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The Globe and Mail

In the harshest environment, Nunavut ready to embrace the future

With an election this past November, we are embarking on Nunavut's fourth assembly. I am humbled by the task and grateful for the trust and confidence Nunavummiut have placed in my leadership and the leadership of all my colleagues in our distinctive consensus government.

The undertaking before us is complex. This complexity often gets lost in images of our majestic landscape. There is an undeniable beauty, and a harsh reality that most Canadians gather from the occasional feature story that can never quite capture the full perspective.

Our population is comparable to a small town in southern Canada. However, it is spread across 25 communities that cover one-fifth of the country. In a small town you can build a hospital, schools and infrastructure to service all 30,000; in Nunavut you need at least 25 of each to provide equal service. When we look back at the time of division from North West Territories, we inherited ageing infrastructure and, as a result, everything we do today, from increasing social structures, communications to physical infrastructure comes at a greater expense.

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Together, we successfully negotiated the right to self-government. Nunavut enjoys a thriving arts community that is rich in tradition. Our artists are recognized internationally for their ability to masterfully carve soapstone, write music and direct award winning films. It has also inspired and nourished Inuit activists that have championed causes from sealing to climate change.

We are on the cusp of economic growth that is projected to outpace much of Canada. Nunavut is becoming an economic force and an exciting place for investors. We have opportunities for investment and business growth in mining, tourism, and fishing. The corporate tax rate is lower than most jurisdictions, and there are incentives to encourage economic development.

We have survived for thousands of years in the harshest environment and have gone through industrialization in a 40-year period, where the rest of the industrialized world has had 200 years to adjust.

Today, we face a housing crisis; estimates put our need at more than 3,500 units. Our federal colleagues understand our infrastructure deficit. Homes are overcrowded and it is common to see upwards of 10 people living in a two-bedroom structure. Most homes are serviced by trucked water with water tanks that couldn't possibly sustain the demand of residents.

Overcrowding leads to stress amongst families and creates optimal conditions for things like community borne illnesses and Tuberculosis to flourish. There are stresses that come with lack of employment, high cost of living, the inability to afford food, and alcohol abuse. We experience the highest suicide rate in Canada. Each life lost has a profound impact on everyone in our communities.

We have the youngest population in Canada, with a majority of our people under the age of twenty-five. Our youth are our future and we need that future to include the best possible supports for them to succeed. It is challenging when the cost of food is high and parents in our communities are rightly uneasy with our current education system that doesn't adequately prepare most of our youth.

The south benefits from supports, such as shelters, food banks, recreational centres, movie/arts centres, and even community transportation systems. Yes, we have some of these supports in communities, but not nearly to the degree accessible in southern Canada.

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The obvious question one may ask is, "how are we going to fix things?" The answer is not as simple as the question. We have the opportunity to make a real impact if we stick to an achievable mandate that doesn't spread us too thin. The way moving forward (sivumuaqpallianiq) is to work together. It requires the support and collaboration of municipalities to do their part, federal partners to continue to aid in key investments, cooperation with Inuit organizations, industry, and with those who elected us to represent them.

There are many Nunavummiut who are leaders in their community and economically we are growing. Our resource sector is beginning to exceed other provinces. And, we recognize that with growth, we need to make sure our communities are ready through education and community wellness. We want our people to benefit and participate in our achievements and future opportunities.

We were elected to represent all Nunavummiut and the outcome of all our communities is in the hands of our collective leadership.

Peter Taptuna is the Premier of Nunavut

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