Nunavut’s uneven economy, health care challenges, high crime statistics and low graduation rate are all reinforced in a new Conference Board of Canada report, and yet Nunavummiut are mostly happy.
That made an impression on Adam Fiser, senior research associate with the Northern and Aboriginal Policy Group at The Conference Board of Canada.
Fiser, who has a background in labour market development, said he was struck by the high rate of “life satisfaction” reported by Northerners, despite the relatively numerous homicides, suicides and burglaries.
“There’s a lot more going on than just the dismal statistics that get produced and that people often focus on,” said Fiser.
The small, intimate nature of Nunavut’s communities can create strong support networks, he suggested.
“There’s greater opportunities for families, kin and neighbours to rally together in times of crisis, to share what they have when they know their neighbour doesn’t have as much as they do,” Fiser said, adding that participation in the traditional economy, like hunting, lends itself to that.
The Conference Board of Canada’s study, released on July 26 and titled How Canada Performs: Social Outcomes in the Territories, encompasses the economy, health, education, society, the environment and innovation, all of which impact quality of life, Fiser noted.
Nunavut trails other Canadian jurisdictions on most measures.
“In order to improve social outcomes in the territories, efforts must be made to improve education attainment and access to health care, including mental health services, as well as investing in poverty reduction strategies,” the report states.
The study acknowledges that geographic isolation, infrastructure gaps and the availability of social services play a role in lower scores. As well, “Nunavut’s substantial Indigenous population faces distinct historical, cultural, and socio-economic challenges, including the impacts of residential schools, which contribute to the social outcomes.”
Representatives of the Government of Nunavut and MP Hunter Tootoo said there would not be responses to the report prior to Nunavut News/North’s press deadline.
Nunavut’s unemployment rate, most recently standing at 16.3 per cent, is the highest in the country.
On the other hand, the territory only has only a two per cent wage gap between male and female workers, far superior to the Canadian average of 19 per cent.
Education makes a significant difference in the notable wage gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, Fiser said. Non-Indigenous workers with no more than a high school diploma earn as much as 61 per cent more than their Indigenous counterparts. However, when the workers from both demographics have a post-secondary degree, the gap almost disappears.
The report cites two key factors for Nunavut’s labour woes.
“First, many jobs are filled by workers from the south who do not take up residency in the territory and are therefore not counted in territorial employment statistics,” the report reads. “Second, the increase in jobs due to economic expansion has encouraged more Nunavummiut to enter the labour force. As not all new entrants find jobs, the number of unemployed increases.”
Nunavut ranks at the bottom nationwide in health categories overall. Life expectancy is 71.8 years compared to the national average of 81.5 years. Scores are poor for infant mortality and deaths due to cancer and respiratory disease. Although many people report a high degree of “life satisfaction,” Nunavut only earns a “D” for mental health, which is linked to elevated suicide rates.
The report states that improvements need to be made in poverty, housing, cost of living, recreation, obesity rates, smoking rates and access to nutritious food.
In Nunavut, where the graduation rate was 39.4 per cent in 2016, 46 per cent of the population has less than a high school diploma.
Only 41.6 per cent of Nunavut’s adults have attained post-secondary education. Distance is seen as one of the barriers in access to post-secondary education, according to the report.
The territory gets poor scores due to too many homicides, suicides and burglaries and for low voter turnout in elections. Yet the outstanding “life satisfaction” rate earns Nunavut an “A+”, and, in that regard, it “outperforms all international peers.”
Nunavut, lumped in with the NWT, gets a “D” for greenhouse gas emissions. Reliance on diesel-generated electricity is a major factor in the poor grade. The territories get a “D-” for wastewater treatment.
Data for the territories was too insignificant or unavailable for most categories relating to research and development.