Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Sikand, for sharing your time.
It's good to see you again, Stanley, Scott and Patrick.
One of the things that I've always said about Nunavut is that it's an untapped resource. The rest of Canada has been explored, dug into and capitalized on, but Nunavut hasn't. I think one of the things that we need as a country, to be able to tap into that resource and allow Nunavut to create a sustainable and stable economy, is that investment infrastructure. I've always said that national programs like this one, whether they be programs or formulas, don't take into account the uniqueness of the north: the time frame that it takes to get things done and the higher cost of doing stuff up there. I've always said that investment in infrastructure in the north is an investment in the Canadian economy, because everything that we need up north comes from the south.
I guess, having said that—and I'll leave it up to who would like to answer this—what would be the economic benefit to Canada from this project? Do you have any specific numbers that you'd like to share with us on that?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
You hit the nail on the head there I think. It's just something like...can we afford not to invest in it?
I think everyone knows there are very limited opportunities in Nunavut to create a stable, sustainable economy, and the numbers you just pointed out make it very clear that here's something that—and you can confirm—would create economic prosperity as far as jobs in the region for individuals, and also the business opportunities in the region and in the south.
Thank you.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Sorbara and Mr. Chair, and welcome. It's always good to see a fellow Nunavummiut here in Ottawa. I have three or four questions, whatever I have time for.
Mr. Premier, you mentioned carbon pricing and the impact on the territory. I think it's no secret that we are unique, and we are 100% reliant on diesel, as you pointed out. Until some opportunities arise for that, that's not going to change. I know the three territories have been discussing with Canada a way to address that uniqueness on carbon pricing in the territories, and I understand you guys were in discussions with Canada on that.
I'm wondering if the goal of those discussions was to recognize the unique challenges and circumstances of Nunavut, and when it does come, that it would be either cost neutral to the territory or have exemptions that take those unique circumstances under consideration. Is that the direction you'd like to see it go?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Premier. Yes, I think it's no secret that it costs three times as much to operate anything in the north. I always say that a dollar down here is like 33¢ in the north.
I think another important point is the fact that any investment in infrastructure in the north, whether it be housing or any kind of infrastructure, is actually a direct investment in the southern economy, because anything we buy up there to build with comes from the south. You talked about major infrastructure. You mentioned the Grays Bay port and road project. I was in Winnipeg about a week and a half ago for the Hudson Bay regional round table. We just had the 20th mining symposium in Iqaluit this week. There are two major projects there, Grays Bay and the Manitoba Hydro road project coming up into the Kivalliq region.
We all know that in order for the economy to grow...and that's what this is about, economic growth for the territory and the government's commitment to look toward creating a sustainable economy in the north. Canada invested in the roads across the country in the south. They invested in the railway. They invested in the harbours. The only jurisdiction left in Canada that hasn't had that investment is the north, and specifically Nunavut.
Do you think there is a requirement for this type of infrastructure investment to allow for the economy to grow and to have the opportunities there for the territory to create employment, lower the cost of living, and bring in alternative sources of energy? As Minister Savikataaq mentioned, there's also the connectivity with fibre optics. I know it's something that the territory can't afford.
As we know, an investment like this would be high up front, but with dividends would pay for itself in the long run and create that opportunity. What we all want is a sustainable, self-sufficient, self-reliant territory, and these investments would help achieve that.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks, Don.
In your comments you mentioned the territorial health funding. I've raised questions in the House before. Actually, if you look at the percentage of the Government of Nunavut's budget that goes towards health care compared with what it receives from Canada it is about 11%. For the rest of the country, the average is around 20% or 21%.
If you look at the social housing agreements and the infrastructure funding in the past, as you mentioned, on a per capita basis, those don't work. I think that's the problem with these national formulas, they don't take into account the unique circumstances that we have in Nunavut.
Do you think there needs to be a different way, a different mechanism, or a way to think outside the box of these national formulas for funding the territories so that the level of services they provide to their residents can be comparable to that in the rest of Canada?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Premier.
