Questionable stats: N.W.T. premier challenged on statistics used during 'red alert'
'I'm not sure where he's coming up with these figures, I'd sure like to know,' says MLA
Members of the public and at least one MLA have called into question some statistics used by N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod last week, after he issued a "red alert" about the future of the territory.
In a statement, the premier said the Northwest Territories was threatened by a re-emerging colonialism that put the territory's future in doubt. He said it was a "red alert" situation typified by the federal government's decision last year to issue a moratorium on new offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic, without first consulting with the government of the Northwest Territories.
In an interview with the CBC last week, Premier McLeod said the territory's energy and resource sector is "40 per cent of our economy," but according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, about 24 per cent of the territory's GDP comes directly from oil and gas exploration and extraction.
The premier also described "52 per cent of the Northwest Territories" as "protected areas," but the territorial government's 2016 State of the Conservation Network report only listed 9.2 per cent of the territory as among "terrestrial protected areas."
CBC received several inquiries from members of the public questioning the accuracy of McLeod's statistics.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said he had never before heard the specific numbers the premier used. He said they were exaggerated and not based in reality.
"I think they certainly over-emphasize that contribution [of resource extraction] and the amount of land that is protected," O'Reilly said.
"I'm not sure where he's coming up with these figures, I'd sure like to know."
O'Reilly has a theory about the premier's intentions.
"I can't help but think that this whole thing is really a diversion away from the poor performance of this government," O'Reilly said.
"What came out of the mid-term review… [was] really a failure to deliver on their mandate. This was just an effort to divert attention away from that."
Request for clarification 'mishandled'
Despite repeated requests for clarification, the government of the Northwest Territories did not provide sources for Premier McLeod's information, saying only "these figures have been used for some time now and have been referenced in many documents."
In an email late Monday night, Shaun Dean, director of cabinet communications, apologized for what he described as a "mishandled" response to CBC's request for clarification.
"We have been working to substantiate the numbers with relevant departments, but don't have a final answer yet," Dean said.
He said he hoped to have answers on Tuesday, "but will need to review it with the premier — who is not in the office this week — before we can release it."
McLeod vs. McLeod
O'Reilly was not the first to question both the accuracy and the intentions behind some of Premier McLeod's statements surrounding his red alert.
On Monday, Michael McLeod, the Liberal MP for the Northwest Territories — who is also the premier's brother — questioned the underlying urgency and the cogency of statements made last week by Premier McLeod.
MP McLeod pointed out in a written statement that the moratorium was for five years only. He stated that the question of offshore drilling would eventually be revisited, and in any case, spending related to oil and gas activity in the region was flat, suggesting the ban was well-timed for its lack of consequence.
"Exploration activity in the Beaufort peaked in 2008 before sharply declining," MP McLeod stated in the news release. "In the previous five years, only $7.2 million went to N.W.T. businesses from oil and gas exploration activity in the area."
MP McLeod said he could appreciate pressures the premier might face to speak up for his constituents, but added that the tone of the message wasn't the best way forward.
"It doesn't build good will and it doesn't build positive relationships," MP McLeod told the CBC. "The goal and what we should be focusing on is working together."
Premier McLeod was not immediately available for comment, but in an email Andrew Livingstone, senior cabinet advisor to the premier, said the premier's intention was to promote debate on the future of the Northwest Territories.
"An active public debate about the North is what we want, and we're happy to see this happening," Livingstone wrote.
Premier gets support
Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of statistics stated by the premier, the overall thrust of his message has found support among some.
Darrel Nasogaluak is the mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, a small community on the coast of the Beaufort Sea that will soon benefit from the opening of the $300 million Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk all-season highway.
"With the oil ban we will not be using the road for its primary use, which is the oilfields of the Beaufort [Sea]," Nasogaluak said.
"Tourism is not the answer," he added. "It's not going to cover what the oil industry has done with the Beaufort communities and the territories. Mind you it's been boom and bust, but when the oil activity has been here in the North we've worked with them very successfully so we would just like to voice our support for Premier Mcleod."
With files from Alyssa Mosher