Nunavik a sensible accommodation

News of an agreement on a novel form of government for the northern third of Quebec, where some 10,000 Inuit people make up most of the population, appears to be good.

Nunavik - un gouvernement territorial

News of an agreement on a novel form of government for the northern third of Quebec, where some 10,000 Inuit people make up most of the population, appears to be good.
The new Nunavik Regional Government could be born as early as 2009, following a recent agreement in principle among negotiators for the Inuit, Quebec and Canada. The name is unfortunately close to that of the vast northern Nunavut territory north and northwest of Quebec, which might confuse southern schoolchildren for decades to come. But Quebec's Inuit will know the difference and, it appears, will be well-served by the new arrangement.
In effect, the regional government will be a sort of super-municipality, super not only geographically - the area involved is larger than France - but also in its powers. The new level of government will have municipal powers but also those of a health authority and a school board. Ottawa and Quebec City retain their rights, but in terms of daily life, the regional entity will provide one-stop service for all the people in the territory.
That sound you hear is an alarm bell ringing. Centralized control is the formula that applies on Canada's Indian reserves, so many of which are ill-governed swamps of social disaster.
The agreement - which still must be ratified by the federal and provincial governments and by the people who live north of the 55th parallel - provides for a Nunavik Assembly with 21 or more elected members, with at least one from each of the area's 14 communities. A five-member executive, elected by all voters, will supervise government operations using revenue from senior governments and from property taxes.
They'll have a lot of power. Administering a big territory and a big budget requires people with vision, training, competence and integrity. The election process will be crucial to good governance. The agreement-in-principle says only that "elections shall be subject to rules and standards recognized by Quebec." A more rigorous commitment to transparently fair elections would be welcome.
Apart from that important issue, the rest of the arrangements seem to us sensible and fair. It is particularly suitable that this new region will operate on the basis of geography. A somewhat comparable agreement in British Columbia disenfranchises all but native people in the area covered, which raises, or should raise, some serious questions.
The great majority of people living north of 55 today are Inuit. That might not always be true, but this governance structure will be somewhat flexible while allowing the Inuit, for the foreseeable future at least, to control their own affairs in a just and reasonable manner.
Some are already suggesting that this agreement could serve as a prototype for others. That might be, though what's important is not that this accord be matched elsewhere, but that the sense of open-minded and pragmatic problem-solving seen here should also be manifest wherever special arrangements for particular communities seem to make good sense.
With proper safeguards to protect democracy and openness, nobody needs to be afraid of diverse solutions.

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