Former Yukon premier drafts Nunavut report card

A decade old, and saddled with many of the same problems it faced at its inception, the young territory of Nunavut is getting a physical by former Yukon premier Piers McDonald.

A decade old, and saddled with many of the same problems it faced at its inception, the young territory of Nunavut is getting a physical by former Yukon premier Piers McDonald.

“There are obviously big issues here; they’re pretty well-known,” said McDonald.

People per household is 50 per cent higher in Nunavut than for the rest of Canada—in houses that are smaller and older.

Overcrowded housing is one factor in Nunavut’s recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus, or, swine flu.

Within days of its first infection, Nunavut has confirmed 53 cases of the flu—versus one case for the Yukon, and two cases for the NWT.

The territory has Canada’s worst rate of infant mortality and its sexual assault rate is 10 times the Canadian average.

Inuit life expectancy is dropping.

Nunavut’s high-school graduation rate is the lowest in Canada, at only 25 per cent.

The territory’s suicide rate is eight times the national average.

Throughout the summer, McDonald’s team will be swooping into communities, knocking on doors and talking to elders, all to get a bird’s eye view of the young territory.

The team’s job is to “tease out where people think things should go,” said McDonald.

The report card was commissioned as part of Tamapta, the Nunavut government’s five-year-plan.

But getting the ear of the Nunavummiut may be a bit tricky during fishing season.

“We’ve got a fairly compressed time frame in which to accomplish this task, but we’ve got to be as comprehensive and widespread as we can,” said McDonald.

Space only compounds the abilities of the government to address Nunavut’s problems.

Nunavut contains 31,000 people, spread into 25 small communities spread over an area the size of Europe.

For McDonald’s team, the simple task of talking to a few thousand Nunavummiut carries many challenges.

McDonald has just sent a consultant to Cambridge Bay from the team’s base in Iqaluit.

“The flight requires an overnight, and Yellowknife is four hours from here,” said McDonald.

“The distances are enormous, the costs of doing business are very high, but the expectations of the average person are the same as any Canadians,” said McDonald.

“Physically and psychologically, distance is a major factor here—but there are other issues, a lot of other issues,” he said.

Median incomes in Nunavut are very close to the national average, but disparities are enormous.

Non-Inuit pull in an average of $50,000 a year. The territory’s 85 per cent Inuit population, on the other hand, only takes in $13,000 each.

The Yukon didn’t face nearly the same gauntlet of issues when McDonald was premier, but the former NDP leader can draw on his experience of talking to citizens.

“Those were days when the public of Yukon was very heavily consulted,” said McDonald.

Decentralized government has been a necessity ever since Nunavut was an eastern region of the Northwest Territories.

“This is one of the most decentralized governments that I’ve ever seen,” said McDonald.

Whitehorse-centric Yukon, on the other hand, is the poster child for centralization.

The Yukon was wired for internet under McDonald’s watch. With the vast distance of Nunavut, speedy internet and phone service is all the more critical.

“The telecommunications here need work,” said McDonald.

“As well as the systems to make a decentralized government operate,” he said.

The Nunavut government will be able to set “realistic priorities” based on the finding of McDonald’s team, said Premier Eva Aariak in a May release.

McDonald’s most high-profile, post-government gig was as CEO of Northern Vision Development, a Whitehorse-based firm.

In March, McDonald was unseated as CEO when the company shelved its development agenda due to concern about the recession.

The bulldozers were parked, the company’s portfolio went into hibernation and an office of seven full-time staff was dropped to two part-time accounting staff.

“I’m certainly enjoying what I’m doing now,” said McDonald.

“But if we go back into development, then I’ll roll up my sleeves and get back into that, too,” he said.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com