Qulliq minister shocked by Inuit group's claims

Nunavut's minister responsible for Qulliq Energy Corp. is defending the power utility against claims that Inuit employees face discrimination.

Nunavut's minister responsible for Qulliq Energy Corp. is defending the power utility against claims that Inuit employees face discrimination.

Lorne Kusugak said he was surprised to hear Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the territory's Inuit land-claims organization, publicly condemning Qulliq Energy over its treatment of Inuit workers.

Late last week, Nunavut Tunngavik issued a news release saying at least seven Inuit employees of Qulliq Energy have been disciplined, dismissed, or have voiced concerns about the utility since June 2010.

Nunavut Tunngavik president Cathy Towtongie said some of the seven workers had raised questions about Qulliq Energy's compliance with Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which calls for increased Inuit participation in the territorial government workforce.

But Kusugak told CBC News on Thursday that Nunavut Tunngavik's news release was unnecessary and was brought on by just a few disgruntled ex-employees.

"They are allegations, and I have always stood by the fact that they are merely that," Kusugak said in an interview.

"You have a few ex-employees of the corporation who have allegations, and they're being dealt with through the proper procedures and protocols."

High Inuit employment rate

An Inuit land-claim beneficiary himself, Kusugak said he would not stand for any violation of the land-claim agreement, and neither would Qulliq Energy chairman Simon Merkosak.

"We gave up a lot when we signed the land-claim agreement as beneficiaries and I — like you and any other beneficiary out there — do not want any part of the land-claim agreement violated at all whatsoever," he said.

Kusugak said Qulliq Energy has one of the highest Inuit employment rates within the Nunavut government's workforce.

Qulliq Energy president Peter Mackey told CBC News earlier this year that Inuit make up 58 per cent of the utility's workforce  and officials are making big efforts to ensure more Inuit are being hired and promoted.

The seven Inuit former employees have since filed lawsuits, union grievances or complaints alleging unfair treatment.

Kusugak said officials will meet with Towtongie next week to discuss the issue, but he was surprised to see her press release come out before the meeting.