Some time in June of 1998, your humble content provider remembers reading a column in the Globe and Mail by Jeffrey Simpson entitled “Tough times lie ahead for new territory of Nunavut.” Simpson’s column drew most of its facts from a news story, published in the Globe at around the same time, that bore a headline that went something like this: “Nunavut to be a welfare case: sweeping social, economic problems face Canada’s newest territory.”
I’m relying on memory only for the above references, having searched in vain for their URLs. But I can see the headlines pictured in my head, and I remember the gist of the body text. In that 1998 column, Simpson said he supported the creation of Nunavut, because it represented the will of its residents, as expressed in plebiscites held in 1982 and 1992.
But he also drew attention to Nunavut’s utter dependence on the federal government for nearly all its funding, the absence of a healthy private sector economy, the low levels of educational achievement and all the dreary social problems: crime, substance abuse, and so on. Then he drew the obvious inference: that the new territory of Nunavut would struggle to get anything done.
How did most Nunavut leaders react? With pouting defensiveness. The Globe and Mail became an enemy of Nunavut, especially in the minds of those who appear to have neither read nor understood the actual words that the Globe published on the subject.
I recall a “debate” that CBC North’s television service organized around that time. To do this, they set up Jeffrey Simpson as an anti-Nunavut figure, which, of course, he never was or is. And they chose Jose Kusugak, then the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., to defend the honour of the sullied Nunavut project.
Simpson spent most of the half-hour saying he supports the creation of Nunavut but merely wanted to highlight things that will cause problems for Nunavut in the future. Kusugak spent his part of the half-hour attacking Simpson for being “against Nunavut.” He didn’t seem to hear anything that Simpson actually said.
I’ve watched shout-ups on the Fox news channel that were more enlightening. This was not a great moment for Canada’s national broadcaster. But it did illustrate the great fog that enveloped most Nunavut leaders as they stumbled into their new territory in 1998 and 1999.
In any event, Simpson revisited the issue last week in this colunm, published Oct. 20: “Nunavut’s economic dreams are icebound.” And to supply some facts to support the opinion, the paper published this news story in the same issue: “Ten years in, Nunavut gets failing grade.”
This report’s blunt findings are not the inventions of the big, bad southern media. This time around it’s the people of Nunavut who did the grading, through the Qanukkanniq Report Card process that Premier Eva Aariak ordered earlier this year.
But coupled with the kids-sleeping-at-the-Northmart outrage that erupted across the internet this past summer, Nunavut’s 10th year has not received much good press.
Nunavut’s new senator, Dennis Patterson, thinks he can do something about all this in his maiden speech, or so he said this past Oct. 23. But since the national press is not known for its wall-to-wall coverage of the Canadian Senate, Patterson’s efforts may not achieve the desired effect.
All the same, Patterson could, for example, point out that between 2004 and 2007, Nunavut’s economy generated 1,700 new jobs, mostly through increased capital investment by government and the mining industry. He could also point out that in the same period, the unemployment rate feel to 8.9 per cent from 13 per cent. Nunavut’s 2008 Economic Outlook report is full of such impressive figures.
Last, Patterson could point to the emergence of a small but rising Inuit middle-class — affluent property-owning professionals and small-business people who have managed to benefit from the many opportunities that the Nunavut project created.
The problem, though, is that far too many Nunavummiut, especially those in the smallest communities, do not share any of this. And that’s where most of the bitterness lies.