An MLA in Iqaluit, Nunavut, is wondering whether Nunavut would be stronger with fewer communities.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak said it's a difficult but important issue that needs to be addressed in a candid and thoughtful manner.

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak says Nunavut could be better off with fewer communities. (FILE PHOTO)

“To me, the key question to ask is whether it’s better to provide a limited and inadequate range of programs, services and infrastructure to a large number of communities, or a stronger and more complete range of programs and services and infrastructure to a smaller number of communities,” she said in the legislature Thursday.

Nunavut has a population of about 33,000 people, spread out over 25 communities. The largest community is the capital with about 6,800 people; the smallest is Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island with 148 people.   Thirteen communities have fewer than 1,000 people, and five have fewer than 500 people.

Nunavut communities map

Nunavut has a population of about 33,000 people, spread out over 25 communities. The biggest is the capital with about 6,800 people; the smallest is tiny Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island with 148 people. (Government of Nunavut)

The idea of relocating communities is one that’s rarely discussed in Nunavut, where few have forgotten the forced relocation of Inuit to the High Arctic in the 1950s, and some view the creation of the original settlements as a coercive way for the federal government to bring the Inuit population under control.

While the territory's larger communities include a mix of aboriginal and non-aboriginal residents, the smaller communities are almost entirely made up of Inuit. 

In response to Angnakak's comments, Premier Peter Taptuna pointed to Newfoundland-Labrador, where some small towns were shut down. But, he said, communities in Nunavut have a more compelling reason for being.

“There’s a purpose for these small towns up North and with the help of the federal government, the folks who live in these small communities call themselves the sovereignty keepers of Canada.”

Taptuna faced a similar line of questioning during November’s Leadership Forum — the gathering where MLAs first meet to select a premier and cabinet — when MLAs wanted to know whether he supported Nunavut's smaller communities. 

Then, as now, he said economic activity is the way to keep the smaller communities alive.

In particular, Taptuna pointed to mining, and said the government needed to create policies and legislation to attract investors from Canada and around the world.

At November's leadership forum, Taptuna admitted that current funding levels make it hard to support small communities, and to encourage young people to stay. 

"Collectively, there may come a time when this whole assembly will have to make a decision on whether these small communities are viable or not. That’s a drastic reality that we may have to face down the line, but usually, with more economic activity, these small communities will be sustainable." 

He says Nunavut still needs the help of the federal government in keeping small communities alive.