You touched on the mental health funding. You actually declared suicide a crisis in Nunavut. Our numbers are staggering. You talked about the announcement in the federal budget on mental health funding, and my understanding is that this year Nunavut is going to get maybe $300,000 for that. Going forward, for years after, it's $500,000 a year. Given the lack of services available across the territory, there needs to be much more significant investment in addressing mental health challenges to help curb the suicide rate in the territory.
How would you see the way forward to address those sad statistics that we face in the territory?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. To your suggestion about per capita funding, I think everyone but you would agree that maybe we should move to a land-mass-based formula for funding.
An hon. member: That wouldn't work so well for P.E.I.
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
You talked about connectivity, education, and health care. I think you get better service on your cellphone down here than you get in most communities in Nunavut, and again the cost of any project in the north is high. I know one proposal was looking at bringing in fibre optics underwater from Greenland over to Iqaluit, which uses probably between 60% and 70% of the bandwidth of the territory.
How do you see something like that would help not only increase Internet services and connectivity to the rest of the territory, but also bring down the cost of health care and improve educational opportunities for Nunavummiut?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thanks, Dan.
I'd like to go back to something you mentioned earlier on, looking at your request for $250 million over 10 years to help modernize and maintain capacity in some of the power generation plants that are in the territory. As you said, the majority of those plants were built before I was born. I don't know about you, Joe.
How important do you think being able to modernize is? When they were built back then, there was probably no energy efficiency, not clean. In this request, would that be looking at not only increasing capacity but also incorporating cleaner and more energy-efficient technology into those systems?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It's good to see you again, Premier McLeod. I see there are two Mr. McLeods here—clan McLeod.
I have three questions that I will try to get through. You mentioned, along with Nunavut and the Yukon, sitting down and coming to a mutual agreement with the federal government in relation to carbon pricing. I think all three of us understand and recognize the uniqueness of the circumstances of the north, which is totally reliant on diesel and already hitting the highest cost of living in the country. Would your goal be to look at coming to some kind of agreement that would mean that for all the territories, this would be a cost-neutral exercise?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Premier.
The second question I have affects all three territories similarly.
These national formulas that you mentioned on a per capita funding basis historically haven't worked for us, for all three territories. With the huge infrastructure deficit, the low level of services and health outcomes with health care funding and things like that, do you think that these national formulas don't work for the territories and that the government needs to look at thinking outside the box and outside these national formulas in dealing with the unique circumstances of the north?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I think you hit the nail on the head in your opening comments when you talked about the lack of public infrastructure. To me, that's probably one of the biggest barriers to sustainable economic growth in all three territories. Canada put in the roads across the country. It put in the rail line. It put in the airports. It put in the ports on the east and west coast, but that didn't happen in the north. I think Canada needs to make a significant investment in infrastructure in the north beyond where they are right now.
Increasing your borrowing limit is just like giving you more rocks in a leaky boat. Recognizing that the territories have limited opportunities to generate own-source revenues and that because of the historic way that things have been rolled out we are so far behind, to me, that's an investment. It's expensive for some of the projects, like the Grays Bay project, or the Manitoba road and hydro project, and the deep sea port in Iqaluit. All these types of infrastructure projects cost a lot of money. You have to remember that a dollar down here is 33¢ up there because of the high cost of doing things. Investing in infrastructure in the north, or any investment in the north, as you pointed out, is an indirect investment into the southern economy.
Do you feel that the federal government needs to make a significant investment in infrastructure in the north in order to create a strong, stable, vibrant economy that will lead to the self-sufficiency of the territories and help with your problem of people leaving because there are no opportunities?
View Hunter Tootoo Profile
Ind. (NU)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll start off by saying that this is a little less nerve-racking than the last time I appeared before this committee.
[Witness speaks in Inuktitut]
Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to speak about the seal harvest, and in particular about the act respecting national seal products day
I would personally like to thank committee members, and Mr. Simms for his work in supporting this act, and for inviting me to be here to speak with you today. I would also like to take this time to thank the many members of Parliament, including some who are on this committee, who have spoken out continually in support of this act in the House of Commons.
Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank former senator Céline Hervieux-Payette, who championed this initiative in the Senate in 2014, and whose hard work has led us here to this stage of the process today. Thank you.
