EDITORIAL: Around the Arctic February 17, 2012 - 6:37 pm

Big task, half-empty toolbox

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

It’s natural that as he starts his new job as president of Makivik Corp., Jobie Tukkiapik will do so upon a wave of high expectations.

For Nunavik, it’s a big change. Tukkiapik’s predecessor, Pita Aatami, has served as head of the organization since October of 1998, when he was appointed to replace Zebedee Nungak, who was removed from office by Makivik’s board.

Aatami brought badly needed stability and proved himself to be a shrewd business manager and negotiator. But his weak political skills — especially his thin-skinned reactions to legitimate criticism and his inability to build trust and consensus around big ideas like the Nunavik Regional Government — likely led to his defeat this past January.

At the same time, Premier Jean Charest’s ambitious but vague Plan Nord scheme gives Nunavik residents valid reasons to feel insecure about their economic future and their place in Quebec.

During the Makivik presidential election, candidates and voters alike had a lot to say about Plan Nord. It’s fair to say that those who view Plan Nord as a threat outnumber those who view it as an opportunity.

At the same time, candidates and voters had a lot to say also about the region’s seemingly intractable social problems. Their symptoms include a life expectancy that’s lower even than Nunavut’s, high suicide and crime rates and astonishing levels of drug and alcohol consumption.

For example, the 2004 Qanuippitaa health survey showed nearly 90 per cent of people in Nunavik aged 15 to 24 use cannabis. About 60 per cent of all people in Nunavik use cannabis. This suggests illicit drug use is now an integral part of the region’s culture. Binge drinking, the handmaiden of family violence, occurs at a rate three times greater than most other parts of Canada. Needless to say, the Quebec social model has failed the Nunavik region.

So it’s natural for Tukkiapik to say “we will certainly be looking at social programs first,” when interviewed by Nunatsiaq News late last month.

But there’s a big problem here. Makivik Corp. is a private corporation, not a government. Social programs and the formation of social policy are matters of government. In Nunavik, it’s done through government-funded and government-controlled boards that are responsible for managing health, social services, social housing, education, policing and municipal affairs.

Makivik does spend money on what it calls “social development.” But that’s about all they do: write cheques for others to spend. Unlike the Inuit associations in Nunavut that have created their own social development departments, Makivik’s capacity for setting or influencing social policy is limited. And they have little or no influence over how social programs are delivered from one day to the next. That’s done by government agencies.

The proper place for the deliberation of social policy is an elected assembly and executive that’s empowered to give direction to all agencies responsible for social policy. However, the people of Nunavik rejected the creation of such a body when they rejected the Nunavik Regional Government proposal in a referendum this past April 27.

We wish Tukkiapik well. But residents of Nunavik must be aware, that in approaching the region’s social problems, he’s taking on a big task with a toolbox that’s half-empty. Keep your expectations low.

In responding to Plan Nord, Tukkiapik’s first task should be to set out clear positions on resource development and transportation in the region, even if the Charest government’s intentions are still less than clear.

The pan-Arctic Inuit position, thanks to the Inuit Circumpolar Council’s declaration on resource development, is now fairly clear. And that is that Inuit will support resource development only if Inuit and their communities gain benefits, the environment is protected and “an overwhelming influx of outside labour” is avoided.

If Makivik intends to produce a formal policy response to Plan Nord, the principles contained in the ICC declaration look like a good starting point. JB