Candidates mull devolution, mining and tourism potential in Pond Inlet

Striking a balance between development and traditional ways of life is an election concern for some in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. It's become a regional commercial hub, with tourism potential to match.

Long-time politician, community health nurse challenge incumbent Joe Enook

Hunters in Pond Inlet unload at shore in October 2015. Striking a balance between commercial and tourist development while protecting traditional Inuit ways of life is an issue in the community in the lead up to the 2017 Nunavut election. (Nick Murray/CBC News)

Pond Inlet, Nunavut, a community of about 1,600 people on North Baffin Island, is surrounded by stunning mountainous terrain and the newly created Tallurutiup Imanga (Lancaster Sound) marine conservation area — the largest of its kind in Canada.

It's also the closest community for the nearby Mary River iron ore mine owned and operated by Baffinland Iron Mines. The mine, approximately 180 kilometres southwest of Pond Inlet by air, has been in production since 2015 and maintains an 800-person camp.

The mine will impact the economic and social life of Pond Inlet for decades to come, but what that legacy will eventually amount to is not clear: the mine has struggled to fulfill its Inuit hiring commitments, and risks to the traditional hunting and trapping way of life in the region have been well-noted by community members and activist groups.

The Federal Tiber bulk carrier leaves from the Milne port, carrying iron ore from Baffinland's Mary River project. In 2017, 56 trips by cargo ships, each carrying an average of 72,600 tonnes of iron ore, left the Milne Inlet port, near Pond Inlet, Nunavut, and travelled to Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan. (Submitted by Baffinland)

Perhaps not surprisingly, issues surrounding the environmental, economic and social impact of the mine have come to the fore in discussions with the three candidates vying to represent the region, Tununiq, in the next territorial government.

Joe Enook, 60, is the incumbent MLA. He took the seat in a 2011 byelection.

Joe Enook is the Tununiq incumbent and is standing for re-election. (Elections Nunavut)

He says the natural beauty of the area and nearby mining operations have meant increased marine traffic in the waters separating Pond Inlet from mountain-encrusted Bylot Island (home to Sirmilik National Park) to the North.

Enook counts 12 to 15 cruise ships every season, and many dozens of iron ore ships, "not counting private yachts and sealifts."

"Given what's going on around Pond Inlet, Pond Inlet should become a regional hub as soon as possible. Like Cambridge Bay is to the Kitikmeot, like Rankin Inlet is to the Kivalliq and what Iqaluit is to southern Baffin Island, Pond Inlet should be to the north Baffin," Enook said.

"With the infrastructure that comes with it."

He said the challenge in the coming years will be to balance the pressures of commercial and tourist traffic against the need to preserve and protect the environment for traditional Inuit ways of life.

"We have to make sure that our hunters can live with this tremendous amount of pressure," Enook said.

Nunavut devolution

For Enook, the way to strike that balance between protecting traditional ways, while at the same time reaping the most benefits for Nunavummiut, is to move forward on territorial devolution.

"What must be pushed and pushed hard is the issue of devolution," Enook said. "Devolution will allow our government more flexibility to do what it needs to do for Nunavut."

David Qamaniq, 56, is one of two challengers in this race.

David Qamaniq is a candidate in Tununiq. (Elections Nunavut)

He was born in an outpost camp near Pond Inlet, but says he's lived in the community since 1964.

He's politically experienced, having served on many boards and organizations, including a stint as an Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement negotiator with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) on the Mary River mine project. He's on leave from his position as Pond Inlet QIA community coordinator to run in this election.

Like Enook, he sees devolution as the way forward as well. He says Pond Inlet has a five-year community infrastructure capital plan, and making sure that plan rolls out is one of his priorities.

But infrastructure development takes money, and that's where devolution comes in.

"Devolution talks should be a priority for the Government of Nunavut to access royalties from mining and oil and gas development," Qamaniq said.

'Fed up' with Nunavut health care

Jeannie Mills, 64, a nurse of 37 years, was born in Kelowna, B.C., but has called the North home for more than a decade.

Jeannie Mills is a candidate in Tununiq. (Elections Nunavut)

"I've been a community health care nurse in the North for many, many years," she said. "That's why I'm doing this [running for election]: I'm fed up with what's going on with health care in Nunavut."

Mills said she has ideas on how to improve retention among nurses and other health care professionals in Nunavut based on her own experience in the North.

"I have the experience of a frontline health care worker and I know what it feels like when the policy hits the pavement and how it's not working," she said.

"I have some concrete ideas about how to fix it."

Mills also sees the nearby mine as an opportunity to bring about infrastructure improvements in Pond Inlet, but only if the government acts fast enough.

"If we don't improve our airport so that Baffinland can use it as the conduit to Mary River, they're going to build their own airport at Mary River and we will have missed out on that."

With files from Michelle Pucci