Arvaluk launches review of Nunavut’s welfare system

Education Minister James Arvaluk wants a “citizen’s forum” to make recommendations on changing Nunavut’s social assistance system.



IQALUIT — Nunavut’s Education Minister James Arvaluk is launching a review of the territory’s income support program.

Nunavut currently spends about $26 million a year on welfare, and a review is necessary to make sure the program meets Nunavut’s needs and taxpayers get “a return on their investment,” Arvaluk said.

“We would like to get recommendations of how to use the $26 million more wisely for both the recipients and the residents of the community,” Arvaluk said.

A forum of Nunavut citizens will canvass residents and come back to the government with a set of recommendations, Arvaluk said.

How the forum will do its job still has to be discussed in cabinet, but Arvaluk said he hopes to appoint forum members and have everything ready to go by the New Year.

“I don’t want this to be dragged-out kind of research. We know what the problems are already,” Arvaluk said.

Arvaluk said the committee must find out what’s wrong with the current system, how can the government change the system, and what can the government do to create long-term solutions to unemployment.

Better use of money?

Arvaluk said he did not want to predetermine solutions before the forum embarks on its work, but he said there may be ways to use some of the money that now goes to income support to help the unemployed find work.

“We will have to think of a way to use that same money, maybe for training, maybe upgrading, maybe community infrastructure development programs. Anything that creates a positive lifestyle,” Arvaluk said.

Right now, welfare recipients in Nunavut want to get off welfare. but don’t have many options, Arvaluk said.

“Giving an opportunity for young people to earn their living more productively should be part of the option,” he said.

At the same time, Arvaluk said most people receiving income support live in poverty or near poverty and he said he doesn’t believe abuse of the system is frequent.

It will be up to the forum to come up with ideas on how the government can provide income support to the people who need it, and at the same time pay for training programs and new ways to get people off welfare permanently.

“This is what I want to hear . . . something that I didn’t know before,” Arvaluk said, adding the government may have to increase spending on training programs to achieve the long-term savings of having fewer people collect assistance.

Forum members will also have to look at issues such as eligibility for assistance, and access to daycare for those who want to work. Other disincentives to staying off welfare, such as complicated employment insurance application forms, should also be looked at.

No workfare?

But Arvaluk said he does not see workfare as an option.

“This is something I would recommend very highly to the review committee — not to recommend anything along that line,” Arvaluk said.

Arvaluk said he couldn’t guess what kind of projects could fall under workfare in Nunavut’s communities.

“In most communities we do not have swimming pools. Why can we not build swimming pools in the communities, using the same money by employing people that are not normally employed. That would be a lasting thing for the community. That’s not a make-work project.”

In the mid 1990s, the government of the old Northwest Territories conducted its own study to revamp the welfare system. Little came out of it.

But Arvaluk said the same thing won’t happen in Nunavut, even if some of the recommendations are unpopular with the public.

“We are prepared to take the leadership role, and determine what is good for Nunavut in the long run, which the GNWT apparently did not do,” Arvaluk said.

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