Few good options for neglected Nunavik
As the Sept. 4 voting day approaches, the tone of Quebec’s general election campaign so far suggests that Nunavik’s long-neglected residents have much to fear and little to hope for.
The province’s three largest political parties have all named credible, competent candidates to represent them in Ungava, the geographically immense but thinly-populated electoral district to which the 11,000 inhabitants of Nunavik are attached.
But those three candidates belong to political parties whose platforms — and records — all raise serious questions for Nunavik.
Take, for example, Gérald Lemoyne, Quebec Liberal candidate and a member of Premier Jean Charest’s highly-touted “Team Plan Nord.”
Under Plan Nord, the provincial government would spend some $80 billion over the next 25 years on northern development, creating tens of thousands of new jobs annually. It’s the marketing tool with which the unpopular Charest presents himself as a job-creating paragon of economic growth and stability.
This makes the outcome of this election crucial for the people of Nunavik — the Nunavik region represents 42 per cent of the land covered by Plan Nord,
In concocting it, the Charest government imagines the rapid development of a variety of northern mining projects. One example is Oceanic Iron Ore Corp.’s Ungava Bay project between Kangirsuk and Aupaluk, which would include a port, a road, possible hydroelectric and fibre optic connections, and a mega-mine employing up to 10,000 workers.
The Kativik Regional Government and Makivvik Corp. have answered with a counter-proposal: Plan Nunavik. Most of it represents a wish-list of demands — such as more housing, more infrastructure, more action on the cost of living — they want Quebec to meet as a condition of their support for Plan Nord.
This includes a section that points out that there’s no facility in Nunavik capable of offering mining-related training. In response, Charest on Aug. 10 announced a distance-learning scheme that relies on existing infrastructure. Since there’s little “existing infrastructure” in Nunavik to start with, distance learning doesn’t appear to offer much to the region.
This kind of clumsiness makes it easy to understand why this past April 23 a group of Nunavik Inuit walked out of a Plan Nord trade show at the Palais des congrès convention centre in Montreal during an all-French-language speech.
So while Plan Nord likely holds much potential for Nunavik, the Charest government has done little to explain how Nunavik residents would share in the wealth
This means that for many Nunavik residents, a vote for the Liberal candidate in Ungava represents a vote for the unknown.
Do the other parties offer more? Luc Ferland, the Parti Québécois incumbent, has demonstrated sympathy for the region’s paralyzing social problems, especially the social housing shortage and the cost of living.
At the same time, he’s offered a vigorous critique of Plan Nord. In his campaign, Ferland promises more post-secondary training, including a CEGEP for Nunavik. He appears to understand that without more education and training, the people of Nunavik will not benefit from Plan Nord.
But the PQ presents a big problem for most Nunavik voters: its commitment to Quebec sovereignty, which Ferland’s leader, Pauline Marois, says she will advance by demanding that Quebec grab more federal social and economic programs from Ottawa, such as EI.
And she offers measures that pander shamelessly to the bigoted fears of many old-stock Quebeckers. The latest is a proposal that would bar non-francophones, including aboriginal people, from elected office unless they pass a French fluency test. This would clearly violate Section 3 of the Charter and likely presents a direct threat to the political rights of Nunavik Inuit.
Nearly all Nunavik residents will view these policies as they always have: as a threat to their cultural identity and future autonomy. The political development of the region has already been deformed by sterile battles rooted in identity politics. Nunavik doesn’t need more of them.
As for the leftist Québec Solidaire party, it too is represented by a worthy candidate, Sylvain Couture, a humanitarian who worked in Salluit as a doctor and served as medical coordinator of a Red Cross hospital in Haiti. But the tiny QS still functions as a fringe party, having won only 3.8 per cent of the vote in the 2008 Quebec election. For Nunavik, a vote for the QS is a vote for further marginalization.
The Coalition Avenir Québec and its Ungava candidate, Stéphane Robichaud, offer some fresh new ideas that Nunavik residents need to hear, especially on education, entrepreneurship and the need for more fiscally responsible government.
And the CAQ leader, François Legault, has declared that the CAQ is opposed to another referendum on sovereignty and he vows that if one were held, he would vote no.
All this makes the CAQ an attractive new option for Nunavik voters.
But at the same time, the party’s platform has little to say about aboriginal issues, including treaties, land rights, and governance.
This means that for the people of Nunavik, a vote for the CAQ, appealing though it may be, also represents a leap into the unknown. But in this election, this party may turn out to be the least risky choice. JB