Cablegate: Paul Ogalik Reelected As Premier of Nunavut

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 03 QUEBEC 163

1. (U) March 5, sitting Premier Paul Okalik received the
consensus to continue as Premier of Nunavut over contender Tagak
Curley, the MLA from Rankin Inlet. Ogalik brings his strengths
of experience (he has had 5 years as Premier) and education,
which includes a law degree, to the job. Now that Ogalik is
back at the helm, he has to face many fiscal and social

2. (U) Jobs, housing, education and health are the
bread-and-butter issues of most elections in Canada; however, in
the eastern Arctic, these concerns are in the context of a
debate over modernizing and retaining traditional Inuit
practices. The non-partisan system established in Nunavut in
1999 allows candidates to run on their own platforms, without
political party guidelines. In the February 16 general
election, 82 candidates ran for the 19 seats in the legislature.
Fundamentalist Christian beliefs versus secularism were a force
in the territorial election and played into the contest for
Premier. "Third party" groups worked to support candidates,
most notably Nunavut's labor movement and the rapidly growing
fundamentalist Christian movement. The former pressed for
social justice and human rights; the latter, a loosely organized
network of churches and bible study groups over the territory,
have pressed for traditional Inuit cultural values.

3. (SBU) Ogalik is a confident, articulate, liberal modernist,
intent on moving Nunavut in the secular Canadian mainstream. He
has created awareness of Nunavut nationally, successfully
negotiating with the Prime Minister on issues such as increased
health benefits for the territory, and participating at
Premiers' conferences. He ably represents Nunavut in
international fora, and has visited aboriginal communities from
Alaska to Australia. That he wanted to continue as Premier is
evidence that he has a high tolerance for dealing with difficult
financial responsibilities and pressing social problems that
resist easy solutions. He moves easily between Inuit and
non-Inuit culture. He is bilingual in English and spent several
weeks in Quebec last year doing French immersion. That having
been said, he comes across as a person well integrated into
Inuit culture - simple and straightforward. He can be found
standing in line at Inuit traditional feasts and walks around
Iqaluit without a bodyguard or a retinue.

4. (SBU) On the other hand, these strengths of flexibility and
cross cultural ease can be perceived as liabilities by the more
traditional Inuit, who are concerned about the erosion of Inuit
culture and language, and specifically "modernist" thinking,
e.g. the Human Rights Bill, passed in the fall of 2003,
includes protections for gays. Curley, while the loser in the
race for Premier, had considerable support in the community, and
acknowledged he was reentering politics to protest the
territory's human rights legislation. Traditionalists also
worry that Ogalik has not done enough on economic development
and employment for Inuit.

5. (U) Diamond mine development, a source of future revenue,
remains a distant promise, although three new mines in the
Kivalliq and Kitikmeot regions may start producing within the
life of the new Nunavut government. For now, Nunavut remains
almost entirely dependent on transfer payments from Ottawa to
support its administration and services for the 27,000
Nunavummiut. The Conference Board of Canada estimated in a
study released in early February that with the current annual
capital budget of $75 million, Nunavut "will incur an
infrastructure investment shortfall of $40-50 million annually
for the next five years." The absence of roads, ports and other
facilities is already causing developmental distortions, the
study says. "The lack of infrastructure has led to a
concentration of exploration activities on or near coastal
waters, while inland resources are left stranded." The study
also painted a grim picture of increased strains on the Eastern
Arctic society as younger Inuit reach working age to be faced
with no jobs, increasing housing shortages and criminality.
"Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have a higher
rate of violent crimes than property crimes: overcrowding no
doubt adds to the problems" the study concludes.

6. (SBU) To improve the territory's fiscal situation, Ogalik
will certainly be working to capitalize on better relations with
a federal government that may be more responsive to the needs of
the Arctic territory. Conversations with him in Iqaluit last
year and more recently with his staff reenforce his conviction
that Nunavut must eventually gain control over non-renewable
resources and get a share of resource revenues through what is
now called a "devolution" agreement, i.e. the transfer of
responsibility for mining, oil and gas exploration and
development from Ottawa to Nunavut. Such a deal would see the
GN getting a share of renewable resource royalties. Another
priority is a larger share of fishing quota in waters adjacent
to Nunavut. More costly, and probably even more remote, would
be an economic development agreement between Ottawa and Nunavut.
Nunavut's Sivummut Economic Development Group presented Ottawa
with a proposal last December to create a new 5-year, $66
million Economic Development Agreement. So far, however, there
has been little or no response from the federal government.

7. (SBU) On more day-to-day issues, Premier Ogalik will be
facing social challenges such as reducing suicide rates and
instituting new programs for inmates to reduce violent crime.
He will oversee implementation of the Wildlife Act that assists
the management of wildlife issues with elders, as well as the
controversial Human Rights Act.
As a top priority, he needs to increase the proportion of Inuit
working in the Nunavut Government, which means preparing more
young Inuit in post secondary education. In Nunavut, government
jobs are the main source of work, but currently less than half
of these are filled by Inuit. Climate change, that is already
affecting the North-West Passage and hunting conditions are
other concerns. These will be among the issues that we will
raise when the Ambassador visits Nunavut in April of this year.


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