Baffin mayors want a say in oil and gas, training, and air travel
“The communities are there for the departments, instead of the other way around”
Mayors of Nunavut’s Baffin region are saying no to oil and gas development off their eastern coast until the federal government acknowledges their concerns “and Inuit can be full participants of such an activity.”
Their collective voice, which joins Baffin hunters and trappers groups and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, adds to growing opposition to seismic testing and off-shore oil and gas extraction.
The National Energy Board is currently examining a proposal by the Nexus consortium, which hopes to conduct seismic testing in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay to determine the potential for hydrocarbon extraction there.
Even though the NEB held consultations on the proposal and heard repeated concerns from the public, the 13 regional mayors wanted to ensure their opinions were loud and clear.
“Our main concern is that they won’t be taken into account in their decisions,” said Clyde River mayor Jerry Natanine, who served as vice-chair of the Baffin Mayors Forum.
The mayors’ resolution regarding oil and gas development was one of 10 passed last week following an annual forum of regional mayors March 4 to March 6 in Iqaluit.
Mayors also unanimously called on the territorial government to improve training programs and employ local workers in infrastructure projects, and asked for better access to air transport for three of their 13 communities.
Employment of local workers topped the list.
Contractors hired to build houses or work on infrastructure contracts are “not from the communities” they work in, and “not familiar with the pool of skills and resources available in the communities,” according to the mayors’ first resolution.
When local workers are hired on such projects “they are usually paid low wages and hired as general labourers that receive little training,” the document says.
The mayors called on the territorial department of community and government services and the Nunavut Housing Corp. to maximize “hiring, training and development” of local workers and apprentices where projects take place, and to pay such workers “reasonable rates.”
Municipal leaders said that increased mining activity throughout the territory has created a demand for heavy equipment operators. To fill the gap, mayors highlighted the need for a “heavy equipment training centre,” preferably in a Baffin community.
Natanine said that leaders of the region made a similar request to Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq last fall, and promised to ask the same of the territorial government.
Four of the ten resolutions call for airlines and government to improve access to air transport to the communities of Grise Fiord, Resolute Bay and Kimmirut.
“Grise Fiord only has two flights a week, and when they [residents] finally go out, they connect through Resolute Bay,” said Natanine.
As airplane capacity fills in Resolute Bay, passengers have to wait in that community, “sometimes for weeks,” Natanine said. “Same on their way back.”
Grise Fiord residents are sometimes stranded for long periods in Iqaluit, the air hub for the region, he said.
Mayors’ resolutions call for northern airlines to revise schedules and lower fares to the High Arctic to make travel “more affordable and less time-consuming.” One resolution suggests Nunavut Tunngavik consult with airline carriers on the subject.
Lengthy air transport to the High Arctic also affects the quality of perishable food shipped to the region, which “is usually damaged or spoiled by the time it arrives,” states another resolution. This “causes extreme hardship and elevates health and nutrition issues in those communities.”
The mayors are calling on First Air and Kenn Borek to address these High Arctic issues so they residents can get access “to a more dependable and reliable supply of nutritious food” to improve their “overall health and wellness.”
Another resolution requests that Canadian North add Kimmirut to its routes, so residents can enjoy “access to their discounts and programs for Inuit beneficiaries.”
Natanine said Kimmirut’s small airstrip does not allow larger aircraft to land, which limits air transport.
The vice-chair of this year’s mayors forum told Nunatsiaq News that communication with government agencies is difficult, which gives the forum added importance.
“It’s like the communities are there for the departments, instead of the other way around,” Natanine said March 11. “The way we see it, the departments should be supportive of what the communities want, and it doesn’t work like that.”