Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Northern Governance

Happy April Fool’s Day, everyone. I hope that your day was not overburdened with extreme suspicion or malicious pranks. I was tempted to try something like that for this week’s blog but such humour is really only valid before 2 P.M. in my opinion.

Today in the Northwest Territories devolution occurred. I apologize if that sentence does not make much sense grammatically. Over the course of many long decades the federal government has surrendered more key powers and responsibilities to the government of the Northwest Territories. The finance minister of the Northwest Territories said that the territory is now just this side of provincehood. There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered and growing pains as the NWT takes greater responsibility of managing its own resources and lands.

Local autonomy is a frequent topic of conversation and an ongoing debate in the North. Today also marks the day Nunavut was formed, fifteen years ago. The federal government and local people have been struggling over how to properly balance autonomy and support. This support has oftentimes been paternalistic, if not colonial, but there are many concerns related to the growing autonomy of the Northwest Territories.

I’m not questioning whether or not the people of the Northwest Territories (or elsewhere in the Arctic) can, or should govern themselves. My concerns are more practical. Despite the dominant role it plays in the lives of people here the government of the Northwest Territories seems awfully small and perhaps struggles to deal with the many responsibilities it has. This is no special observation. Providing quality services across nearly a million square kilometers of rugged terrain with a small population is an incredible challenge and very expensive. Related to this is the difficulties the NWT has had in filling skilled positions in the government.

In one of my Worth Readings I linked an article where the government set the goal to attract 2,000 new residents. It is an ambitious target and it is the sort of first steps that the government will need to take if it hopes meets its new responsibilities.

I must conclude that I am still very new to the North and that I see no simple answers. The downloading of responsibilities to the Territories may mean less effective oversight and management. Ultimately the people of the Northwest Territories should determine how their resources should be used and how their social needs are met, but there is a question of capacity that puts a dark cloud over this process in my mind. It is incredible difficult for small communities to generate the talent needed to provide high-quality services. The government could invest in education but the quality of life in the south will always be a draw for the highly educated.

Northerners are going to have to find a path that works for them and suits their interests and work diligently that their government can manage their affairs as is required to provide effective, responsible government. 

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