Nunavut economy should depend less on southern labour, says Patterson
Senator made recommendations for territory’s post-pandemic recovery in pre-budget submission to feds
Canada’s next federal budget should include measures to help make Nunavut less dependent on southern labour and federal transfers, says Senator Dennis Patterson.
Patterson, a Conservative member of the Senate and the territory’s only representative in Parliament’s upper house, said this in his pre-budget submission on Feb. 3. He recommends the federal Liberal government move to address many of the territory’s needs, from better internet to a fisheries reconciliation agreement.
“I have a platform that others don’t have to speak for Nunavut in Ottawa and I am determined to take full advantage of that platform,” he said in an interview.
The federal government hasn’t announced when it will release its next budget, but it usually happens in March.
Nunavut is reliant on workers from Canada’s provinces, said Patterson, and this has come at a cost for the territorial government amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Nunavut has footed the bill for workers to isolate in hotels for 14 days before entering the territory.
On average, it costs $434 per day for one person to stay in an isolation hub, according to Cate Macleod, press secretary for Premier Joe Savikataaq. This rings in at $6,076 per person for the entire required 14-day isolation period.
As of Nov. 19, the Nunavut government had spent an estimated $36.6 million funding stays at the isolation hubs, according to Macleod. This includes people travelling for necessary medical reasons.
In September, MLAs called on the territorial government to invest in its local construction workforce instead of spending money isolating southern construction workers.
Southern workers have been offered incentives, including housing and high pay, to fill management roles within the territorial government and other organizations, Patterson said.
He recommended the federal government include training expenses in infrastructure funding to help employers recruit and train local workers to construct and manage those projects.
Nunavut’s MP, New Democrat Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, said during her housing tour she realized just how many southern workers there are in the territory filling roles as teachers, nurses, construction workers and others.
“You could take just about every Inuk out of the territory and it would still be able to function, which is terrifying,” she said.
Many infrastructure priorities were among Patterson’s list of recommendations for funding in the new budget, including:
- A Nunavut-specific infrastructure plan and funding that allows for long-term planning
- Deep-water ports in the Kitikmeot region and in Qikiqtarjuaq
- The Kivalliq Hydro-Fibre Link that would extend from Manitoba to transmit renewable energy and broadband internet
- A new long-term water supply for Iqaluit to meet the growing city’s needs
- Operating funds for all future infrastructure project, like in the recent announcement to build five emergency shelters for Inuit women and children
In some cases, like with broadband connectivity, federal money already exists, but hasn’t been allocated to Nunavut, Patterson said.
Just under $5 billion has been announced for improving the internet in remote areas through multiple federal funds, said Patterson. But none has gone to the territory yet, despite applications to the funds, including some to the $150 million Rapid Response Stream that was announced last December.
“Nunavut really needs to get its fair share,” he said.
With work and school going virtual during the pandemic, there is an immediate need for better, cheaper internet service, Patterson said, recommending the government supports open access and competition for internet providers.
“Nunavummiut do not have the luxury of waiting for longer-term solutions such as fibre links or low Earth orbit satellites.”
Other recommendations in the submission include creating a fisheries reconciliation agreement and repatriating fisheries licenses to create local jobs.
Patterson also recommended investments in training Inuit mental health workers for more culturally appropriate support.
The senator’s submission is based on consultation with the Nunavut government, Inuit organizations and professional associations, as well as 164 businesses and organizations across the territory.
“I wanted to make sure they were satisfied with the recommendations I was making on their behalf,” Patterson said.