Northern Lights Conference cost Nunavut $217K this year — less than half of 2018's total

The total bill to attend this year's Northern Lights Conference and Trade Show in Ottawa came in at just more than $217,000 to send 34 people.

Spending scaled back after criticism over bills at previous conference, including lavish Ottawa party

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq was a keynote speaker at the 2020 Northern Lights Conference and Trade Show in Ottawa (Becken Photography)

The Nunavut government spent less than half of the amount of money to attend this year's Northern Lights Conference and Trade Show than it had in 2018.

The government's spending at the conference came under fire two years ago, after MLAs questioned the government's expenses and whether they were worthwhile.

A CBC News investigation at the time revealed the government had spent more than $572,000 to send 71 people to the four-day conference in Ottawa.

This time around, Premier Joe Savikataaq said there was conscious effort not to spend so much at the conference in February.

The total bill came in at just more than $217,000 to send 34 people down to the conference in Ottawa.

The cost includes a $75,000 contribution from the Nunavut Department of Economic Development's "strategic investments program" to help co-host the event with the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce — though it is also substantially less than the contribution the Nunavut government made in 2018.

"It was more strategic," Savikataaq said.

"The Northern Lights [Conference] was a part of our plan, yeah. But the main goal that we had there was mostly, the ministers and I went down for a strategic engagement with the new federal ministers."

Savikataaq said the focus of those meetings with new federal cabinet ministers with northern portfolios — who were four months removed from the federal election at the time — was to pitch Nunavut's infrastructure needs.

"There's nothing that can take away from a face-to-face [meeting] and getting to know the ministers and their portfolios personally. That accounts for a lot when you know a federal minister personally," Savikataaq said.

"It would be hard to get that many ministers to come into Nunavut in a short period of time, and we wanted a targeted approach."

Important place to market territory: deputy minister

As for the conference itself, the territory's deputy economic development minister Bernie MacIsaac said the trade show is vital in marketing the territory, particularly to a cohort who may not be able to come to the North.

"Northern Lights typically supports around five times the number of delegates as the Nunavut Trade Show in Iqaluit," MacIsaac said.

"This breadth of outreach is important in attracting the investments needed to increase economic development opportunities for Nunavut's communities."

Regular members' caucus chair John Main said while it's good to see the government spend less on the event this year, it's still important to measure up trade show spending against Nunavut's other needs — a point he repeated when he first raised questions on the issue in 2018.

Read CBC's 2018 investigation into the Northern Lights Conference:

While this spring's sitting of the Legislative Assembly was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Main said the event would have been scrutinized, but perhaps not to the degree it was in 2018.

"It was apparent when the event happened that the government was taking a scaled-back approach in terms of their participation," Main said.

"And so in that sense it didn't attract as much attention from me personally in terms of things to look at."

About the Author

Nick Murray is a CBC reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He got his start with CBC in Fredericton after graduating from St. Thomas University's journalism program. He's also worked two Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports. You can follow Nick on Twitter at @NickMurray91.


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