August 31, 2007

Quebec, Ottawa promise flood of funds

Federal pledge includes $21 million to subsidize fast internet access

JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ - Cabinet ministers from Quebec City and Ottawa say they are ready to spend at least $200 million to improve social and economic conditions in Nunavik.

The largest amounts will go towards building and maintaining social housing and community infrastructure, lowering the region's high cost of living and improving access to high-speed internet.

The handouts were announced at the Katimajiit meeting on Nunavik's social and economic development, which took place Aug. 23 and 24 at the Katittavik cultural centre in Kuujjuaq.

Jean Charest, the Quebec premier, and Pita Aatami, the president of Makivik Corp., at last week’s Katimajiit gathering in Kuujjuaq.
(PHOTO BY BOB MESHER, MAKIVIK CORP.)

Quebec Premier Jean Charest, his top provincial ministers, Mario Dumont, the leader of Quebec's official opposition party, the Action Démocratique du Québec, Chuck Strahl, the recently-named federal minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and Lawrence Cannon, the federal minister for industry, were at the meeting, along with elected officials from every organization in Nunavik.

The Quebec government dominated the Katimajiit meeting, committing many more millions to projects than the federal government.

But this, Charest said, is be expected, because Nunavik, unlike Nunavut, falls under provincial, not federal jurisdiction.

At the Katimajit meeting, leaders from Ottawa, Quebec City and Nunavik had planned to sign the agreement-in-principle for a new regional government in Nunavik.

The signing of this AIP will start the process of creating a new regional government body for Nunavik. This will see Nunavik's existing organizations rolled into a single organization governed by a regional assembly.

But the leaders didn't sign the AIP because they said the deal is still working its way through the federal government.

Charest said the AIP should be ready for an official signing ceremony as early as next month.

"We're going to do everything we can do without the official signature of the document," Charest said. "Frankly, in the end, that's not going to hold us back."

At the Katimajiit meeting, Charest said Nunavik would soon have its own member in Quebec's legislature, the Assemblé nationale.

Charest and his native affairs minister Benoit Pelletier said this move could require an amendment to the province's electoral act and take "a few months" to become official.

The federal government's major announcement at the Katimajiit meeting was for $21 million worth of subsidized bandwidth for the region's Tamaani internet service provider. This will be shared with First Nations internet providers in northern Manitoba and Ontario.

Nearly all the money given out at the Katimajiit meeting required many years of negotiation, although at the meeting Inuit outlined their needs and then ministers immediately responded with a statement of how much money they would give them.

A high-ranking federal official said commitments made during the Katimajiit meeting would help to set timetables and give bureaucrats some direction, even if future elections see the governments change.

The Katimajiit meeting will have an official follow-up by March 2008. A working group of top leaders from Nunavik, Quebec City and Ottawa, backed up by a technical committee of key officials, is also to meet annually.