Nunavut MLA questions cost and feasibility of tiny towns
Pat Angnakak questions premier about quality, quantity of service
Prop them up with cash and jobs, or allow them to fade away?
The viability of small Nunavut communities such as Whale Cove, Grise Fiord and Arctic Bay is something that southern academics likely discuss often over espressos.
Maybe even a few Nunavummiut have talked about the cost of maintaining small communities and all the necessary infrastructure that goes with them and wondered whether that’s a sustainable plan for a cash-poor territory such as Nunavut.
Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak decided June 12 it’s time to bring the discussion into the open and she may have a closet ally — in the premier.
She called it a “difficult but important issue” during question period at the legislative assembly June 12, and quoted what Premier Peter Taptuna said about the topic at the Nov. 15 leadership forum.
“At that time, the premier stated, and I quote, ‘collectively there may become a time when this whole assembly will have to make a decision on whether small communities are viable or not. That’s a drastic reality that we may have to face down the line.’”
Taptuna said George Kuksuk, the economic development and transportation minister, posed the question at the forum, and “he hasn’t asked me since,” — a quip that drew a few awkward giggles on the last day of the assembly’s spring sitting.
“It is reality. In some parts of Canada, in southern jurisdictions, including Newfoundland, there have been some small towns that are closing,” Taptuna said.
“But up North here, there is a purpose for these towns,” Taptuna said.
That purpose? Sovereignty.
“The folks that do live in these small communities call themselves the sovereignty keepers of Canada,” Taptuna said.
And in fact, only one community in Nunavut seems to be shrinking.
In 2006 Resolute Bay had a population of 239 people, but according to 2013 figures from the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, that number had dropped to 225.
Nearly half of all Nunavut communities — 12 — are home to fewer than 1,000 people.
And five communities — Grise Fiord, Kimmirut, Resolute Bay, Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove — have fewer than 500 people.
But no matter the population, there’s still infrastructure money being put into smaller communities, Taptuna insisted.
According to Nunavut’s 2014-15 capital estimates, $32 million is going towards a replacement for Arctic Bay’s health centre.
In Whale Cove, $4.3 million is going towards a community learning centre and daycare. And in Grise Fiord, $2.2 million has been set-aside for a community learning centre.
However, Taptuna said, there’s “no long term viability plan from this government.”
Taptuna said that’s because a devolution agreement with Ottawa still hasn’t happened.
Without the ability to generate its own revenue stream, and without vibrant economic activity in smaller communities, it’s difficult to come up with a plan to keep smaller communities alive, he said.
“Nunavut doesn’t have any means of generating its own revenues. We do not have devolution and all our transfer money comes from Ottawa,” the premier said.
Angnakak then asked Taptuna to compare quality versus quantity.
She asked if it’s better to supply an “inadequate” range of programs, services and infrastructure to lots of communities, or to supply a “stronger, more complete range” of programs, services and infrastructure to fewer communities.
“It is a tough question to respond to,” Taptuna said.
“I have always indicated that the federal government has to help us out here in keeping these smaller communities sustainable,” Taptuna said.
Taptuna ended question period on a positive note, saying Nunavut’s potential for non-renewable resources is high.
He added that all departments will review programs in smaller communities.
“[Community and government services] and other departments, they’re responsible for infrastructure being built in these small communities and it costs a lot of money to keep these communities sustainable,” Taptuna said.