Everyone should know by now that Nunavut has enough social problems to make your head spin.

For graphic descriptions of this the Globe and Mail has recently been running a series of articles that lays bare all.

Suicide rates are off the charts, substance abuse problems are fragmenting communities and there is a housing shortage that makes one wonder if Nunavut is part of this continent, let alone Canada.

But let us not forget that like any other riding in Canada there are a multitude of other issues that have to be addressed.

To their credit the local candidates for the federal election have been raising some of this ‘multitude’ in their campaigns.

Who are the candidates, you might ask?  

Airline employee Scott MacCallum of the Greens, Conservative incumbent Leona Aglukkaq and up until the election call Harper’s health minister, former Nunavut premier Paul Okalik of the Liberals and northern researcher Jack Hicks of the NDP are all vying for the chance to represent Nunavut in the Canadian House of Commons.

As in all the northern ridings mining, despite the fact most of it is a territorial responsibility, has become a campaign issue.

There are some pretty whacky mineral extraction ideas floating around Nunavut these days and given the current high prices of commodities some of these projects might actually go ahead.

To its credit, the territorial government has been travelling to the various communities to discuss the risks of uranium mining, and it would appear the feds are more than happy to hand this contentious consultation over to them.

One aspect of mining that will be negative, apart from the environmental impacts, is that these grandiose and large-scale projects will literally change the face of Nunavut.

For example, the Baffinland Mine proposal would cost billions and possibly involve construction of a railway and a deepwater ocean port in a territory that cannot even staff its own territorial bureaucracy.

That means there’s going to be a flood of outsiders coming in to work, administer and regulate such a mine.  

There is the very good possibility the Inuvialiut will become strangers in their own land, until such time as commodity prices go down again or the ore bodies run out.

A more immediate campaign issue, one that is being noticed in every kitchen, is the Nutrition North program changes.

When food is shipped to remote northern communities the federal government provides a subsidy to ensure food costs don’t get too high.

Recent changes to the Nutrition North program brought in by the Harper government have not been popular.

Candidates are no doubt finding out that it’s one thing to have a political discussion about buying new fighter jets, it’s quite another to have a voter noticing that certain food prices are going through the roof.

The Harper government is about to learn that people are more likely to vote against them because their grocery bills are now higher due to government policies, than vote for incredibly expensive military hardware that will have little to no local impact.

Or to put it simply, when given a choice most people vote for butter over guns despite what the military-industrial complex would have us do.

A very local issue is Canada’s ban on international exports of polar bear hides and narwhal tusks.

The smaller communities in Nunavut do not have very many economic opportunities and sometimes guiding rich southern hunters on a bear hunt, or harvesting whale ivory for artistic use and then sale overseas is literally the only economic game in town.

Southern Canadians, especially those of an environmental bent, might be aghast at the concept of bear and whale harvesting.

In the North, it is part of a traditional way of life and is inter-connected to a cultural and social value system that non-Nunavummiut will probably never understand.

But the big issue, the one the Globe and Mail actually got right, is the need to address social issues.

Despite having the federal health minister as the incumbent Member of Parliament, the social problems defy belief.

It should be interesting to see what all the parties promise in addressing this.

Because there have been a lot of promises in the past, and things don’t seem to have changed.

Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist. His work centers around Yukon recycling, energy and mining issues. When he is not winter camping or summer hiking, he collects stamps...