“Pilot project” needs closer scrutiny


The government of the Northwest Territories has devised what might turn out to be a promising new way of negotiating community empowerment agreements with Nunavut municipalities.

To try out the idea, the GNWT’s municipal affairs department is getting ready to carry out something called the “Keewatin pilot project.”

Under it, the GNWT would undertake a massive transfer of money and management responsibilities to the Keewatin region’s seven municipal governments. Based on what MACA Minister Manitok Thompson and her deputy minister, Penny Ballantyne, have told MLAs recently, that seems to include virtually all of the capital and operation-maintenance money that the GNWT now spends in the Keewatin.

It’s a bold new idea with a lot of merit. But Thompson and her officials have not yet provided the public with enough information to allow us to properly evaluate it. MLAs and other Nunavut leaders must, therefore, scrutinize the Keewatin pilot project carefully before endorsing it.

MLAs and other Nunavut leaders must also wait for the public release of the latest auditor-general’s report on how the GNWT manages its finances. That report contains a lengthy analysis of the MACA department and its community empowerment activities. Leaders must have access to the auditor-general’s independent observations on MACA and the financial administration aspects of community empowerment before they can be expected to make rational decisions about the Keewatin pilot project.

Until now, GNWT officials have been negotiating community empowerment agreements on a more or less piece-meal, community by community basis. Different communities appear to be negotiating their own individual transfer packages according to their own schedules. That’s consistent with previous commitments made by the territorial government that allow communities to take on more community empowerment responsibilities at their own pace.

In the Keewatin, however, the GNWT appears ready to do community empowerment deals with all seven communities under the umbrella of one overarching agreement. That’s an attractive idea. If it’s carried out, the equivalent of seven community empowerment deals will have been struck all at once, in an efficient and co-ordinated manner.

As well, the idea seems to have won the support of most of the region’s hamlet governments. That too ought to carry a lot of weight with the GNWT.

On the other hand there are a number of glaring questions that GNWT officials have yet to answer. Those questions include:

* Does the Keewatin pilot project mean a new form of regional government that’s at odds with longstanding GNWT policy and the Footprints model for the design of the Nunavut government?

MACA officials have been talking vaguely about the creation of a “Keewatin mayors’ society” to handle the pilot project. But they haven’t said anything about whether this will turn out to be a de facto regional government. As the old saying goes, if it’s got stripes, it’s probably a zebra.

* Has the GNWT thought about how this will affect the Keewatin’s regional education board and local school councils?

Nunavut’s boards of education are already saying they have concerns about how this new arrangement might fit into new school governance provisions contained in the NWT’s new Education Act.

* Who will be accountable for the millions of dollars worth of money that will flow into the hands of the vaguely described “Keewatin mayors’ society?”

We’re not suggesting in any way that the Keewatin’s mayors can’t be trusted. But all residents have a right to know what safeguards will exist to ensure financial probity.

* How will this affect the operations of the new Nunavut government next year?

A large chunk of the fledgling Nunavut government’s budget may end being committed to the Keewatin pilot project. Nunavut Tunngavik — perhaps through its shadow cabinet — should closely study the idea before endorsing it, to ensure that Nunavut’s interests are protected.

* How will the “pilot project” be evaluated?

In English, the term “pilot project” usually means the same thing as the word “experiment.” If its an experiment, GNWT officials need to tell us how they plan to evaluate it, and what they plan to do if the experiment should fail. JB

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