Bad gas, bad facts?


On the surface, it appears as if government-supplied gasoline is playing havoc with snowmobile engines in at least 10 Nunavut communities, and possibly more.

Snowmobile owners all over Nunavut, most of them hunters, have been complaining for months that this year’s batch of fuel is destroying their engines.

Some say their fuel is a different colour than it usually is and produces an odd smell. Some repair shop mechanics agree the problems are related to unsuitable fuel. Some manufacturers say they won’t honour warranties for certain repairs on broken-down machines. Some hamlet councils who don’t trust the government have sent fuel samples out for independent analysis, and say the results support their claim that the territorial government’s fuel is sub-standard.

Not surprisingly, a few MLAs are now asking the government of Nunavut to consider compensation for hunters whose snowmobile engines have been wrecked.

The government, on the other hand, says its own tests show — so far — that there’s nothing wrong with its fuel. They have, however, sent more samples out for testing.

It’s understandable that the government of Nunavut has denied responsibility. The payment of compensation claims to aggrieved snowmobile owners could cost a lot of money, especially if the evidence to support those claims is open to question.

But the scores of hunters all over Nunavut who are shelling out hundreds of dollars each for expensive repairs and new parts can’t all be wrong — and this issue is about more than money. It’s also about public safety. The spring hunting season is almost upon us, and hunting families all over Nunavut will be heading for their favourite camping spots. If snowmobiles break down unexpectedly during that time, search and rescue workers may have some serious work to do.

It’s obvious that the first thing the government must do to resolve this issue is to produce a clear set of credible facts that everyone can agree on.

The key word here is “credible.”

Ever since the winter of 1998-99, when people in Gjoa Haven first suspected that something was wrong with their gasoline, no one has really trusted the government’s assertion that Nunavut’s gasoline supplies are just fine.

The government, therefore, should find a way of conducting an independent, arms-length inquiry into the state of Nunavut’s fuel supplies. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the regional wildlife organizations may wish to co-sponsor and co-finance such an initiative.

Its job should be to determine, once and for all, if Nunavut’s fuel supplies are tainted or substandard, and if so, to find out why. When it’s finished, the people of Nunavut should be told about its findings in an honest and clear manner.

Such an inquiry ought to look at where Nunavut’s gasoline comes from, who sells it, who ships it, and who stores it. It may well be that the territorial government isn’t responsible for the problem, and that someone else is.

Whatever the truth may be, it’s the responsibility of government to lead the way toward discovering it. Until that happens, the bad gas issue will never be resolved.


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