Nunavut Tunngavik president happy with org’s financial position
Towtongie: “We looked at the budget like a prudent person would”
RANKIN INLET — Nunavut’s high cost-of-living, infrastructure and elders’ well-being were the focus of discussion at Nunavut Tunngavik Inc’s annual general meeting last week.
NTI’s delegates met Oct. 22 to Oct. 24 in Rankin Inlet.
As part of the discussion on the high cost-of-living, the organization’s Arctic Bay delegate told the meeting that a Thanksgiving turkey in their community cost $210.
And that brought calls for reforms to the Nutrition North Canada program, which is meant to offset the high cost of retail food in the North.
“When Inuit go out on the land, Inuit don’t take tomatoes and lettuce with them — they take flour and lard,” said NTI president Cathy Towtongie. “And those are the kinds of items the Nutrition North should be subsidizing.”
A number of communities asked for support dealing with an increase of dust in their roadways, created by dry summers with little rain, Towtongie said.
Delegates also passed a resolution to improve the well-being of the territory’s elders by working towards an increased elders’ pension plan and better care facilities.
In 2011, Towtongie pledged to either increase elders’ pensions to $150 monthly or make them accessible to more people by adjusting the cut-off age.
As it stands, only beneficiaries born before 1948 have access to the pension.
“We have to look for resources to make sure our elders are protected,” Towtongie said.
But the organization’s president said NTI’s major feat is maintaining its zero budget.
“We’ve done very well — we haven’t raised our budget in approximately five years,” Towtongie said.
This year, NTI is asking the Nunavut Heritage Trust for the same amount it has requested for the past three years: $19.2 million.
Overall, NTI’s delegates approved $43.5 million to pay for NTI’s operations and those of the three regional Inuit organizations.
That’s up three per cent from last year’s budget of $42.1 million.
Demands for larger budgets from the three regional Inuit associations are largely due to an increased workload created by new mining projects, Towtongie said.
For NTI’s part, the organization budgeted carefully, Towtongie said.
“We looked at the budget like a prudent person would,” she said, adding that the organization has forgone expenses like office renovations or major capital items like new vehicles.
NTI has also cut back on executive travel.
Towtongie said she’s kept a promise she made when she was first elected in 2011 to turn down a housing allowance she’s entitled to.
Towtongie lives in Rankin Inlet, where she owns her own home, while she says she pays out of pocket to rent a second residence in Iqaluit.
“I’ve really lowered the cost of my living expenses — I pay for my own house,” she said. “I’m a normal person, and, like everyone, I’m faced with the high cost of living. I don’t use NTI’s dollars to for my personal needs.”
Towtongie said the organization has also changed its election policy. While current NTI presidents have previously continued to collect a salary while campaigning for re-election, that will no longer be the case.
When she was elected president in 2011, Towtongie committed to restoring the financial reputation of the organization, which had been caught up in the spending scandals of former presidents.
Towtongie thinks NTI has done well at “cleaning-up” in recent years.
“We’ve put $20 million back into the [Nunavut] Trust,” she said. “Despite global uncertainty, we’ve earned 9.2 per cent, which is good.”
Towtongie also pointed to her recent invitation to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s throne speech — a first for the organization.
And Towtongie hopes that’s a sign of support for Nunavut.
‘We hope that Canada will start putting in badly needed infrastructure,” she said.