Governments, Aboriginal corporations, “key drivers” in northern development: report
Conference Board: Canada’s North has "world-leading capabilities" in modern treaties
A new report looking at governance in Canada’s three territories credits the public service, Aboriginal self-governments, and Aboriginal development corporations as the key drivers for northern development in the future.
A report produced by the Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North says elected representatives and public servants in the territorial North have worked to increase Aboriginal participation and guide the process of devolution.
“Perhaps most importantly, but often overlooked, is the way that they have focused on solving practical problems, from public health and education to environmental assessment and judicial reform,” said Anja Jeffrey, the Conference Board of Canada’s director of northern and Aboriginal policy.
“Canada’s North has world-leading capabilities in areas such as modern treaties, Aboriginal self-government, co-management of natural resources and cross-cultural participation.”
But the report, titled the Role of the Public Sector in Northern Governance, points out that Nunavut does not share the same level of political development found in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
While the longer-established Yukon and NWT have strong bureaucracies, Nunavut has a much weaker public service, the report said — marked by high staff turnovers, the regular mismatch of people and positions, and limited human resources pools.
Because Nunavut is still an emerging political jurisdiction, the territory must cope with the complex challenges of Inuit socio-economic development, the report said, along with the workload associated with implementing territorial structures and the land claims agreement.
That’s a concern for the high cost of government in Nunavut, where the GN’s expenditures have more than doubled since the territory’s creation in 1999, from $643 million to $1.7 billion in 2013.
The progress of devolution has moved slowed in Nunavut, in large part due to “the graduated pace of Canadian Government — Nunavut negotiations” around the initial implementation of Nunavut, the report said.
Adding to its growing pains, Nunavut’s efforts to distribute jobs and wealth have not been successful, according to the Centre for the North’s research.
“Nunavut decentralization has been a costly and expensive experiment, and some re-centralization is already occurring within units,” the report said. “The relocation of government offices and staff to small and often remote communities… failed to anticipate patterns of work and the need for close administrative interaction.
“The public appears to support the concept of decentralization, but not in the way that it has been implemented.”
While northern governments face a number of challenges due to the colonial histories and geography, the report is quick to acknowledge its governance systems are also among the most innovative in the country.
The emergence of Aboriginal development corporations has been “transformative” to northern governance.
In Nunavut and regions like Nunavik, those corporations hold enormous potential, said the report, as they manage the assets that come from land claim settlements and resource development activity.
“This particularly the case in Nunavik, where the Makivik Corporation is a powerful influence,” the report said. “[But] development corporations also provide an alternate source of political power….which may complicate political life.”
Given that human resources capacity is the greatest problem facing northern governments, the report calls for specialized training programs for new public servants; work-training program, job shadowing and co-op programs.
Among its other recommendations: that governments work more closely with regional Aboriginal leaders and revisit commitments to provide services in Aboriginal languages.
The report also urges governments to examine hiring practices to ensure Aboriginal and northern employees are not place in positions “beyond their experience.”
The Centre for the North is a forum for research and dialogue on Northern and Aboriginal issues. You can access the full report here.