New jail should be made by Nunavummiut

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The story of the beleaguered Baffin Correctional Centre continues to have its twists and turns.
In February 2017, the federal government promised $56.6 million to rebuild and re-brand the jail, with the territorial government on the hook for the rest of the $75.8 million project. Of that, the construction budget was set at $68 million.
It held the promise of a big payday for potential builders, and yet only one showed interest during last year’s tender process, and the bid submitted by Pilitak Enterprises of Hall Beach came in over budget.
The government cancelled its request for proposals as a result.
For a place described over the years as “hell,” it seems the government can’t even pay people to go there.
For those planning the rebuild, the path is paved with political landmines, the latest blowing up in the legislative assembly.
The government, it seems, wants to work with Pilitak – but within the government’s budget. To do so, negotiators are looking at cutting costs where possible. The first suggestion, using cheaper building materials, appears palatable. The second suggestion, though, seems to have crossed the line for Nunavut’s MLAs.
That’s because somewhere in the negotiations, someone suggested reducing the amount of Inuit labour the project would include from a promised 20 per cent to a proposed 15 per cent.
There aren’t enough skilled Inuit builders in Iqaluit, the Department of Justice says, and it would be too expensive to provide housing for Inuit workers from outside the capital.
MLA John Main isn’t buying it, noting that southern workers coming from outside the capital will be provided housing, so why can’t Inuit from outside the capital? Main is right.
If you do a web search for “Inuit employment Nunavut,” you’ll find the government’s own website, which states the implementation of the Inuit Employment Plan is “one of the highest priorities of the Government of Nunavut.”
It’s hard to take the government’s promise seriously when it is entertaining the idea of increasing the number of southerners involved in the construction of a building designed to imprison mostly Inuit. Colonialism has already contributed to so many of these Inuit being in jail in the first place, and reducing the number of Inuit involved in this project will leave a stain that lingers.
The idea is galling because these are not policy or management jobs that require higher degrees. If Nunavut’s mines can train and employ a growing number of Inuit to do skilled labour, the government should be even more committed to doing the same.
It’s becoming clear that the territorial government – and the federal government by association – are out of touch with the reality on the ground.
Nunavut’s number crunchers clearly blew their estimate of how much it would cost to do the project, and the feds trusted their calculations. Most government contracts provide incentives to firms that promise to use Inuit, Nunavut, and local labour. We don’t see evidence that this was factored into the equation.
The government needs to stick to its commitments on increasing Inuit labour on government projects for the benefit of all Nunavummiut. This is, for good reason, a top concern of Nunavummiut, and the government needs to find the money to follow through.