Nunavut Post

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Five Nunavut news stories to watch for in 2021

In time, the pandemic will dissipate and normal life will return

The COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming vaccination campaign will continue to dominate our lives in 2021.

But in time, the crisis will evaporate, so slowly you may not even notice it, like the way hard-packed snow evaporates during the long sunny days of spring. And then all the other long-ignored issues will resurface and normal life will return.

Here are five Nunavut news stories to watch out for this year:

1. The Mary River iron mine

The fate of the Mary River iron mine hangs in the balance. Its owners propose a big, railway-based expansion that would not only ignite a social and economic revolution within the Qikiqtani region, it would put enormous wealth into the hands of two private Nunavut Inuit organizations. By 2038, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. could collect close to $1.4 billion and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association about $1 billion in royalties, fees and lease payments.

But the lands of North Baffin and its adjacent marine waters would be changed forever. For that reason, the Mary River project has driven a wedge between QIA and the people of Pond Inlet, who continue to oppose the expansion.

In early 2021, the Nunavut Impact Review Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal. Will they recommend that the federal government say yes to the project?

2. Tough decisions on Nunavut elder care

The number of Nunavut elders who need advanced care within the territory is escalating. Just about everyone wants to end the practice of sending elders with serious forms of dementia to out-of-territory facilities like Embassy West in Ottawa. This has provoked multiple impassioned demands from residents and teary-eyed grandstanding from MLAs.

In 2019, the GN revealed vague plans to build two 24-bed long-term care centres, one in Cambridge Bay and one in Rankin Inlet. These would be followed by a larger centre in Iqaluit, capable of offering 24-hour nursing care to elders who suffer from the worst types of dementia.

And then the pandemic swept across the country — and that changed everything.

In southern Canada, COVID-19 exposed a humanitarian disaster. Inside the country’s badly managed long-term care homes, nearly 9,000 seniors, many of them victims of appalling neglect and abuse, have died alone.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, in its September throne speech, promised to fix the mess by working with territories and provinces to develop new national standards on staffing and infection control. So it’s likely that, if the GN is to get Ottawa’s money to pay for the new centres, the GN will have to meet Ottawa’s standards.

The GN says they’ll award design and construction contracts for the Rankin Inlet centre by April 2021. Will Nunavut learn from southern Canada’s incompetence?

3. The 2021 territorial election

On Oct. 25, 2021, Nunavut voters will go to the polls to choose a new legislature. A few weeks later, the 22 MLAs to emerge from that election will meet in Iqaluit to choose a premier and cabinet.

He’s made the odd minor fumble, but for the most part, Premier Joe Savikataaq has offered competent leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Will he seek and win re-election in Arviat South? If so, will he seek a second term as premier?

4. Nunavut’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign

We now know that 6,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine have landed in Nunavut, following the delivery of 7,200 doses each to the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Yes, that’s great news. But what’s the plan for getting it out to the territory’s 25 communities?

Do Nunavut’s overworked nurses have the capacity to carry out a universal COVID-19 vaccination campaign on top of their regular duties? We’ll have to wait and see.

5. Will TMAC’s Hope Bay mine survive?

More than a year ago, TMAC Resources Inc. realized their once highly-touted Hope Bay gold property had degenerated into a dysfunctional money-pit.

In January 2020, they put themselves up for sale. But the federal government has rejected the only company willing to make an offer: Shandong Gold Mining Co. Ltd, owned by the People’s Republic of China.

TMAC needs to invest another C$700 million to fix what ails the project and to develop the lucrative deposits that lie to the south of its small Doris North starter mine, including the replacement of a botched processing plant. And they owe a $170-million debt that comes due this July 1. By their own admission, they can’t pay it.

Watch out. By the end of 2021, the Kitikmeot region’s golden dream may have turned into a highly expensive environmental cleanup.

Happy Hogmanay everyone and we’ll see you in the new year.

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