Okalik forges ties with Newfoundland and Manitoba
A cheaper Nunavut food mail link to Labrador? That’s just one idea that Premier Paul Okalik explored while on visits to the premiers of Newfoundland and Manitoba.
MONTREAL — Since the end of the Nunavut legislature’s third session, Premier Paul Okalik has been hitting the road to forge neighbourly ties with his fellow premiers in Newfoundland and Manitoba.
But unlike most social calls, these politically-motivated visits could make a difference to Nunavut’s economy and well-being.
Two weeks ago in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Okalik toured Memorial University’s telemedicine centre, where he saw first-hand how telemedecine technology creates links between medical specialists in St. John’s and the the most remote communities of Labrador.
“They don’t just use it for telemedecine,” Okalik told Nunatsiaq News. “They use it for distance education. So, there are broader uses which would let us offset the cost of setting this up in Nunavut.”
Okalik said Nunavut will also be able to draw upon Newfoundland’s knowledge base in enlarging Nunavut’s telemedecine network.
Food mail from Labrador?
While in Newfoundland, Okalik met with several business people, including Air Labrador’s chief executive officer, R.W. Pike, with whom he discussed linking Labrador to Nunavut through an airline connection.
That connection could open up the possibility of shipping food mail and other goods through Goose Bay rather than Montreal.
It’s an idea that Okalik likes.
“We’re looking at economies of scale,” Okalik said. “The advantage is that if we went through Labrador, we would be the number one customer in Labrador, and we’d have to be treated very nicely. Right now in Montreal, we’re just one of many and we don’t have any influence.”
Millions of pieces of food mail destined for Nunavut are sent every year via Val d’Or, Quebec. Trucked to Val d’Or, the cargo then returns to Montreal before being flown on to Iqaluit.
Because there is now an all-weather road into Goose Bay, transport to this staging point would be more direct and cut the air portion of the food mail transport to Nunavut by half.
The time required to ship goods by sealift would also be reduced from six and a half days to three and a half days.
“There are a lot of potential savings,” Okalik said. “And in Goose Bay there are a lot of Inuit, so it would be easier for Inuit residents from Nunavut to communicate with them.”
Support against Canada Post
In Newfoundland and Manitoba, Okalik also hoped to win support for a united front against Canada Post’s recent increases in parcel rates.
On October 4, the rates for mailing parcels, express or priority mail went up by 25 per cent, the first in a series of planned increases.
According to spokesman John Caines, Canada Post has no plans to bring down these increases. Caines said that the new rates merely help Canada Post cover costs and put it on a more equal footing with its competition.
Okalik also planned to speak with Manitoba’s new NDP premier Gary Doer later this week about a long-standing dream to bring an electrical power grid and a road from Manitoba into Nunavut.
Power from Manitoba?
Okalik said the project is “roughly at the same stage” as it was months ago, although the Manitoba government has recently updated its cost estimates.
“We’ll see if they’re feasible,” he said.
At a provincial-territorial premiers’ conference last August in Quebec City, Okalik received a voice of support for a road link to Nunavut. In the premiers’ final prepared press release, they “stressed the importance” of a land link between northern Manitoba and Nunavut.
The federal infrastructure program, which Okalik learned more about in Newfoundland, could provide some assistance in this project.
“We’re the least developed jurisdiction,” Okalik said. “I think we gave a very good case.”
Although Quebec is Iqaluit’s nearest neighbour, with traditional trade links with Baffin Island, Okalik has “no immediate plans” to visit Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.
After Okalik wraps up this week’s visit to Manitoba, he will stop off in Arviat and Coral Harbour to meet with residents in these two communities.
“They want to see me and talk to me, so I’ll give them an opportunity,” Okalik said.