Manitoba officials propose closer trade with Nunavut
A delegation from the Manitoba government was in Iqaluit this week to talk business with Nunavut residents.
IQALUIT — Tucking into wild caribou medallions and nibbling fillets of fresh Arctic char is all part of a day’s work at Jerry Offet’s experimental kitchen in Portage La Prairie.
As CEO of the provincially owned Food Development Centre, Offet has landed the plum assignment of whetting southern Canada’s appetite for the edible treasures of Nunavut.
But after touring several communities as part of a trade mission sponsored by the provincial government, Offet had to admit that wild meat exports from Nunavut would greatly benefit from certain enhancements, beginning with presentation.
“The caribou that I’ve seen in the grocery stores in the frozen food section looks like it’s been prepared with an axe,” said Offet, one of 45 business people who accompanied government representatives to Nunavut last week.
Scientists at the Manitoba food lab have carried out product-development work for such well known companies as Nestle, McCain’s and Maple Leaf Meats.
Now, a Rankin Inlet-based country food processor, Keewatin Meat and Fish, is looking to Manitoba for help in marketing Inuit staples such as caribou and char to other parts of the country.
“Particularly the local government and communities in the Kivalliq region have told us they need some help getting more exports into the Manitoba and western Canadian market,” Offet said.
“What we’re looking at is developing more sophisticated and refined food products.”
It’s the type of trade arrangement with Nunavut communities that many Manitoba businesses would probably like to imitate, given that the new territory is poised for tremendous growth over the next few years.
Commerce between Manitoba and the Northwest Territories has historically been one-way, with the province enjoying an average trade surplus of about $18 million annually since the early 1990s.
Greater trade reciprocity and built-in technology transfers are going to have to characterize future business dealings, according to Manitoba’s Minister of Rural Development, Len Derkach.
“We feel a close tie to the people of Nunavut,” said Derkach, who chartered two Hawker Siddley twin-prop airplanes from Churchill for the three-day trade mission.
“The people of this region are extremely open and extremely receptive of the fact we are proposing to do business with them, and we’re not just here to exploit.”
Derkach is the province’s lead minister responsible for a 1996 memorandum of understanding between the NWT and Manitoba that committed both governments to pursuing mutually beneficial economic policies.
A proposed agreement with the new government of Nunavut would focus on key sectors such as food, arts and crafts, energy and transportation, tourism, health and construction.
One Flin Flon business specializing in construction has already proposed establishing a manufacturing plant for pre-fabricated homes in the Kivalliq region, Derkach said.
“We know the population is going to grow, and the demand is going to be there.”
Last fall, Manitoba spent $500,000 to study the feasibility of building a road between Churchill and the Kivalliq communities of Arviat, Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet.
Although it’s findings haven’t been released yet, the minister said he believes such a road will be necessary to encourage any substantial future developments, especially mining.
“That is probably the biggest reason for ground transportation,” Derkach said.
Building an overland route to Nunavut from Manitoba would greatly cut transportation costs and pave the way for the sale of hydro-electric power in communities now serviced by diesel generating stations, he said.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to happen to all the communities all at once,” Derkach cautioned.
“This is a long term project.”
In the meantime, Manitoba is eager to become a gateway to Canadian and international markets for prized Inuit arts and crafts, and for any innovative products such as processed country foods, that appeal to southern tastes.
“It takes time to develop that product,” Derkach said. “And that’s where we are now.”