Change Management
November 30, 2012

Managing in a new frontier

Canada’s North is at the forefront of unprecedented change and the focus of increasing global attention. Managing a government office here provides an exceptional range of opportunities and challenges.

As a geoscientist, I have worked in Nunavut since 2006 on a diverse range of issues that include climate change adaptation and resource development. I became a resident of the territory in 2011 when I took on the role of Chief Geologist of the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office (CNGO). I have a team of six science and technical staff. The CNGO’s mandate is to provide accessible geoscience information and expertise to support responsible development in Nunavut. The programming is diverse and aims to generate new knowledge about the land and its resources.

CNGO is co-managed by a board of directors from the government of Nunavut (Department of Economic Development and Transportation), Natural Resources Canada and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated sits as an ex-officio member.

Operating context
Nunavut is a vast, remote region that is approximately 20 percent of the Canadian land mass (and three time zones). CNGO is located in the capital city of Iqaluit on Baffin Island. There are no roads connecting to the south, so any shipment of supplies happens by air or by annual sea-lift. Generally there are only two months a year without snowfall, and daylight varies from around five hours in December to up to 22 hours in June.  

Significant change is occurring on several fronts. Environmentally, the summer extent of intact sea-ice is diminishing with implications for traditional ways of life, wildlife, marine traffic and access to the land. Economically, the territory has transitioned from a region with little mineral exploration to the fourth busiest jurisdiction in Canada in 2011 with nearly $400 million dollars invested. In the next decade it is possible that several mines could begin operations, creating new wealth and employment opportunities while putting a strain on community infrastructure and skilled labour.    

Making a difference
Nunavut offers public sector managers (and employees) opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. For me this includes supporting better decision-making for land use planning, resource exploration and community development.

CNGO delivers collaborative programming that addresses local issues. It helps communities to better manage infrastructure maintenance and development by providing geoscientific information about local permafrost conditions and sand and gravel resources. Planners, engineers and a range of decision-makers now have better information available online (Nunavutgeoscience.ca).

Many areas of Nunavut have not been mapped to modern geological standards. CNGO’s regional mapping efforts improve the knowledge of Nunavut’s land mass, which directly contributes to attracting exploration investment and assisting with land use decisions. Mapping these areas provide unique opportunities for our geoscience staff to push back the knowledge frontiers.  

Management challenge

Managing in the North, in particular Nunavut, is dynamic and exciting. Due to the smaller size of my office and the types of projects we run, the tasks I face on a daily basis are diverse. I am required to coordinate community engagement for project planning, constantly work collaboratively to get things done, ensure all staff and students receive robust field health and safety training (e.g., helicopter, firearms and polar bear), develop partnerships with universities and industry to deliver programs, plan complicated field logistics and motivate staff to constantly take on new roles and responsibilities.  

I would like to expand on the last two items. In the context of planning field logistics, a standard geoscience mapping project requires support from helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, a range of tents and shelters, teams of 15-20 people, cooks, camp managers, grocery orders, hundreds of barrels of fuel, caching supplies in the winter, coordinating guest visits and on and on. It is not for the faint of heart and managers must have the ability to work with people, be organized, delegate, have thick skin and the capacity to manage in constant change (you can always count on weather delays).

As a manager in the North motivating staff to take on new roles and responsibilities is a must. There is always more work than there are people. This requires open communication, demonstrating the value of the contribution, diplomacy and compassion.

Nunavut is at the forefront of unprecedented change and there is no place that I would rather be managing in.            

David Mate is the chief geologist at the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.

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