Nunavut mayors go directly to the feds

NAM conducting lobby campaign in Ottawa next week



For the first time, all of Nunavut’s mayors are taking their fight for more infrastructure money directly to Ottawa, where major decisions about funding for the territory are made.

For the last two years, the association, made of up mayors from the territory’s 25 hamlets, has been urging the Nunavut government to replace aging water and sewer lines, build bigger dumps, and improve road conditions in communities.

But Nunavut Association of Municipalities’ president, Keith Peterson, says their lobbying efforts have fallen on deaf ears. He said the Nunavut government’s response is that the money is simply not there.

Now, NAM is stepping up its lobbying efforts, going straight to key federal government ministers.

They’re holding their annual general meeting, which usually takes place in a Nunavut community, in Ottawa this year, from April 29 to May 3.

“Rather than sit here and pass more resolutions and talk about the issues that affect the hamlets and basically affect the whole population of Nunavut, we said ‘Why don’t we take our case to Ottawa — right to the centre of power in Canada,’” Peterson said.

He said many of the mayors’ pressing issues — infrastructure dollars, better health care, more housing to combat overcrowding — all require federal money.

“We’re not just a bunch of mayors sitting up here in Nunavut waiting for things to happen. We’ve got to make things happen. If that means taking our case to different levels of government, then so be it,” said Peterson, who is also the mayor of Cambridge Bay.

High on the mayors’ agenda is lobbying the federal government to adopt a new method for allocating infrastructure money to Nunavut.

Under the current funding program, called the Canada Infrastructure Program, the federal government divvies up $1.97 billion to provinces and territories based on their population. With its population of about 26,000 people, Nunavut doesn’t get a big share — roughly $2.1 million.

The Nunavut Association of Municipalities wants Ottawa to come up with something that takes into account the higher cost of building infrastructure in the North.

It’s suggesting that each of Canada’s 13 jurisdictions get a minimum of one per cent of the total money available. The remaining 87 per cent could then be distributed using the per-capita formula, NAM says.

Under that proposal, Nunavut’s share of infrastructure money would increase from $2.1 million to $21.6 million.

The mayors will also meet face to face with several federal ministers to discuss housing, fisheries and economic development.

Robert Nault, the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, said he will attend the meeting, and the minister of Public Works, Don Boudria, and fisheries minister Robert Thibault are scheduled to make presentations.

Peterson said the mayors will press upon Claudette Bradshaw, the minister responsible for homelessness, the desperate need for more housing. “We want to raise the awareness that there are a lot of homeless people up here and housing is in short supply,” he said.

The mayors will also push the federal government to create a development agency in the North, similar to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency that exists in eastern Canada, which invests in business and provides people with training and employment.

Without it, Peterson said, it’s hard to get Nunavut’s economy rolling.

“We have no tools up here to assist us in doing any kind of business development,” he said. “We don’t have any kind of northern economic strategy to guide the development of the territory. ”

Throughout the week, the mayors will be flanked by Manitok Thompson, Nunavut’s minister of Community Government and Transportation.

Her department is responsible for capital projects, infrastructure and transportation issues in all the territory’s communities.

“I’m always lobbying, whether I’m in a coffee shop or whether I’m at the meetings. I’ll be there, with them and for them,” she said.

Thompson, who took over the department in December, said her main goal in attending the meeting is getting a better sense of Nunavut communities’ needs. “They are our clients. Let’s be there to help them and let’s hear what they have to say.”

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