Andy Mitchell’s to-do list


Most Nunavut government officials are shedding no tears this week for Jean Chrétien’s outgoing administration. They view Prime Minister Paul Martin’s ascendancy last Friday as a chance to mend Nunavut’s tattered relationship with Ottawa, and to obtain more tools to help them better the lives of Nunavummiut.

They’re even happier to see the back of Robert Nault, Chrétien’s unpopular minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. Martin removed Nault from cabinet, replacing him with Andy Mitchell, a little-known member of parliament who represents the rural district of Parry Sound-Muskoka, which sits on the southern edge of northern Ontario.

Mitchell, who met Premier Paul Okalik last spring, can be expected to possess at least some knowledge of Nunavut and the other northern territories, having served as secretary of state for parks. The Fenbrook institute, which holds many Inuit inmates serving federal time, is located in Mitchell’s constituency.

But DIAND is a huge, complicated department. Many competing groups, including the Assembly of First Nations and its more than 650 bands will be lining up to present him with their lists of demands. So will the other two northern territories, and a parade of aboriginal organizations. Mitchell’s potential to-do list could be a long one, and even if his intentions toward Nunavut are good, it’s easy to see how Nunavut’s priorities could fall to the bottom of it.

Here then, are our suggestions for which items should sit at the top of Andy Mitchell’s Nunavut to-do list:

• Make a speedy decision on an environmental review for the Bathurst Port-Road Project. This file has languished within the DIAND minister’s office for at least six months. Proponents and opponents of the project alike deserve to know which type of environmental review Ottawa favours — a “Part 5” review conducted by the Nunavut Impact Review Board, or a “Part 6” review conducted by a federal environmental assessment panel.

Environmental groups, along with the Government of the Northwest Territories, favour a federal review of the Bathurst project. The GN and most other Nunavut organizations favour a so-called “made-in-Nunavut” review by the NIRB. Either way, the Bathurst project has been stalled long enough, and even a decision to hold a Part 6 review would be better than no decision at all.

• Start talks on a devolution agreement with the Government of Nunavut. Within the life of the next Nunavut government, at least three new mines — Meadowbank, Jericho, and Hope Bay — are likely to go into production. But the Nunavut government has no means of obtaining revenue from mineral production royalties — only Ottawa can do that. And the Nunavut government has no power over the issuance of exploration and production permits within the territory.

At the very least, Mitchell should appoint a negotiator to work out a framework deal on devolution — a kind of preliminary agreement that would set out what would be covered in a devolution agreement, and a possible timetable. Mitchell should commit himself to achieving a complete devolution agreement for Nunavut by the time the next Nunavut government finishes its mandate. Without such a deal, Nunavut will remain an economic colony of southern Canada.

• Give Nunavut a concrete response to the proposal for a $66-million Canada-Nunavut economic development agreement that the Sivummut group submitted to the federal government a year ago. If a wealthy province like Alberta can benefit from a program like the Western Economic Diversification Fund, then Canada’s most economically depressed jurisdiction, Nunavut, should also get a helping hand from Ottawa.

A well-designed EDA need not degenerate into a patronage-ridden political slush fund. Carefully targeted EDA contributions could be used for a variety of useful purposes, such as helping the Baffin Fisheries Coalition buy a deep-sea fishing vessel.

• Show more flexibility in talks aimed at a new 10-year implementation agreement for the Nunavut land claims agreement — especially the GN-NTI demand for millions of dollars a year in training money to implement Article 23. Mitchell should at least attempt to meet NTI and the GN half-way on this issue. With its under-educated population, Nunavut’s need for more vocational training is enormous. JB

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