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Tug-of-war continues over approach to long-term care centres

Regular MLAs have once again shown strong resistance to cabinet’s approach to building regional long-term care centres, and the focus on June 3 was on the Kitikmeot region.
Kitikmeot MLAs Jeannie Ehaloak, representing Cambridge Bay, and Tony Akoak, from Gjoa Haven, are insisting that their respective communities host a new regional long-term care centre. photos courtesy of the legislative assembly

Regular MLAs have once again shown strong resistance to cabinet’s approach to building regional long-term care centres, and the focus on June 3 was on the Kitikmeot region.

The MLAs forced a vote in the legislative assembly and denied $2.1 million to be used for preparations for a $70-million long-term care facility planned for Cambridge Bay. Construction of that project, targetted to begin with the 2023 sealift, could now be delayed a year.

Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak, who tabled the motion, contended that the $2.1 million would be put to better use by expanding the existing nine-bed long-term care facility in his community, which he predicted would ultimately cost far less than the new building proposed for Cambridge Bay.

Cambridge Bay MLA Jeannie Ehaloak, who voted with her cabinet colleagues in a failed attempt to proceed with the GN’s existing plans, said she was “very disappointed” with Akoak’s stance.

“I ask that he rescind this motion,” she said. “Our beloved Elders need this facility – any delay hurts them, hurts me, hurts everyone in this room. We talk about trying to take care of our Elders and we want to delay, and the members want to delay.”

Tununiq MLA David Qamaniq pointed out that the GN allowed the Elders’ facility in Baker Lake to close and he said he suspects if a brand new long-term care centre is built in Cambridge Bay then the existing facility in Gjoa Haven will be shut down as well, although Health Minister Lorne Kusugak has rejected that notion.

Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser reiterated the prevalent sentiment that smaller communities get shortchanged by the GN.

“When Nunavut was created, we envisioned all of Nunavummiut benefitting from government programs, and up to today, those of us that are have-nots have not ever benefitted from large projects like these,” he said. “It

isn’t because Mr. Akoak is against the Elders coming home. He is making a statement that it is time for the government to recognize the smaller communities.”

John Main, chair of the regular members’ caucus, restated his belief that the territorial government’s planning process for long-term care facilities is inadequate and lacking information.

“There is no publicly available document that details these three regional facilities, where Elders are going to be relocated from, how many Elders will be relocated each year,” said Main, referring to the GN’s plans for facilities in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay. “What we need to aim for is to keep our Elders in (each) community, and I don’t care what community: Whale Cove, Coral Harbour, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Qikiqtarjuaq, Sanikiluaq.”

Kusugak compared the broadening of Elders’ facilities in the territory to the expansion of Grade 12, which was initially available only in regional centres and then gradually reached all communities. The minister also said the expansion of the Gjoa Haven long-term care facility may not be feasible due to recent building code and safety concerns relating to COVID-19.

“Elders are waiting in the south. They are hurting and they are waiting for us,” said Kusugak. “We have to do something as a government, and this money is not all that much. It will be used to plan a long-term elder facility in the Kitikmeot region. It is impossible to produce one in all of the communities right now.”

Following the vote to delete the $2.1 million for the Cambridge Bay long-term care centre preparations – a vote the regular MLAs won by a 12-8 count – Finance Minister George Hickes expressed exasperation.

“Again, I just… I’m speechless,” he said.

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