Prepare to self-insure Nunavut schools, finance minister warns

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The Government of Nunavut is paying much high school insurance costs and someday may have to cover losses in full, the finance minister warned earlier this month.

Keith Peterson told his legislative colleagues that Department of Finance officials had a “very difficult” time obtaining school insurance recently when renewal came due. Costs soared to $1.5 million for the year, from only $190,730 two years ago. The government’s deductible – the amount the GN must pay on a claim – doubled to $20 million per school.

Kugaardjuk School was destroyed by arson on Feb. 28. Cape Dorset also lost its school to fire in September 2015. These incidents are pushing the Government of Nunavut’s school insurance costs much higher. photo courtesy of John Ivey

“At a certain point, if this continues, I can foresee the Government of Nunavut becoming uninsurable,” Peterson said on Sept. 15. “In other words, every school that burned down we had to pay the entire amount.”

Kugaaruk’s school was lost to fire in February and Peter Pitseolak School in Cape Dorset was destroyed in a September 2015 blaze. Both were determined to be deliberately set.

“It’s a real tragedy when that occurs. We’re fortunate there has been no loss of life, but what happens is it disrupts the community and it takes three to four years to replace with a new school and it costs $35 million to $40 million,” Peterson said. “I don’t know what it is about schools, but schools are the main targets of people in the communities when they decide to burn a building down unfortunately – fortunately without loss of life. In my mind we have reached a crisis point when it comes to insurance and replacing schools.”

Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik suggested that fences should be erected around schools as a security measure.

“I don’t know if fencing will necessarily keep people out,” Peterson said.

Education Minister Paul Quassa said “all the schools need to have security” and noted that security guards have already been hired for some educational facilities. A broader security plan is still in the initial stages, Quassa added.

Okalik expressed frustration.

“They haven’t finished planning yet. How many more schools need to be burned down while this is under review?” he asked. “I know that our present government will not be able to complete this, but we’ll just have to rely on that planning. I guess we’ll just have to wait.”

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