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Use isolation money for southern construction workers as incentive to hire Inuit employees, Main urges

The $14,400 required to pay for each of thousands of southern construction workers to go through isolation before entering Nunavut would be better spent on recruitment bonuses – even of $10,000 – to entice Nunavummiut workers to fill construction jobs, says John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove.

The Government of Nunavut would be better off paying Nunavummiut workers a recruitment bonus of $10,000 than paying $14,400 for each southern construction worker to go through isolation, says Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main
photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut

Main made that recommendation in the legislative assembly Wednesday during a lengthy discussion about the Government of Nunavut (GN) relying too heavily on a southern workforce for construction projects and mines. The GN is prepared to pay $25 million for construction workers to isolate in southern hubs between now and December.

“I appreciate the member’s comments, actually; it’s kind of intriguing,” Finance Minister George Hickes said in response to using the isolation funds to recruit local workers instead. “I’m going to take it away and I’m sure (Community and Government Services) Minister (Lorne) Kusugak is listening ardently, as well as the whole cabinet. I’m going to take it as a comment or a takeaway and see where we go.”

Iqaluit Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak-Lightstone stressed that using southern construction workers is inflating the cost of Nunavut’s capital projects.

“The flights alone of these 2,000 construction workers are going to inflate our construction costs by at least $2 million and that’s flights alone. We also have accommodations and food as well, which is also further inflating the costs,” said Arreak-Lightstone. “I’m really trying to emphasize the fact that this is the first that we have seen material on figures related to southern construction workers. I really think that this is a major concern not just for me but it really needs to be a major concern for the government as well. I would like to ask the government to place more emphasis on this area and encourage our construction companies to hire local as opposed to flying in. It might be more convenient for those construction companies, but it’s not more convenient for this territory.”

Constance Hourie, deputy minister of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs, said contractors are
“highly motivated to hire local.”

“It’s more cost effective for them,” she said. “As well, they do have percentages under the NNI (Nunavummi Nangminiqaqtunik Ikajuuti) that they are required to meet. I believe we have 53 or almost 60 contracts and many of those construction contracts have in fact exceeded the minimum amount that we require with regard to Inuit hires within those contracts.”

Kusugak said the territorial government is making progress in hiring locally.

“I think this legislature has been the most aggressive I have watched and seen and been a part of in terms of working towards increasing the employable Inuit, that they not just be the people who are bringing in the Gyproc and two by four at the start of a project, but they’re the ones who are putting it together, taping it, and working on the electrical,” said Kusugak. “I think, with the moving forward of the trades program that we do have in Nunavut, we’re seeing a drastic increase in employable tradespeople.”