It’s hard to pick out election issues in Nunavut. With no political parties there are no leaders or platforms and outside of the capital, campaigns tend to focus on local issues. That said, here is a list of the top five issues that will be on voters’ minds as they cast their ballots.
Nunavut’s housing crisis is persistent and worsening. In the legislative assembly this fall, one MLA described a house in his constituency that was home to 24 people, including one 11-year-old boy who took his own life. The MLAwas not the first to link overcrowding to other social issues such as violence, illness and kids struggling in school.
Almost a decade ago, the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. estimated they’d need $1.9 billion to build and maintain an adequate supply of public housing in Nunavut. In 2006, the federal government responded with $200 million for the Nunavut Housing Trust, and in 2013, added a further $100 million. But the housing minister of the day, Peter Taptuna, said that 3,500 housing units are still needed, and nobody knows when the money will materialize.
In addition to housing, every community in Nunavut has a wish list of badly-needed infrastructure. This includes community centres, recreation facilities, roads and runways and even hamlet offices, all of which were built to accommodate populations that are rapidly expanding.
There’s an even greater need for infrastructure that could lead to more economic activity, such as wharves or docks. For example, almost all of Nunavut’s offshore fishery catch is offloaded in Greenland for shipment to market because there are no ports in Nunavut. Politicians in the Kivalliq region continue to call for a road to Manitoba.
3. Health care
Nunavut’s health care system is complex and expensive, eating up a quarter of the government’s budget. Each year, the government’s health department co-ordinates about 30,000 medical trips for patients who need specialized care not available in their home community. Long flights, waits at airports and the occasional logistical mix-up can have a major and unpleasant impact on a sick person or a unilingual person travelling without an escort, many of whom turn to their MLAs for help.
The system can also result in late diagnosis of major illnesses, such as cancer, and puts serious burdens on patients and their families who require advanced medical care out of territory. The arrival of chronic diseases such as diabetes and diseases related to aging, such as Alzheimer’s, further highlight the gaps that remain in the system.
4. Jobs and training
Forty-two per cent of Nunavummiut rely on income support to make ends meet. Part of the reason is there are few jobs in the communities. The other is little training is available to prepare Nunavummiut for the jobs that do exist. (Almost one in four positions with the Government of Nunavut are currently vacant.)
Many efforts have been made to increase the opportunities. The hamlet of Igloolik, for example, sends people to Ontario to train as heavy equipment operators; the Nunavut Fisheries Training Consortium has trained hundreds of people. Nunavut Arctic College runs a trade school in Rankin Inlet and has plans to open a mine training school in Cambridge Bay. In spite of all these efforts, many young people and adults still lack the education or training to take advantage of future opportunities.
In the last five years, the graduation rate in Nunavut has increased rapidly, and a new campaign is promoting the importance of attending school well-fed and and well-rested, but there are concerns that a high school diploma from Nunavut is not equal to an education elsewhere in Canada. Many graduates struggle when it comes to higher education, even after completing a year or two in the college level Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Ottawa.
Parents in Nunavut also want to see strong language and cultural programs in their schools. Funding for programs featuring elders has increased recently. Now parents are looking for ways to make sure the programming is high quality and is getting results.
And finally, one more issue that's been an increasing part of public debate.
6. Social issues and mental health
In the last legislative assembly, the issues of suicide, violence and trauma were discussed and debated more than ever before. Increasingly, Nunavut’s leaders are linking these issues back to their root causes, such as poor housing, education, jobs and the big one: mental health.
There are more and more calls for services for people suffering from the trauma of residential schools, sexual abuse or family violence. Nunavut’s last group of MLAs also made steps towards protecting children from suffering these fates by passing legislation to create a new child and youth advocate after 12 years of lobbying efforts. Voters will expect to see concrete results from this.