Keewatin ponders multi-million dollar regional transfer

Is the Keewatin getting a new regional government? If so, is it in line with the Footprints model for Nunavut? These and many other questions remain unanswered as the GNWT gets set to carry out a community empowerment plan they’re calling “the Keewatin pilot project.”


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT — Keewatin mayors and the Kivalliq Inuit Association will meet next week with GNWT officials to flesh out the details of a major proposal to transfer responsibility for many GNWT functions to the region’s municipal governments.

Still very much at the conceptual stage, the proposal envisions a complete devolution of spending authority over the management, maintenance and operations of public buildings, schools and even health centres to local governments — a shift that could, potentially, involve the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mayors from four Keewatin communities were in Yellowknife last week to discuss the proposal, which, in principle at least, is consistent with the GNWT’s policy of community empowerment.

Unanswered questions

In practical terms, though, the so-called “Keewatin pilot project” raises a number of unanswered questions.

“This is a big change for the government and I think it is a very good, positive change for the government,” Manitok Thompson, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs commented in a budget review committee hearing. “It is a better way of doing business.”

No comprehensive plan has been submitted to cabinet yet, but the minister said she is seeking support from Nunavut’s Interim Commissioner for help in the development and implementation of the project.

As it stands now, the Keewatin transfer proposal looks something like this:

The management, maintenance and operation of all community-based infrastructure would be tranferred from the GNWT to Keewatin community governments;

A Keewatin communities’ association or similar structure would be set up to direct all regionally-based community infrastructure;

A single formula-financing agreement would be developed and used to determine the amount of block funding from the territorial government that would be needed to cover capital costs, and operation and maintenance requirements for all departments;

The Keewatin “communities’ association” or individual community governments would be accountable for capital project decisions.

Representatives from the Keewatin Regional Health Board and the Keewatin Divisional Education Board will also meet with MACA representatives next week.

If the communities can agree on this proposal outline and if they are in agreement on a timeframe, MACA will develop the idea further.

Details and potential costs and savings will be identified and considered as the project is further explored, Thompson said last week.

Among other things, exactly how future formula-financing arrangements would be worked out with the hamlets remains to be worked out.

A new form of regional government?

Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco also wonders if the devolution of powers and responsibilities to a communities’ association wouldn’t constitute a new form of regional government.

If so, he suggested such a plan might conflict with the recommendations for governance structure in Nunavut, contained in the Nunavut Implementation Commission’s Footprints 2 report.

Kivalliviq MLA Kevin O’Brien who represents Arviat, which supports the pilot project and Baker Lake, which opposes it, finds himself in a unique position.

“For example, with funding, how would we make sure that my two communities received a fair amount of capital and [operations-and-maintenance funding] to meet their needs? How would this be accomplished and what structure will be in place to oversee that there will be fairness?” asked O’Brien, who said he personally supports the pilot project in principle.

Though communities in the region would have more decision-making power, presumably they would still have to adhere to standards and regulations set forth by the territorial government.

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