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'This is not going away,' Sheutiapik warns

Okalik offers mayors little satisfaction on resources

By CHRIS WINDEYER

Premier Paul Okalik has fended off demands from municipalities to share any resource royalties that might come with devolution, saying "I don't see any advantage in us debating how we slice up a pie that isn't even in the oven yet."

But mayors attending the annual meeting of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities in Iqaluit fear the Government of Nunavut will eat the entire pie without saving a slice for them.

"There's so much ownership and that fear of losing, and I think right now it's all about the dollar," said Elisapee Sheutiapik, mayor of Iqaluit, who criticized the government in recent weeks over what she considers to be the government's unwillingness to listen to municipalities.

Pleas for unity dominated the premier's prepared remarks to Nunavut's mayors, which appeared designed to dampen municipal expectations.

"I am continuing to push for the federal government to come to the table on devolution," Okalik said. "But we are not there yet and I believe it's important to that we remain united in getting this process started."

Mayors wanted $250,000 to $300,000 to translate a community toolkit prepared by the World Bank and the International Council on Mining and Metals that helps prepare communities for mining development. The money would go to translation, distribution and teaching people in the communities how to use it.

By the end of NAM's three-day conference in Iqaluit last week, the 25 municipalities present voted to contribute $10,000 each to pay for the project.

When asked directly for the money by David Qamaniq, the mayor of Pond Inlet, and Sheutiapik, Okalik responded by blaming Ottawa for dragging its heels on devolution talks, in effect ducking the question.

"If we don't get much of the royalty sharing [with Ottawa] there's not going to be much to share [with the municipalities]," Okalik said.

But even Ottawa's expert panel on territorial formula financing recommends the Government of Nunavut sit down with Ottawa, Nunavut Tunngavik and the municipalities to talk about ways to prepare for the coming mining boom, said Lynda Gunn, chief executive officer of NAM.

NAM has asked for money to translate the toolkit since last summer, and was told by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada the federal government would pay half the cost of the project if the GN would cover the other half.

But "at the administrative level we've been put off," Gunn told the premier.

"We can't respond to you today, but we have to work together," Okalik replied.

At the Nunavut Mining Symposium last month, both Sheutiapik and Michelle Gillis, the mayor of Cambridge Bay, took the stage to tell miners that municipalities need to benefit directly from mining projects.

Sheutiapik called for a municipal share of territorial revenues from mining, while Gillis said her hamlet has been shut out of involvement in local projects by the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

Until Iqaluit and Ottawa reach a devolution deal, the federal government claws back 80 cents in federal transfers for every dollar Nunavut earns in mining royalties, said Russell Banta, a consultant hired by NAM to help on the mining file.

"This is not going away," Sheutiapik said, adding she'd like to see Okalik sit down with Paul Kaludjak, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik, and NAM vice-president Paul Quassa to hammer out a strategy on devolution and talk about ways to simplify Nunavut's complex mining regulations.

"[Okalik] says he represents us and that he's there for us. Well how is he going to know what our needs are if he's not communicating with us?" Sheutiapik asked.

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