GN should review decentralization
As some readers will know, the Government of Nunavut issued a new “Pinasuaqtavut” document last year, just after the 2004 election, replacing an old one that many of us remember as the “Bathurst Mandate.”
The new one is called “Our Commitment to Building Nunavut’s Future.” You won’t find a more high-minded pile of words anywhere this side of the treeline.
In the spirit of these noble intentions, and assuming, of course, that at least some GN officials actually believe in them, we propose the following: that the territorial government hire a competent expert in public administration to review its decentralization program and to provide an accurate, honest assessment of its benefits – and costs. Such a study should also evaluate whether public services have been either weakened, or improved, by decentralization.
Decentralization is a cornerstone of the structure that the GN built for itself after April 1, 1999, and was a major obsession during the first legislative assembly. Premier Paul Okalik promised that he would distribute about 420 headquarters jobs among 10 selected communities. For good or for ill, he was true to his word. Okalik and his senior staff kept that promise.
So now that the decentralization project is more or less done, this fall would be an excellent time for someone to begin a thorough evaluation of it. The second legislative assembly will be in office until 2008, so MLAs and the government will have plenty of time to correct whatever shortcomings are likely to be revealed by such a study.
There’s no reason why GN officials, from the premier on down, ought to fear such an exercise. It’s no secret that decentralization has worked better in some communities than in others. It’s in the GN’s interest – and above all, the public interest – to figure out exactly where the problems are and to fix them.
And if they’re looking for justification for such a study, GN officials should read their own words, especially the high-minded ones contained in their Pinasuaqtavut document.
For openers, here’s one of the GN’s guiding principles, as set out in Pinasuaqtavut:
Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit will provide the context in which we develop an open, responsible and accountable government.
“Open” means, among other things, that you don’t play games with the truth. “Accountable” means that you tell people about the real cost of your decisions, and you tell people about your failures as well as your successes.
Another section, called “Pijarnirniqsat Katujjiqatigiittiarnirlu,” or, in English, “Simplicity and Unity,” sets out another value that is supposed to guide the GN:
Every activity and expense must have a productive purpose.
Right now, we don’t know if every activity or expense associated with decentralization had a “productive purpose.” We don’t really even know what the expenses are.
We do know, however, that in 2003, the GN tried to order the Workers Compensation Board to relocate its office from Iqaluit to Pangnirtung. We also know that the WCB hired a consultant to do their own evaluation of such a move, and concluded decentralization would damage its ability to serve its clients, and that it would not serve any “productive purpose.” The WCB stayed put.
We also know that the Nunavut Power Corp., created on April 1, 2002, was asked to set up a decentralized “head office” in Baker Lake that would handle customer billing. Two years later, after $13 million in losses and numerous blunders, many of them in its billing operations, the power corporation was getting “severe warning” letters from the auditor general of Canada.
As a result, many Nunavut residents believe, rightly or wrongly, that this is a major reason for our increasing power bills. Don’t forget, even if your own bills are subsidized, you’ll pay those higher power bills indirectly every time you buy food from a store in your community.
Here’s another set of noble words from the Pinasuaqtavut document. By the year 2020, they say that in Nunavut:
The structures and activities of government serve Nunavut’s needs, with the most effective use of resources.
So if the Government of Nunavut intends to be true to its own mandate, they really have no choice but to take a thorough, honest look at decentralization and to share their findings with us. JB