Arviat North/Whale Cove MLA John Main was not impressed with the Government of Nunavut (GN) spending more than $572,000 on the 2018 Northern Lights Convention and Trade Show in Ottawa this past February.
Main said he was in Iqaluit during the trade show when he and other MLAs noticed the GN’s delegation seemed unusually large.
He said questions were asked in the House and it turned out to be quite a large expenditure of funds.
“By all means attend a trade show because economic development, jobs and business are all very important, but everything has to be well justified,” said Main. “The root of the issue is that when we, as a government, spend money on Project X, we had better be prepared to justify why we spent that amount of money.”
In addition to $166,000 being donated to the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce to help host Northern Lights under the GN’s Strategic Investments Program under the Department of Economic Development and Transportation – the GN dolled out more than $70,000 in hotel expenses, $34,000 in conference registration fees, more than $120,000 in airfare, and $37,000 in per diems, taxis and incidentals for 73 people who attended the conference under the GN’s financial umbrella.
“We have to think these things through thoroughly,” said Main. “As a regular MLA, I’m looking forward to continuing to evaluate government spending habits because I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of where government dollars are flowing, so I anticipate we will be looking at other questionable expenses in the months and years to come.”
Main received a response to the written question he submitted during the past sitting of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, and is tabling that response during the current sitting which began on May 24.
The Arviat North/Whale Cove MLA said there’s no doubt that some positives came from the trade show but did the GN receive good value for that kind of expense?
“To me that amount of expenditure was not justified is this case,” said Main. “The fact the government got more money towards the development of high speed, fiber-optics Internet during a trade show is great – we need every single federal dollar we can pull in – but that could have been done without benefit of a trade show, so, to me, it’s a little bit like putting lipstick on a pig.”
“I’m not debating the trip was useful, but how useful?”
When you’re talking $500,000, you’re talking one public-housing unit that could have been built, he said.
Main said in terms of the Kivalliq, the needs are great and that efforts have to be made to connect Iqaluit to the reality of what’s going on outside of the capital.
“Issues and priorities can get distorted when looked at through the lens of the capital,” he said. “Of course, Iqaluit has its needs, but there’s an incredible need for investment outside of the regional centres, and I think right now, the rich are getting richer and the poor or getting poorer in terms of individuals, and also in terms of communities.”
“If we don’t act to correct that, what is it going to mean down the road for a kid growing up in Whale Cove or Gjoa Haven?” he asked. “If we don’t try to correct the way things are going, then I don’t know what the implications are for the so called ‘have not’ communities, except that they’re not good.”
Main hasn’t been an MLA for a complete year yet but said there is a disconnect between issues affecting Iqaluit and communities outside the capital. Each community is unique with it’s own issues, but the gap between other communities and the capital have to be bridged somehow, he said.
“The way to do that is the continuous speaking of truth to power, and making sure the voice of people all-across Nunavut is heard,” said Main. “That disconnect is a concern to me because you look at pre-Nunavut days, and what we didn’t want to do was create another Yellowknife – the place where, back in the 1990s, all the decisions were made. So now we have Nunavut, and Iqaluit is the place where all the decisions are made.”
As a long-term goal, he said, smaller communities should be given decision-making power, which means money.
“They should be given control over the money that’s available in terms of allocating it – in terms of where it gets spent,” he said.