final infrastructure wish list for the accelerated Building Canada infrastructure fund.

That's where the money will come from for "shovel-ready" projects that governments hope will provide a shot in the arm to Canada's economy.

Aariak said there is a tentative list of projects for the Building Canada Fund, with housing at the top, followed by daycares, training centres, and maintenance of homes and government and hamlet offices. She said ministers will draw up a final list during an upcoming cabinet retreat.

Larger projects, like small craft harbours, a port for Iqaluit and a possible road connecting the Kivalliq to Manitoba will have to await new funding in the federal budget.

John Hickes, the newly-elected mayor of Rankin Inlet, said his community has a long list of infrastructure needs, from a new dump, arena and swimming pool, to longer term needs like a new runway and dock.

He'd also like to see action to revive the slowing mining sector. A road to Manitoba could help that, he said, as well as reduce the cost of living.

"We just can't afford to continue to fly our materials in," Hickes said. "Someday, somehow, the Government of Canada is going to have to say yes."

Aariak said she hoped federal changes to the financial system would free up credit for junior mining companies, who conduct the bulk of mining exploration in Nunavut, need to operate. The GN could also survey the mining industry to see if there are changes the government could make to spur new activity.

The premier also said she called on Ottawa to renew the Strategic Investments in Northern Economic Development (SINED) fund that's due to expire at the end of March.

That fund gave the territory $25.1 million over four years to carry out land surveys and create a community skills inventory system.

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