EDITORIAL: Don’t let southerners take our opportunities

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According to the latest Conference Board of Canada report, opportunity is knocking in Nunavut more than anywhere else in Canada. If you are hoping for change, now’s the time to answer.

The report indicates Nunavut will grow an average of 4.6 per cent per year until 2025, most of that growth driven by new gold mines opening in western Nunavut – Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine and Amaruq in the Kivalliq and Sabina’s Back River in the Kitikmeot.

There is plenty of opportunity in the Qikiqtaaluk region, too, as Baffinland continues to press for growth, now indicating it wants to extract six times as much iron as it is permitted at present. The idea is not without its challenges, as there are many unanswered questions about the proposal. If it does happen, though, it could generate a lot of activity on Baffin Island.

Nunavummiut hoping to work need to be ready, and politicians are concerned they won’t be. In October, Arviat-Whale Cove MLA John Main expressed concern that the Kivalliq Mine Training Society is in either “slowdown or shutdown” mode, and that the Kivalliq risks “miss(ing) the boat.” In the Kitikmeot, training is performed by the NWT Mine Training Society, which is already at capacity and is limited in the number of Nunavummiut it can train.

Even Premier Joe Savikataaq expressed concern, noting that “we cannot afford to wait if we want to benefit from the jobs that are coming.”

The Conference Board of Canada notes that Nunavummiut are likely to miss the boat, to use Main’s phrase, saying in its report that southerners brought in to do the work will be the main beneficiaries.

For shame.

Just this week, the federal government increased its funding for jobs training in Nunavut but the government news release made no mention of mines or the training required to work in the mines.

Those may be federal dollars but they flow to territorial priorities. That tells us the territorial government doesn’t have a plan for increasing the job readiness of Nunavummiut interested in working at the mines. Economic Development Minister David Akeeagok noted in September that a territorial mine training regime was in the works but not ready to go live.

Investing in mine training is one of the recommendations from the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines in its response to the report. It also recommends: complete land use plans; advance the Gray’s Bay Road and Port project; and invest in science for caribou protection plans.

These four action items can provide the direction to sustainable growth in Nunavut, and mine training is the one that can provide the greatest benefits to average Nunavummiut. Get people working.

We hope the Nunavut government can get its act together on this file, and draft a plan that takes advantage of the opportunities in sight.

Otherwise Nunavut is doomed to fulfill the report’s prediction that the coming boom is unlikely to benefit those who need it the most. We implore Premier Savikataaq and the rest of his cabinet to push harder on this file and get people working so Nunavut’s riches stay in Nunavut.