“We want to work with you,” Marois tells Nunavik leaders
Quebec premier sprinkles money, pledges cooperation
KUUJJUAQ — Many in Nunavik may have a bone to pick with their premier, but you couldn’t see it when Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois arrived at the Kuujjuaq airport Sept. 12, and then travelled to Kangiqsualujjuaq a day later.
Everywhere people crowded in for a photo of Quebec’s premier on her first official visit to the region.
Marois, joined by environment minister Yves-François Blanchet, the minister responsible for the Nord-du-Québec region, Alexandre Cloutier, and Ungava MNA Luc Ferland, made a 24-hour visit to the region — this following a June invitation by Nunavik leaders.
And the message Marois brought to Nunavik was that Quebec intends to find concrete solutions to the problems the region faces.
“You can count on the fact that we want to work with you,” Marois said at a Sept. 12 dinner at the Kuujjuaq Inn — “nation to nation, respecting each of our cultures.”
After an overnight stay in Kuujjuaq, Marois’ delegation headed to the neighbouring community of Kangiqsualujjuaq, where she boarded a helicopter to visit a recently-constructed visitors’ shelter in the centre of Kuurujuaq provincial park — the second “parc national” in Nunavik.
Marois flew over the Koroc river, taking in a scenic waterfall and a family of four black bears stumbling through the brush.
And, at the park site, Marois ate a traditional lunch of bannock, caribou, smoked char and crowberries, sitting down with an elder to hear about her experiences growing up in the area, a travel route for Inuit between what is now Quebec and Labrador.
Marois, wearing caribou-skin mittens to ward off a chill, walked down to the banks of the river to get a taste of its cold, pure waters before flying back to Kangiqsualujjuaq to officially open the park’s interpretation centre.
Language posed a barrier during parts of Marois’ visit — in both Kuujjuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq— and an interpreter was assigned to navigate between Inuttitut, English and French.
But even so, Marois stopped to speak with Nunavimmiut, asking many questions and delighting over the handmade gifts she received.
The premier’s visit to Nunavik came only days after her PQ government announced its Charter of Values — a controversial plan to implement “neutrality and reserve” in the public sector, including a ban on the wearing of certain religious symbols by public employees.
At first appearance, the charter appears to target centres with large immigrant populations, which encourages the same suppression of cultural values which Aboriginal peoples have faced throughout Quebec’s history, an Inuk lawyer from Nunavik says.
But, while in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Marois told reporters that she does not see the charter having an impact on Quebec’s Inuit or First Nations communities.
“The charter does not seek to differentiate between different origins. It aims to treat citizens equally, regardless of their origin, their convictions, their religious choice,” Marois said. “I don’t think it will touch the Inuit nor First Nations people.”
“But again, we submit this all to debate and if there are people who think the contrary, they can do so.”
Nunavik leaders appeared to be eager to gain the premier’s ear on other issues that her government has been slow to move on since it came to power in 2012.
The visit also came with funding announcements, some of them to fulfill existing agreements, such as this year’s $5 million to offset the high cost-of-living in Nunavik.
Marois also pledged $1 million over three years to help renovate and maintain the region’s marine infrastructure and another $1 million to boost Nunavik’s tourism industry.
Noting her background in social work, Marois pledged her government’s participation in a Quebec-Nunavik roundtable, called Saqijuq, to work with Nunavik’s regional partnership committee and follow up on the recommendations of a 2007 report by Quebec’s human rights commission.
Marois also announced a contribution of $5 million to the Nunavik cooperative development fund.
And she said her officials would look over the findings of a new feasibility study for building a high-capacity broadband network in Nunavik.
“This is an essential service for Nunavimmiut,” Marois said. “In the digital age, access to internet service is paramount.”
But not everyone received Marois with open arms: in Kuujjuaq, a sign posted in the back of a parked, red pick-up truck expressed some of the region’s frustration.
“Le Plan Nord?” it read, “Un plan pour ‘Vous’ n’est pas un plan pour ‘Nous’ (The northern plan? A plan for you, not a plan for us).”
That was a slam at Plan Nord, launched by the previous Quebec Liberal government in 2011, which was revised and rebranded by the PQ earlier this year as Le Nord pour Tous (the North for all.)