Nunavut MP calls for funding boost to hire staff, visit riding

While some MPs can walk across their ridings, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq needs days and thousands of dollars

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is seen speaking to supporters at the launch of her campaign in Iqaluit in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the NDP)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is trying to get more funding for her office to hire Inuit staff at higher wages and visit her constituents across the territory without paying out-of-pocket.

Qaqqaq said there is a “complete unawareness” about the realities of the cost of living in Nunavut in the House of Commons’s procedures.

She gets a higher budget than MPs in the south, but “it’s pennies,” she said, compared to the costs of operating in a northern riding.

While all constituencies get a budget of $370,000, the Nunavut MP gets an extra $66,180 because the territory is so large and another $25,270 to account for restrictive transportation and communication options, according to Parliament’s members allowances and services manual.

This brings Qaqqaq’s total office budget to $461,450.

“That is no compensation to the challenges that we face,” she said about the add-ons.

Qaqqaq said hiring people in Iqaluit has been a challenge because she can’t pay a high enough wage. The maximum yearly salary she can pay staff is $89,700, according to Mathieu Boisvert, a spokesperson from her office. That’s the same rate members across Canada can pay their staff.

Renting a two-bedroom unit in Iqaluit costs an average of $2,736 per month, according to this year’s federal Northern Housing Report.

The average income in Iqaluit, according to the 2016 census, is $68,250.

On top of financial hurdles, Qaqqaq said the pool of qualified Inuit candidates is limited because of Nunavut’s unique circumstances, including lower graduation rates and limited opportunities for training and adult learning.

“I want Inuit working in my office,” she said. “Inuit who are educated, Inuit who are qualified.”

Qaqqaq said her goal is to offer staff a housing or living allowance, which many positions with the federal and provincial governments already offer in Iqaluit, where her office is located.

The costs of travel

Travelling to visit and interact with her constituents is another challenge, Qaqqaq said.

She said it takes her about three days and thousands of dollars to travel across her constituency.

“How does it make sense that I only have $20,000 to $50,000 more a year than someone who can walk from one end of their riding to another in a half hour?” she asked.

Flights are paid for MPs through a points system, but if they go over budget, they can end up paying out of pocket, according to NDP House leader Peter Julian.

One-way flights from Iqaluit to Gjoa Haven in March are currently listed at $1,751 on Canadian North’s website.

The lowest price for a round trip flight from Iqaluit to Kugaaruk in March is $3,849.

When travelling, MPs pay for everything except flights out of pocket. It can take weeks for those costs to be reimbursed.

“I’m a 27-year-old woman who hasn’t had the opportunity to build up credit in life and I have a limit,” Qaqqaq said. “In those few weeks I have other bills that start to pile up.”

The Nunavut MP compared hotel rates in Toronto and Coral Harbour, one of the eight communities she visited during her housing tour last summer, as an example.

The only hotel in Coral Harbour, Katudgevik Hotel Inns North, starts its nightly rates at $350 and the local bed and breakfast charges about $250. In Toronto, multiple hotels start at rates around $150.

To change Qaqqaq’s office budget, the House of Commons administration must make a recommendation to the Board of Internal Economy.

Julian, the NDP House leader, sits on that board.

“I’m really glad that she’s flagged this,” he said.

“It’s the first time this has really been brought to the attention of the House of Commons administration.”

Julian said it’s hard to know how fast any change would happen after that recommendation is made, especially with COVID-19 and other issues before the House.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Welcome the new boss same as the old boss on

    1. She hasn’t actually travelled across Nunavut that much, she’s been on sick leave, remember?
    2. The maximum she’s able to pay might be 89k, but that’s not a common salary for political staff. A huge number of staffers get paid 40-50k in the south. This is just poor financial management.
    3. The constitutency budget pays for more than just air travel. It’s supposed to also pay for the MP’s newsletters, knick-knacks like calendars and pens, and miscellaneous costs. Nothing’s been done because she’s been on leave. Where has that money gone? And if the money hasn’t been for used for air travel or ancillary costs, why the complaints? Is it just so her friends can get paid more?
    4. Hotels cost more in Nunavut because they’re scam monopolies that charge an arm and a leg for anybody on duty travel. The issue is getting rid of these scam artists from siphoning money off of our communities, it’s not the fault of the parliament office budget.

  2. Posted by iWonder on

    A cynic might say that in classic NDP fashion, more money is always the answer, and more is never enough.

    Either way, she’s not a member of the government of even the opposition, so I wonder what she plans to do with the extra staff?

    It’s fair to argue that the relative costs are more, that’s true… but we should also ask how the people of this riding can expect to benefit, aside from the few jobs that will be created for the next 2 years before Mumilaaq most likely gets voted out.

  3. Posted by Reality on

    She’s complaining that she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the things that she is already given money to pay for? Where did the money go?

    Even other NDP members don’t cry for more money … expenses are VERY well reimbursed by the Federal Government. The north has always relied on phone, fax, e-mail, and videoconferencing to get things done. She is lucky in that there is also money for her for physical travel, but reality is there are always limits on what you can spend, yes, even if you are an MP. Set your priorities and make it work with the generous amounts you already are allotted.

    • Posted by Why u dum on

      These are all good points, but your office gets a half a million dollars, cmon man, stop complaining and do something already.

  4. Posted by Karboneater on

    Ho-Humm, Nunavut cabinet chair in Parliament sits empty, Other cabinet Ministers look at it everyday walk by it and say “oh!! still no one from Nunavut”? “Oh well, maybe next time Nunavut will find somebody of Cabinet calibre that can speak and advocate for Nunavut”.

  5. Posted by Uvaali on

    $89,700 for what should be a part time position doing what I am not sure sounds like a deal of the year.

  6. Posted by Pilot on

    You get an EXTRA $91,000 per year. If a trip from Iqaluit to a community and back were to cost $4,000 you could go to 22 communities every year by just using the EXTRA. That would be a trip every 2 weeks.
    If you read the airline routing tables you can put together multi-stop trips enabling you to spend time every community in Nunavut at least twice every year for that amount of money. It just takes some planning.

  7. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Interesting position. Our Senator and all our past MPs have made do with the budget they received, not sure what Ms. Qaqqaq would want to do with the extra funding she is requesting .

  8. Posted by Choo Choo on

    “I want Inuit working in my office,” she said. “Inuit who are educated, Inuit who are qualified.”
    Of course you do. And you should.
    Guess what, everyone else operating in Nunavut is in the same position. They all want to hire qualified, educated Inuit.
    Let me tell you a secret..
    Any qualified, educated Inuk in Nunavut can get a job any day they want one.
    That means the pool of available labour in Nunavut consists almost exclusively of people who:
    Are not Inuit, or
    Are not “educated”, or
    Are not “qualified”, or
    Are not interested in working for the money you are able to offer.
    The “easy” answer is to offer more money. But that just moves someone who already has a job into another job, creating a vacancy elsewhere.
    The answer has to be ——- training.
    Employers in Nunavut, and that includes you, must be prepared to train the people they hire.
    Before you can hire and supervise someone you have to be able to do the job you want you future employee to do. In Nunavut we have too many unqualified “supervisors” who cannot provide their employees with the training they need.

  9. Posted by Access to Information on

    I suppose that, as an MP, Mumilaaq’s expenses and spending records will be accessible to the public under the Access to Information Act. It would be interesting to see how close she has come to her budget limits so far and how that might look as we approach the end of her term.

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