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NEU savages GN budget

BCC an overcrowded hell-hole, union, inmates say

By JIM BELL

In a blistering critique of the Nunavut government’s 2007-08 budget, the Nunavut Employees Union accuses the Nunavut government of doing nothing to fix Nunavut’s mounting problems.

“This budget is further evidence that the problems confronting Nunavut are beyond the abilities of this government to solve,” Doug Workman, the NEU’s president, said in a news release.

Workman said Nunavut suffers from some of the most difficult social problems in Canada, but he said the “GN is incapable of coming up with the aggressive and courageous political leadership” needed to deal with them.

Those problems, the NEU said, involve many of the territorial government’s core responsibilities, especially justice, health, and education.

The union said, for example, that the Baffin Correctional Centre is so “grossly overcrowded” it’s no longer a safe workplace, and the new 36-bed facility announced for Rankin Inlet in last fall’s capital budget will not be enough to fix the mess.

As of this week, BCC was 38 per cent over capacity, with 91 inmates stuffed into a prison designed to handle only 68 inmates, said John Bainbridge, the NEU’s executive director.

That means many inmates sleep on the floor or under beds. In the gymnasium, called the “mud room,” 20 inmates sleep on bed trays and roll-out mattresses.

“We call it the mud room because we cannot see the floor now,” said a BCC inmate who spoke to Nunatsiaq News this week on conditions of anonymity.

The inmate said the gym is too cold and that some people there are getting sick. “The heat don’t work. We don’t have heat and it’s overcrowded,” the inmate said.

Bainbridge said that last year, when the prison was only 26 per cent over capacity, the NEU received a complaint that BCC was an unsafe workplace.

An informal survey of BCC’s unionized staff last year found that 94 per cent believe the prison is not safe. That’s because when many prisoners sleep on the floor or under beds, guards can’t do head counts and monitor all inmates.

The inmate population also includes two women housed in a room separate from the men. Nunavut has no correctional facility for women.

In addition to the Nunavut residents doing time at BCC, another 40 to 50 territorial inmates are held at prisons in Ottawa and Yellowknife.

Because of this, the 36-bed Rankin Inlet facility, which won’t be ready until 2011, will not be enough to accommodate Nunavut’s growing prison population, the NEU said.

The union also lambasted the GN for what it calls “a failing health system.”

The GN’s latest employment numbers show that the Department of Health and Social Services suffers from the largest number of job vacancies in the GN.

As of September 2006, one in three health and social service jobs were vacant. The numbers show that 564 jobs were filled in the department, while a whopping 275 jobs were vacant.

With a capacity of only 67 per cent, Health and Social Services is the most badly understaffed of all GN departments. In other departments, staffing levels generally range from about 75 to 85 per cent.

Bainbridge said the GN saves money on those unfilled jobs, many of which are nursing positions, then turns around and spends the money on short-term agency nurses who rarely build up long-term relationships with patients.

“Because there is such a reliance on contract nurses, there is no corporate memory,” Bainbridge said.

And he said the union believes that incapacity and incompetence at the Department of Human Resources is responsible for much of the GN’s staffing problems.

He said, for example, that less than one-half of one per cent of the Human Resource department’s budget is devoted to training.

On March 7, the GN’s finance minister, David Simailak, tabled what he called a “no-growth” budget that contained no new spending items.

He said that’s because the GN is waiting for confirmation of a new territorial financing formula, or “TFF,” within the federal government’s next budget, which the federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, is to unveil March 19.

In background briefings, GN finance officials said last week they’re optimistic that Nunavut will get a better financial formula and more money from Ottawa.

But Bainbridge said this optimism may be mistaken.

He said federal officials are aware of the Auditor General’s recent criticism of the GN’s financial management system, and are nervous about pumping more money into Nunavut.

“I don’t think they are going to get more money… From the federal government’s point of view, this place is not well run. They see it as a money pit,” Bainbridge said.

And Bainbridge said he’s seen federal officials react “with derision” when asked about the prospect of Nunavut getting more federal money.

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