A handful of MLAs have shown up at the legislative assembly figuratively wearing their tool belts over the past few years, ready to hammer away at ministers.
Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak felt the MLAs’ wrath in November 2018 when she didn’t take a firm enough stance on the required Inuit labour quotient dropping to 15 per cent instead of 20 per cent on the new correctional centre in Iqaluit. She quickly got the message and made the contractor adjust.
John Main, chair of the regular members’ caucus, later said, “If we just throw up our hands and we say, ‘Oh well, I understand we can’t get enough workers so I guess 15 per cent is enough – that, in my mind, is a real danger to us. We need to be pushing for more.”
Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk spoke in June 2019 about Inuit who are skilled in the trades but they’re treated with “disdain” by contractors and rarely hired.
Community and Government Services Minister Lorne Kusugak countered that he’s aware of instances where 60 per cent of workers are Inuit. However, Kusugak noted that some communities have limited capacity – perhaps mining companies or government already employ many of the available hands. There are also some communities with workforces lacking trades experience, the minister acknowledged. He explained that the territorial government was working on a requirement for contractors fulfilling capital projects to specify what training will be offered for Inuit labourers.
“I think it’s a very positive step,” the minister said.
He’s right – as long as the standards are high and the GN truly holds contractors accountable.
Then, last October, Main praised Housing and Nunavut Arctic College Minister Patterk Netser for a pilot project in Rankin Inlet, where apprentices renovated an old building. Main called upon Netser to expand the hands-on program to all Nunavut communities as it shows real potential to bolster the workforce and to repurpose dilapidated structures, including as desperately-needed homes.
Netser, despite having a tremendous foundation to build upon, didn’t measure up in his response.
“What’s there stopping other communities going to Arctic College and say, ‘We have a house here that needs to be renovated. We have students who are willing to come and learn,’” said Netser. “All this stuff takes time and process. I’m certainly committed into doing more. It may not be next year, but certainly down the road, we’re certainly looking at that.”
That’s not leadership. It shouldn’t be left up to municipal representatives to come knocking. It should be Nunavut Arctic College and the Nunavut Housing Corporation promoting a golden opportunity.
Time is ticking down on the Nunavut’s 5th assembly. The summer sitting was cancelled due to Covid-19 and the next territorial election is only about 15 months away. Putting more Nunavummiut to work in the construction industry is a bold aspiration that must be accompanied by bold measures.