Is Nunavut decentralization working for communities?
Government jobs are nothing new to people in the Eastern Arctic. They were a mainstay of the economy in the Northwest Territories days. But when Nunavut was created, and some government jobs were relocated to 10 “decentralized” communities, there were promises of Inuit employment and economic spin-offs.
Igloolik, population 1828) is one of the Baffin region’s largest decentralized communities—about 200 people work for the Government of Nunavut there. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a job.
Alex Arnatsiaq lives in Igloolik and has been trying to untangle the web of applying for a permanent GN job. Right now, he’s a casual at the Continuing Care Centre, but he’s on a string of 10 days off.
“Sometimes it's hard to find a job. You keep applying and applying and applying but you don't get any answers,” he says. “That's where a few of my friends are at.”
In 2009, Arnatsiaq held a contract position as a Youth Manager with the Department of Culture and Heritage. This year the permanent position was advertised. Arnatsiaq applied and got an interview, but never heard back from the GN. The job was re-posted and Arnatsiaq has re-applied.
Despite the difficulties some face getting a job with the Nunavut government, some local business owners have done well.
Ike Haulli runs Savik Enterprises in Igloolik, a one-stop-shop that serves as a gas station, Qiniq Internet retailer and a sealift operator.
Haulli says contracts with the GN make up about a third of his business. “The building maintenance and janitorial wouldn't be around if they weren't here, or the freight.”
He says without the GN fuel contract, he wouldn’t be able to hire as many people. Right now, he has 20 people on staff, up from an average of about 16.
Challenges with wildlife division
As of December 2012, three quarters of positions in Igloolik were filled, and Inuit held 63 per cent of the jobs, compared to about 50 per cent in the territory overall.
Igloolik is home to the decentralized office of the Department of Environment’s wildlife management division, but a 2011 consultant’s report showed problems there.
The report said the division was struggling to establish and maintain a fully-functional headquarters office.
Graham White is a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
“What has emerged… and has emerged very quickly as a problem, was filling those technical jobs in decentralized communities,” White says. “Filling them period. Let alone filling them with Inuit.”
White says decentralization hasn't lived up to all of its promises… but he says the same thing can be said of the Nunavut government in general.