The seal harvest is a crucial aspect of Canada's Inuit culture and livelihood, and it has been for thousands of years. The sad truth is that very few people truly understand the importance of this issue to Inuit. Many southern Canadians are aware of the seal fur market, and can understand how this could be beneficial from an economic standpoint. What people have difficulty grasping is the necessity of this harvest for sustenance for our communities.
Although the nutrition north program is well-intentioned, it's insufficient, and broken by the way. On that, I would like to say that I look forward to some positive changes coming soon.
Food insecurity is one of the biggest issues in Nunavut, where nearly 50% of the households experience it. What's worse than that, and deeply concerning, is that 60% of children are living in food-insecure households. Inuit rely on the seal for food. When a hunter returns to his community with a harvested seal, the food feeds his family and several others members of the community. It provides much-needed protein and vitamins, and allows the communities to survive. It also brings the community together, and this is the way it has always been.
Beyond the immediate use of seal as a food source, seal furs have traditionally been used as clothing to keep us warm in the winter months. Over the years, furs have become a commodity used to trade with merchants who travel the north, generating much-needed income for northern communities. The sale of seal products like fur, and the international commercialization of seal products led over time to economic sustainability, which allowed Inuit to continue to harvest seals and enjoy food security.
However, with the United States' Marine Mammal Protection Act, enacted in 1972, and later, the European Union's ban on seal products, the market for seal products has slowly declined. As a result, the cost of and demand for our products has been driven down, diminishing profits from trade, and making the market non-viable.
This industry is small. It's important that we work together to ensure its success.
There are exemptions in the European Union ban that allow for the trade of seal products produced by Inuit in Nunavut. However, Inuit in several other regions of Canada, particularly those in northern Quebec and Labrador, are so far not part of this exemption. I would really encourage new partnering approaches from sealing organizations with those in these regions, in an effort to include them as well in taking advantage of and maximizing the indigenous exemption in the ban.
By limiting our ability to trade and sell products in an international market, a crucial revenue stream has been diminished, and Inuit now struggle to afford being able to go harvest seals. Harvesting seals is expensive. You have to buy equipment, fuel for snowmobiles and boats, and ammunition for your firearms. It's not cheap, especially in the north. With these harvesting costs and the increased costs of living in Nunavut, the need to generate income from the seal fur industry is needed now more than ever.
European animal activists groups initiated the mission to end the seal fur trade, and in doing so, a major source of economic growth was lost. To this day, they present false information regarding seal populations and the harvesting of baby seals.
This is very upsetting because this fraudulent sales pitch is done in an effort to gain monthly donations and is currently being used now even in China, a potential market for seal products. In reality, the seal population, as we've heard, has tripled over the last 30 years, and the current population of between eight and nine million could double by 2030. Also, the harvesting of baby whitecoat seals, as we all know, is illegal and hasn't been practised for almost 30 years.
There is also a European seal cull that surprisingly continues. They like to keep that one quiet. Over several years thousands of seals have been killed off the coast of the United Kingdom in an attempt to protect their fish stocks. This cull is much different than what Inuit and Canadian harvesters practise because the seals are not harvested. They're just killed, left in the water, and wasted. As you can imagine, this is frustrating for Inuit and Canadian harvesters to hear as European activists, some from Britain, initiated the anti-sealing hunt movement. I find it somewhat ironic and completely hypocritical that this cull is done with the intention of preserving a food source.
On this topic, I feel it's important that government continue to conduct research on aquatic populations, and science-based approaches must be practised to ensure that an increasing seal population doesn't deplete cod, salmon, and shrimp populations in Canadian waters.
To close, I think it's extremely important that Canada support this bill to promote seal products and reverse the current negative mentality towards this market. Enacting national seal products day will reinforce Canada's support for its cultural coastal communities. Speaking on behalf of the people of Nunavut and as a person who is aware of the industry in eastern Canada, this recognition is extremely important. It will strengthen the relationship between Canada and Inuit. It can contribute to the revival of a much-needed source of income for the Inuvialuit and those who have relied on it on the east coast.
With that, thank you very much, and I look forward to your questions.
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