Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Inuit reach deal with Quebec

The Montreal Gazette:


Quebec's Inuit have reached a landmark agreement in principle with Ottawa and Quebec City to create an Inuit-controlled government covering the northernmost third of the province.

It will be unlike any other level of government in Canada. Answerable to Quebec's National Assembly, the Nunavik Regional Government will encompass not only the functions normally assumed by a municipality but also those of a school board and a health authority.

"It's quite unique," said Jean-Fran├žois Arteau, chief negotiator for the Inuit-run Makivik Corporation. "We'll have real elected officials taking real decisions for issues regarding Nunavik residents."

Arteau said the deal should be instrumental in helping the Inuit take charge of their own future and find the solutions best adapted to their communities.

For example, when it comes to a problem such as youth protection or suicide prevention, the new government will be able to adopt a comprehensive strategy that encompasses both education and social services, he said.

The regional government will also have the power to allocate resources where it believes they are most needed, he said.

For example, money can be allocated to address the area's housing shortage instead of being locked in to such specific programs as small business creation. "With the same amount of money, they will be able to do better and manage it more efficiently."


While contained in only 25 pages, the agreement in principle sets out a detailed blueprint for the Nunavik Regional Government, which will govern the territory north of the 55th parallel, even further north than the giant James Bay hydro-electric site.

The existing Kativik Regional Government, the Kativik School Board and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services will be amalgamated to create one regional government. It will be run by a Nunavik Assembly, consisting of at least 21 elected members including representatives of each of the territory's 14 communities. An executive council, consisting of five members of the Assembly and headed by the Leader of the Executive Council, will carry out decisions reached by the Assembly.

While the Nunavik Regional Government will have the power to impose property taxes in addition to money it will continue to receive from Quebec and Ottawa, it will not have the authority to collect income or sales taxes. Arteau said the second phase of the agreement, yet to be negotiated, will deal with such issues as royalties for mining in the mineral-rich territory.

Hmm. Good news, but I'm uneasy. There's no mention of any legislative authority, and the reference to municipal powers makes me suspect that legislative authority will be extremely weak and-- more important-- at the ongoing mercy of the Quebec National Assembly. Indigenous self-government can be a powerful force, but there's a constant danger that the indigenous government will become little more than the local branch of social workers and social service administrators controlling the use of funds allocated elsewhere. I'm reminded of the failed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in Australia, and policies there that amounted to self-administration, not self-government.

Development as such doesn't seem to be anybody's priority. (While I don't think that small businesses are best fostered with subsidies, it's a bad sign when that's the only example of something that's not worth spending money on, with no discussion of what the better ways to foster them would be.) And it's worrisome to have resource royalties be punted when that would be one of the chief local sources of revenue.

But I'll provisionally file it under "good news as far as it goes," especially on the basis that a unified level of Inuit government might simply provide a more powerful political voice and focal point for political strength than has existed before. (This is an argument about why even weak and apparently doomed-to-be-unsuccessful indigenous self-government is probably worth having in an essat in Nomos from a couple years ago.)

Update: there's a map in this story.