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Grays Bay road and port battle persists

Despite prodding from the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and a two-term MLA, the Government of Nunavut won't go back to Ottawa looking for funding for the proposed $550-million Grays Bay Road and Port project.

Joe Savikataaq: Economic Development minister insists $138 million in GN road and port funding would count against the territorial government's debt cap and therefore stall other initiatives.
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

So says Economic Development Minister Joe Savikataaq, who remains at odds with Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA) over whether the GN's portion of Grays Bay funding will prevent other territorial needs from moving ahead.

Savikataaq remains steadfast in arguing that the $138 million the GN would have to front for the road and port would count against Nunavut's debt cap, therefore impeding other initiatives.

"If a school burns down again, God forbid, we would have to come up with money. If we have to build a health centre in a community, if we have to build another school, all these projects affect the debt cap," Savikataaq said in the legislative assembly on June 6. "I'm sorry that the member (Akoak) doesn't want to hear this, but it was submitted before or if it's resubmitted, it will go to the GN's debt cap if we are a co-(proponent). If the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, with their funders and their bond funding, want to resubmit the proposal, then that's their choice. They're welcome to it and I wish them the best."

Savikataaq pointed to First Air as an example of a commercial enterprise acting independently, stating that the airline was successful in getting financial support from Ottawa for cargo facility expansion in Iqaluit through the same federal funding program that the KIA and its partners can access.

Akoak countered that Savikataaq wasn't seeing the full range of options.

"If the government would have met with KIA, they would have understood and they would have walked away with no harm or foul," said Akoak.

KIA president Stanley Anablak was critical of the GN in a June 4 news release, accusing the territorial government of making erroneous statements and refusing to meet with the KIA on three occasions. "The previous GN leadership understood the approach and, in fact, helped to develop the financing plan," Anablak stated.

Former Economic Development Minister Monica Ell-Kanayuk, who advocated for the Grays Bay project during her term in the fourth legislative assembly, declined to speak to Nunavut News on the issue last week.

"I haven't been following anything so I'm not interested," Ell-Kanayuk said when asked for her opinion.

In the legislative assembly last week, Akoak referenced a "third-party financing approach (that) can be made to work without putting the GN over its debt cap." He didn't respond to Nunavut News' requests for further comment.

Nunavut News' Grays Bay questions, posed by email, to Premier Paul Quassa elicited this response from Quassa's new press secretary:

"At this time you will have to wait for a response in the House," Teevi MacKay wrote in an email response on June 6.

Benefit Inuit 'first and foremost'

The KIA remains determined to advance Grays Bay – encompassing a port at the Coronation Gulf that would connect to the former Jericho diamond mine via a 227-km all-weather road – to "shovel-readiness, funding, construction and operation," according to Anablak. The Inuit-led project "will generate economic development, especially on Inuit-owned lands where mineral rights are held," he stated.

"By creating access to these lands, KIA is aiming to create jobs, business opportunities and wealth for our membership (of 6,000 Inuit)," he said. "This economic development will be first and foremost for the benefit of Inuit, as contemplated by the Inuit negotiators of the Nunavut Agreement. However, it will also substantially benefit the governments of Nunavut and Canada by generating tax revenues and royalties. There are significant non-mining related benefits, such as lowered cost of community re-supply, which would benefit Kitikmeot residents and the GN alike."

Project proponents have estimated that the road and port could boost Nunavut's gross domestic product by $5.1 billion over 15 years.

The GN was a co-proponent with the KIA in a submission to the National Trade Corridors Fund last year, but the GN announced earlier this year that it was withdrawing as co-proponent.

Akoak later pointed out that Ottawa's denial of requested Grays Bay funding, revealed in April, came after the GN sent the KIA a letter in March declaring that the GN was stepping away as a project co-proponent.