Land claim fight going to court
Northern News Services
To Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the answer, at least in financial terms, is one billion dollars.
On Wednesday, NTI announced it is suing the federal government for $1 billion for breach of contract in a bid to force Ottawa to live up to article 23 of the deal, which is supposed to ensure Inuit have access to skills training and government jobs.
"It's their move now," said NTI president Paul Kaludjak of the government. "We've gone to this extent because we've tried time and time again to (get the government) to live up to their implementation responsibilities. It hasn't happened."
Kaludjak said Inuit workers would have earned about $1 billion in salaries if more training and education were available.
The 36-page statement of claim, filed at the Nunavut Court of Justice, lists 16 individual grievances.
"The promises made to the Inuit in the (Nunavut Land Claims) agreement have not been fulfilled and the terms of the agreement have been breached...," the statement reads.
Included in the complaints are accusations that the federal government:
-has not properly funded Nunavut's environmental management boards and hunters and trappers organizations
-has not helped implement "adequate employment and training," conducted a labour force study, or reached representative levels of Inuit employment
-has not established procurement policies under article 24, which aims to boost purchases from Inuit-owned business.
Reached in Ottawa, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice had little to say on a pending lawsuit, but was trying to look on the bright side.
"I'm disappointed that this step was taken. I will, however, deal with it," he said.
"I'm actually quite proud of the achievements of our government relative to Nunavut," Prentice said, noting Ottawa's transfer of $200 million for housing in the spring's federal budget.
The suit won't affect the federal government's "singularly positive" relationship with Iqaluit, he said.
Negotiations between NTI and Ottawa to update the NCLA contract began in 2001, but talks broke off in 2004. Thomas Berger was appointed as a conciliator that year. In March he released a report calling for millions more to be spent on education in Nunavut.
But there was little response from Ottawa over Berger's report, though Prentice met with Kaludjak and Premier Paul Okalik during his visit to Iqaluit Dec. 2.
In a statement, Okalik said he hopes the two sides can resolve the suit quickly.
"In my view, it is in the best interests of the parties to continue in trying to resolve their differences without resorting to litigation, and it is not the intention of the Government of Nunavut to seek intervener status in the lawsuit at this time," he said.
If NTI wins, the suit could cost Ottawa much more than $1 billion since NTI is also seeking funding to implement the articles of the land claim agreement that it says aren't in place yet.