Speak up about mining


Last week in the Legislative Assembly, the Minister of Sustainable Development vowed to reduce significantly the number of unemployed persons in Nunavut during the course of the next four years. While other jurisdictions in Canada also face chronic unemployment, in Nunavut the scale of the challenge for Peter Kilabuk is unprecedented.

Unfortunately, apart from a disquieting reference to “more and more job opportunities” in the public service, the minister gave little indication that his department has seriously considered how to tackle joblessness. One can only hope that in the weeks ahead his government will be in a position to offer a more imaginative and credible course of action.

Let’s be clear: the proliferation of government jobs in a territory that is entirely dependent on federal government transfer payments does not constitute sustainable development, no matter how you phrase it. And equating the expansion of Nunavut’s public administration with economic growth is pure fiction.

The Department of Sustainable Development has yet to produce a framework for a new economic development strategy. Instead, Nunavut residents were recently presented with essentially the same tired and costly array of doubtful programs once administered by the old NWT government.

Mr. Kilabuk’s department forecasts that it will cost more than $11 million in government salaries and wages this year to deliver less than $13 million in grants and contributions – and that’s not counting the department’s share of projected operating and maintenance expenses. With returns like this, the government can hardly pretend that it is in the business of job creation.

It appears now that no evaluation of these old programs was ever conducted prior to the preparation of the 1999-2000 budget, so it is impossible to tell if limited resources for economic development in Nunavut are being used as efficiently as they should be.

There are now well more than a half-dozen different public agencies in the territory whose principle function is fundamentally identical: to dole out a mixture of grants and loans of last resort for small business start-ups, payroll subsidies and job training expenses. In addition, the Nunavut government has taken over a perpetual money loser, the Nunavut Development Corporation, which will cost at least $3 million in direct subsidies to operate this year.

How can the Nunavut government hope to set a course toward greater prosperity without knowing what is working and what has been a waste of money? This should have been done by now. It must be done before the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

What was most disappointing about Mr. Kilabuk’s remarks to the committee of the whole was how muted his reference was to the one industry with the real potential to lift Nunavut out of perpetual dependence on Ottawa’s largesse, which is, of course, mining.

This is surprising, considering that the one genuinely innovative program in the government’s budget this year was a commitment to fund a new geoscience office in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada – certainly a worthwhile initiative.

Real economic growth in Nunavut will not be achieved without accelerating the current pace of mineral exploration and mine development. Mining alone has the most potential to create the new wealth necessary to support viable secondary industries such as tourism, transportation and manufacturing. Without mining, Nunavut will never be able to employ the rapidly growing numbers of people who need and want jobs.

In some ways the federal government has a more important responsibility than Nunavut. For as long as control over mineral royalties on Crown land remain with Ottawa, so too will the power to create the necessary incentives to attract and sustain investment in exploration and development.

The Nunavut government must show that it is serious about employment growth. Ottawa must be pressured to change the current mineral royalties regime, and help build the ports that will eventually be needed to transport ore. Most of all, Nunavut leaders need to boldly acknowledge that the territory’s future prosperity lies untapped, underground. DW

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