Five things to remember about 2015
Five events that will continue to haunt us in 2016
1. Mining: down but not quite out
Remember mining? A decade ago, federal and territorial governments and most of the Nunavut Inuit leadership touted mining as the great lever that would lift Nunavut out of poverty.
Yes, they paid lip service to tourism, arts and crafts and commercial fishing. But mining was and is the only economic activity that governments and Nunavut Inuit organizations ever got serious about.
And now they’re stuck with no Plan B.
Mineral development in Nunavut hasn’t quite shriveled up and died. But the events of 2015 confirmed — with one notable exception — that most of it now floats in limbo.
Areva Canada’s comatose Kiggavik uranium project is headed nowhere. So is MMG’s mothballed Izok Corridor project, along with many other projects hammered by slumping global commodity prices.
Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. cut wages by 10 per cent at its Mary River iron mine and eliminated jobs at its head office in Oakville, Ont. This past May, they told the federal government that without a dramatic increase in production volumes and 10-month-a year shipping, Mary River can never become viable.
The single exception is gold. Due to cost-cutting and astute planning, Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine continues to prosper as it rides out a decline in the price of gold. Two other firms — Sabina and TMAC — are taking their Kitikmeot-based projects into final regulatory hearings this April.
Arctic oil and gas exploration? Forget about it. By year’s end, the global crude oil price had fallen to $37 a barrel. At that price, drillers and anti-drilling activists alike are best advised to stay home.
2. Privatized higher education
Yes, that’s what Nunavut got when Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s land claims lawsuit lottery ticket paid off last May, when NTI collected a $255.5 million settlement from the federal government.
They’ll keep $80.5 million for themselves and use the remaining $175 million to create a fund that’s supposed to train Inuit for government jobs.
NTI, a private corporation, will manage the $175-million fund through another private corporation called the Nunavut Inuit Training Corp. Since NTI will name five of the training corporation’s seven board members, NTI will exercise absolute control over how this fund is invested and spent.
It’s intended to pay for a vital public service. But the fund lies entirely within private hands, beyond the reach of public value-for-money audits and evaluations.
So if you’re an NTI beneficiary, 2016 would be a good year for you to start asking some rude questions.
3. The GN: it still sucks to work there
No one would dare accuse the Government of Nunavut of ever operating a happy workplace. Remember when Eva Aariak, when running for premier in 2008, promised to combat the “climate of fear?” Even then, a toxic nexus of fear, intimidation and abuse was driving good people out of the territorial public service and creating misery for those who chose to stay.
This year we learned it still sucks to work at the GN, mostly from articles published in this newspaper and from two MLAs who actually want to do something about it.
On top of all that, the GN’s more boring dysfunctions continue to fester — such as staffing levels, including an Inuit staffing level that’s been stuck at 50 per cent for more than a decade.
Nearly 30 per cent of GN jobs — 1,340 of them — sat vacant as of September 2015. In Iqaluit, where Inuit comprise only 35 per cent of the GN’s workforce, 591 GN jobs are unfilled.
The much-maligned Qulliq Energy Corp. actually enjoys the best staffing record: 91 per cent of its jobs are filled. The Department of Health, as always, owns the worst record: only 51 per cent of its funded positions are filled.
Without enough people around to do the available work, it’s hard to imagine the GN will ever fix its workplace problems any time soon.
4. The death of the Conservative patronage machine
For the past seven years, Nunavut’s ex-MP, Leona Aglukkaq, reigned unopposed as the Conservative government’s political boss for northern Canada, especially after 2011, when she became minister responsible for the Canadian Economic Development Agency.
But in one of the most memorable elections in recent times, the voters tossed her out and Nunavut leaders must now learn to bow and scrape before a new set of bosses — and they’re all Liberals.
It’s not yet clear how Justin Trudeau’s government will distribute board appointments, contracts, infrastructure grants and favours throughout northern Canada, and who will call the shots for them.
We know that Navdeep Bains, Liberal MP for Mississauga-Malton and minister in charge of a ponderously entitled portfolio called Innovation, Science and Economic Development, is now minister responsible for CanNor. But will the Liberals maintain CanNor’s pretend head office in Iqaluit? And how much influence will northern Canada’s three Liberal MPs exert over northern policy?
The last question is crucial. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, will likely attempt to stimulate the economy in his spring budget by doling out unprecedented amounts of infrastructure money. At the same time, Trudeau’s caucus is dominated by inner city and suburban MPs from southern Canada, many of whom are unfamiliar with the North.
5. Get used to it: real action on climate change
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and the huge delegation they brought with them made a big splash in Paris last month at the COP21 conference on climate change — and did much to restore Canada’s tattered reputation on that issue.
But the Trudeau delegation went to Paris armed only with Aglukkaq’s greenhouse gas emissions target, which she announced this past May: a commitment to reduce Canada’s emissions to a level 30 per cent below Canada’s 2005 levels, by the year 2030. That “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution,” devised by the Conservatives, is still Canada’s formal policy.
The Liberals are now promising, more or less, that a more ambitious climate change plan will likely emerge later this year after meetings with territorial and provincial premiers. Ready or not, Nunavut will be part of it. JB