Feds propose mediator for stalled claim talks

Paul Okalik: “I’m more than willing to move that way”

By JIM BELL

The federal government is proposing mediation to resolve a bitter, four-year dispute with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. over a new implementation contract for the Nunavut land claims agreement.

Until that dispute is resolved, Inuit land claim beneficiaries in Nunavut will have no way of knowing whether the Inuit government employment provisions of Article 23 will ever be fully carried out.

Talks between NTI and Ottawa on a new implementation contract, which began in 2001, broke down late last year. That’s because the federal government is unwilling to meet NTI’s biggest demand: the spending of many tens of millions of new dollars over the next 10 years to train Inuit for government jobs.

Ethel Blondin-Andrew, MP for the Western Arctic and the Liberal party’s political boss for northern Canada, told NTI president Paul Kaludjak about the mediation proposal earlier this month.

But in his speaking notes for a March 18 meeting in Iqaluit with Andy Scott, the DIAND minister, Kaludjak told Scott that NTI is still skeptical about whether mediation would work.

The federal government has no negotiator for the implementation talks, Kaludjak said, suggesting it’s not clear who a mediator would talk to on the federal side.

As well, Kaludjak said it’s not clear if a new federal negotiator would have a new mandate from the federal government.

A senior DIAND official told NTI in a letter last November that the department “has exhausted its mandate,” can’t offer any more Article 23 money to NTI than what they offered in January of 2003, and that DIAND “does not see the utility of appointing a new negotiator.”

Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, told reporters at a press conference in Iqaluit on March 18 that he supports mediation, as long as NTI also supports it.

“I want to move ahead. If this involves a third party to resolve the situation, I’m more than willing to move that way. The minister is open to the idea… I’ll be talking to NTI about how we can pursue this matter further,” Okalik said.

For close to four years, the GN and NTI have formed a tag-team to pry more Inuit job training money out of Ottawa through a beefed-up implementation contract.

To back up their case, the GN and NTI hired PricewaterhouseCoopers, a major accounting firm, to figure out the economic cost to Inuit created by the failure to fully carry out Article 23. The GN and NTI had invited Ottawa to participate as well, but Ottawa said no.

That study, called “Annaumaniq” was released in January 2003. It showed Nunavut Inuit are losing about $123 million a year in lost wages and benefits because of the disproportionately low numbers of Inuit who work for government.

The study also found that:

* Over 10 years, the cost to Inuit is a whopping $1.2 billion;
* Only 27 per cent of DIAND employees in Nunavut are Inuit;
* Only 33 per cent of federal employees in Nunavut are Inuit;
* On average, Inuit in government jobs earn only 78.5 per cent of the salaries earned by their non-Inuit counterparts. That’s because Inuit tend to be concentrated in lower-level, lower paid jobs;
* The extra social costs borne by government, including social assistance, lost income tax revenue, and turnover-related hiring expenses, is $65 million a year.

The implementation contract is a 10-year side deal, required by the terms of the Nunavut land claims agreement, setting out who is responsible for doing what in carrying out the terms of the Nunavut land claims agreement.

The first implementation contract expired July 9, 2003. It provided only $160,000 over 10 years to carry out the terms of Article 23.

Using the information contained in Annaumaniq, NTI now wants Ottawa to spend $10 to $20 million a year to fund a massive, 10-year Inuit employment plan.

Article 23 is the section of the land claim agreement that says government should do certain things to help Inuit get government jobs, until the proportion of Inuit in those jobs is equal to the proportion of Inuit living in Nunavut – about 85 per cent.

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