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Nunavut MLA raises red flag over low number of Inuit benefiting from education leave

Fifteen of the 42 government employees currently on leave to pursue studies are Inuit, according to a government response provided to Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone.

15 of 42 government employees being paid to go back to school are Inuit

Adam Arreak Lightstone says the only way to get more Inuit working in higher level jobs is through post-secondary education. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone says the Nunavut government's education leave program, which sends government employees back to school, isn't benefiting enough Inuit.

The program allows employees to take time off work and be paid a portion of their salary during their studies. Travel, books and tuition are also covered.

Fifteen of the 42 government employees currently on leave to pursue studies are Inuit, according to a government response provided to the Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA.

Arreak Lightstone said Inuit should be prioritized when it comes to government spending on training.

"It's concerning because the government, for years, has been devoted to increasing Inuit employment to reach that goal of a representative public service," he said.

"Considering that the only reason that we're not there is the lack of qualified Inuit, the only way to get them qualified is through post-secondary education."

Under the Nunavut Agreement, the territory is responsible for ensuring its public service is representative of its population. Inuit currently make up 50 per cent of government employees, but represent 85 per cent of the population.

$1.6 million spent on program last year

The government spent $1.6 million on the education leave program in the 2017-18 fiscal year. It said it will spend $16 million on Inuit employment and training in the next few years.

Inuit participation in the education leave program "is much lower than we would like to see," said Jeff Chown, deputy minister for the Department of Finance.

"We've identified that as a gap within that policy and I don't think there's an easy answer as to why that is."

Nunavut Tunngavik president Aluki Kotierk said the program should only be available for Inuit.

Aluki Kotierk says these types of education benefits need to be provided solely to Inuit. (Travis Burke/CBC)

"As an Inuk in Nunavut, when I see non-Inuit being brought up and relocated to work in the territorial government, my assumption is that these are highly skilled individuals," she said.

"It doesn't make any sense in my mind that we would be investing in these people to go off for further education."

During the spring sitting of the Nunavut Legislature, Arreak Lightstone asked the Department of Finance to provide a breakdown of expenses claimed and the number of employees on education leave from each department.

According to the government's response, employees on leave were paid between $20,000 and $60,000 in salary and benefits.

The Department of Education reported 12 employees received funding — more than any other department.

The response also showed that, in total, employees on leave claimed more than $55,000 in travel expenses.

Regardless, Arreak Lightstone said he believes the program is a worthwhile investment.

"I believe it's in the territory's best interest to allow employees to keep a portion of their salary and benefits to assist them in achieving the qualifications necessary for them to move up," he said.

Several employees signed up for law program

Previous public service reports show the number of people taking time off to go to school is going up. In 2015, 35 employees were on leave compared to 31 in 2014.

The number rose to 42 after the law program started up last September at Nunavut Arctic College. About eight or nine government employees joined the program, Chown said.

The number of people on education leave jumped after the law program started up at Nunavut Arctic College in September 2017. (Michelle Pucci/CBC)

He added the department is reviewing the education leave program now.

"One of the things we've looked at is why our Inuit stats within that directive are so low," said Chown.

Chown said employees might not apply to the program because it means they will have to move to study and will only receive a portion of their regular salary.

"We want to provide as many different options to employees that we can that still get them the training and development, but maybe suits their personal situations better," he said. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 15 of 24 government employees on education leave are Inuit. In fact, it is 15 of 42.
    Jun 29, 2018 7:28 AM CT

With files from Lucy Burke

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