Here’s what all the fuss was about

Thanks to the thoughtful generosity of Nunavut’s unofficial archivist, Jack Hicks, I now have the full text of the 1998 Jeffrey Simpson column that I mentioned Oct. 25.

Since the column doesn’t appear any more on their website, I’m sure the Globe’s legalists will overlook the copyright violation. After all, it’s an eleven-and-a-half-year-old piece that’s of interest only to obsessive compulsive geeks like me and the handful of people who suffer their way through this little blog.

It’s worth noting that some things have changed since 1998, mostly for the worse. The sexual assault rate is now about 12 times the national average and the overall rate of violent crime, including all forms of homicide, is higher too. So too, has the suicide rate increased, though there is some variation from year to year.

The abuse of solvents and aerosols as intoxicants appears to be in decline (I’m just guessing on that one,) but cannabis use is likely at 60 to 80 per cent, depending on the community. And we now see increasing use of crack cocaine, crystal meth and various forms of hillbilly heroin, such as oxycontin.

Fuel and power costs are much higher, creating a mounting fiscal burden for the territorial government. So has the cost of retail food and air cargo.

The $600-million budget for 1999-2000 that Simpson refers to was not enough to even maintain the status quo. That figure has now risen to about $1.1 billion annually. This year, the Nunavut government will likely spend more than $300 million on capital projects, compared with only $50 million in 1999-2000.

And, as I said in the post below, a small rising class of middle-class Inuit is now emerging, mostly in the larger communities. I expect that, motivated by self-interest, they will continue to press for more of what got them there in the first place: government spending on new schemes that will create jobs for themselves and others like them, and the preferential hiring of Inuit under Article 23.

But what I don’t see enough of is the political will to help Nunavut’s growing underclass, who need nutrition, mental health services and adult education. Under-nourished stoners don’t make very good trainees or workers.

Tough times lie ahead for the new territory of Nunavut

by Jeffrey Simpson
The Globe and Mail
1998 June 5

(Reprinted without permission.)

Want a challenge? Try this one on for size: Improve the “life chances”
for Canada’s 25,000 residents, mostly Inuit, of the new territory of Nunavut.

On April 1, 1999, Nunavut — or the so-called Eastern Arctic — will be officially hived off from the Northwest Territories. Canada will have a new territory 2,000 kilometres wide and 1,800 kilometres deep.

In that vast and forbidding terrain, only 25,000 people will live. Eighty-four per cent of those are Inuit.

No one yet knows precisely the price tag for the new government and the delivery of services to those widely dispersed people, fewer than a third of whom will live in towns. Around Ottawa the figure most bandied about is $600-million — or about $80 for every Canadian family of four. That $600-million represents roughly what it will cost just to maintain the status quo.

The status quo, however, isn’t good enough, given the staggering social and economic problems faced by the Inuit. Nunavut, after all, will be poorer than the rest of the Northwest Territories, of which it was part until Inuit voted to separate.

Start with population. Almost half the Inuit are under 20 years of age. The comparable figure is 27 per cent nationally. Nunavut’s population is growing at three times the national average. Families are one-third larger than the national average. Where, oh where, are the jobs going to materialize for this burgeoning population?

Some will be created by the new bureaucracies of Nunavut. Training Inuit for those jobs is proceeding, but much more will be required in everything from accounting to the law, financial administration to health care. After all, there’s no sense creating an essentially Inuit territory run by southerners. Outside the new bureaucracies, however, jobs will continue to be scarce.

A fifth of households have six or more persons. The vast majority of the housing is government-supplied. A third of the population in 1996 depended on welfare. The teenaged pregnancy rate is three times the national rate, the infant mortality rate twice, the incarceration rate three times, the suicide rate six times.

Want more depressing socioeconomic indicators? Try these. Smoking is more than twice the national average, heavy drinking three times, cocaine three times, abuse of aerosols and solvents 26 times the national rate. Sexual assault rates are seven times the national average, homicides three times, violent crimes five times.

Every study without exception points to the link between education levels and incomes, and even jobs. Bear that in mind, then try these indicators on for size. School dropout rates are mercifully declining, but in 1991 two-thirds of the territory’s 15- to 24-year-olds were not attending school. The youth unemployment rate, not surprisingly, was almost double the national average.

Want to live in Nunavut? Get ready for higher costs, even higher than in other parts of the Canadian North. Some estimates put living costs 65 per cent higher than in southern Canada. Food, apart from traditional Inuit fare, costs far more than down south. Energy costs are exorbitant: Electricity rates, already subsidized, are five times the national average. In a bitterly cold climate, high fuel-oil heating costs take a big bite from incomes.

No wonder, given all this, that Nunavut’s per-capita income will be 30 per cent lower than Newfoundland’s, Canada’s poorest province. And Nunavut will be much more heavily assisted than Newfoundland through transfers from the rest of Canada.

The Inuit wanted their own territory and voted in a referendum to get one. Parliament agreed, overcoming whatever qualms a few members had about creating territories organized politically around ethnicity. It was, if you like, a vote for partition, a loaded word in a very different southern Canadian political context.

Inuit leaders, and they have some exceedingly good ones, obviously want to maximize federal transfers. No other part of Canada has been so dependent upon them. That dependency shows no signs of diminishing, at least not for a long while.

In strict economic and fiscal terms, the Inuit would have been better off to stay within the Northwest Territories. They chose a different route for a welter of reasons including the classic group-identity one of wanting something to call their own. The challenge of making Nunavut work — that is, by making life better for citizens — will be a formidable one indeed.

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2 Responses to Here’s what all the fuss was about

  1. Pingback: Jeffrey Simpson says I told you so « Advocatus diaboli

  2. Megan says:

    This isn’t my idea of “anti-Nunavut” at all.

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