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Grade three students Harry Kango, right, and Beatrice Kunnk, left, watch classmates Mikijuk Arnaquq, back left, and Elisapee Michael, back right, rehearse a traditional Inuktitut dance at the Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Tuesday, March 31, 2009. (NATHAN DENETTE)
Grade three students Harry Kango, right, and Beatrice Kunnk, left, watch classmates Mikijuk Arnaquq, back left, and Elisapee Michael, back right, rehearse a traditional Inuktitut dance at the Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Tuesday, March 31, 2009. (NATHAN DENETTE)

Ten years in, Nunavut gets failing grade Add to ...

Nunavut's government is grappling with the double bind of wanting to obtain greater autonomy from Ottawa while lobbying the federal government for more cash as it sets out to address a scathing report on the state of the territory a decade after its creation.

The report, titled Qanukkanniq? ("What's next?" in Inuktitut), outlines challenges the territory is facing in providing basic services that continue to trail far behind the rest of Canada: an education system failing Nunavut residents, a worsening housing crisis, "substantial poverty throughout the territory" and a "dysfunctional" government that the more than 2,100 Nunavummiut interviewed feel is more distant than ever, and falling far short of expectations.

The Nunavut Legislature is meeting this week to hammer out a response to the government-commissioned North Sky Consulting report. Premier Eva Aariak, who promised the sweeping review as part of her campaign last year, told The Globe and Mail the majority of the report's findings are nothing new.

Since the territory's creation, it has been plagued by chronic overcrowding, grinding poverty and a dilemma that leaves residents unemployed even as jobs demanding a higher level of training remain unfilled. For the most part, these problems aren't getting better.

"It's not going to be easy, let me tell you," Ms. Aariak said. "We have to consider our own resources that are available to us financially, and human capacity issues, as well."

But little progress can be made without a huge infusion of additional federal cash, she added. The report itself concedes as much: Its key recommendations in such vital areas as housing and education are to go to the federal government, cap in hand, even if it means reopening Nunavut's original land-claim agreement to obtain more money from Ottawa.

Nunavut is already heavily dependent: This fiscal year, it is receiving more than $1-billion in cash, about $32,373 per capita, in direct transfers from the federal government.

This puts Nunavut in the awkward position of asking for badly needed government support even as it tries to lessen its reliance on Ottawa. Ms. Aariak said the territorial government has been waiting to start devolution discussions to give Nunavut "that much more power to look after our own affairs."

MLA Ron Elliott said the territory should be able to strike out on its own, but needs a financial leg up from Ottawa first.

"We do need to go back to the federal government and probably ask for some assistance with needed infrastructure, needed resources. But at the same time ... [we need to]prove to the federal government that we're able to handle these new infusions of funding."

*****

Path for the future

Highlights from the report card's recommendations:

Improve education and training outcomes

The first of the report's 16 education-related recommendations is to reopen the Nunavut land claim and renegotiate federal funding of education programs.

Reduce poverty

The report's poverty recommendations suggest emphasizing self-reliance and completely reworking Nunavut's income-assistance program. But the first suggestion is to make sure children get enough to eat.

Connecting communities

Reinvigorate, delegate to and properly resource local health, justice and education committees.

Housing

The Premier's office estimates the territory needs 3,600 units at a total cost of nearly $1.3-billion; that number grows by 275 units every year. The report calls for a massive publicity campaign to raise awareness on a federal level of the severity of the crisis.

Increase support for culture and the arts

Recommendations include renewing the emphasis on improving bilingual services at all levels, helping artisans sell crafts online and aggressively fighting anti-sealing movements.

Aiding those at risk in the communities

Nunavut is the only Canadian jurisdiction without mental-health treatment and rehabilitation facilities, despite rampant substance abuse and sky-high suicide rates. An addictions and mental-health strategy is imperative, the report states.

Addressing social concerns at their roots

Establish justice committees, diversion alternatives and culturally appropriate treatment in communities now severely lacking victim services.

Source: "Qanukkanniq?", North Sky Consulting; Nunavut Housing Corporation; Office of the Premier of Nunavut

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