Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Iqaluit July 25, 2012 - 3:01 pm

Why did Iqaluit council flip-flop on Upper Base industrial lots?


The May 18, 2012 issue of the Nunatsiaq News reported “Plan shapes up for industrial lots near Upper Base.” Remarkably, city council approved the survey sketch for a nine-lot industrial subdivision in Upper Base at its May 8, 2012 meeting. 

In September, 2010, the very same nine-lot subdivision was rejected by council, and Michèle Bertol, the planning director at the time, was thereafter publicly accused of misleading council by councillors Matt Knickelbein and Romeyn Stevenson. 

Could it be, that this time around they had a “meaningful discussion” on the matter with current planning director Arif Sayani? You don’t say!

At the Sept. 14, 2010 council meeting, Ms. Bertol submitted a request for decision on a survey sketch for the creation of nine lots as part of the first phase of an industrial subdivision in the Upper Base area.  In her presentation (documented in the minutes of that meeting) she explained that:

• new industrial lots were necessary because there were no vacant industrial lots in the community;

• the proposed lots followed the directives in the new general plan; and

• because of their proximity to the Plateau residential neighbourhood, use of the new lots should be limited to “light industrial.” 

She also recommended that the light industrial zoning of the proposed lots be amended to ensure that permitted uses would not be unsightly.

Ms. Bertol responded to all concerns raised by councillors during her presentation, and the request for decision was approved four votes to three. The mayor then called a recess, during which most people got up to stretch their legs, but Ms. Bertol remained in the council chamber.

Afterwards, someone in the room warned Ms. Bertol that he had seen Mr. Hussey, zoning bylaw in hand, in discussion with Coun. Mat Knickelbein. Being far more familiar with the zoning by-law than Coun.Knickelbein, it would have been easy for Mr. Hussey to change the councillor’s perception of the matter. Unfortunately, Coun. Knickelbein did not see fit to take the logical step of asking Ms. Bertol for clarification on the zoning issue during the recess or afterward.

When the meeting resumed, Coun. Knickelbein immediately and emphatically told the mayor that he believed council had been given inaccurate information regarding the proposed industrial lots and was misled about the uses permitted in a light industrial zone. He asked that the motion be rescinded on the grounds that the vote had been affected by inaccurate information. Several weeks later the motion was rescinded with the full support of council.

Coun. Knickelbein didn’t leave it at that; he went on to give an interview reported in the Sept. 20, 2010 Nunatsiaq News (“Knickelbein accuses city planner of misleading council.”)

He said that:

“… he discovered during a break in council proceedings that auto garages and snowmobile dealerships are in fact light industrial businesses… He accused Bertol of misleading the council and downplaying the potential impact a light industrial development could have on the Plateau neighbourhood.”

After Ms. Bertol’s obvious efforts to explain to council exactly why the zoning amendment would be advisable in this case, it was shocking to read accusations that must certainly have been humiliating and demoralizing to her. 

A second article about the Upper Base industrial area appeared in the Oct. 22, 2010 issue of the Nunatsiaq News “City does about-face on Upper Base development.” In that article, Councillor Romeyn Stevenson reiterated that Ms. Bertol had misled council and again the issue of her providing misinformation was raised.

It must have been another major blow for Ms. Bertol to endure these public accusations a second time, by a different councillor. If the first accusation had left some readers in doubt, Councillor Stevenson’s reiteration of the point added weight and cast a serious shadow on her integrity.

Every time new councillors take office a new dynamic forms in the council chamber and new bonds develop. The municipal election of November 2009 brought in six new councillors and within a few months, it was common knowledge and very obvious that councillors Mat Knickelbein and Romeyn Stevenson had asserted themselves as ringleaders of council.

As the year 2010 progressed, everyone who attended council meetings noticed how councillors Knickelbein and Stevenson became more and more argumentative toward Ms. Bertol during her presentations to council and that this combativeness was directed only towards her, not any of the other directors. Coun. Knickelbein in particular was very generous with extending “good-job” comments to other directors at every turn.

The selective nature of Knickelbein and Stevenson’s criticism was confirmed at a committee of the whole meeting in 2010, when another director explained to council why various projects were not carried out that year, and councillors simply nodded their heads in understanding. Not one asked why key projects were delayed or incomplete. The director’s explanation of not having had enough time was accepted without question. 

When, in contrast, Ms. Bertol submitted a request which followed the directives of the approved General Plan to the letter (the survey sketch for the industrial lots in Upper Base), she was publicly lambasted.

Why the flip-flop on Upper Base industrial lots? Why did city council do a flip-flop regarding the Upper Base industrial lots?  Because it was the right thing to do.  Is it unusual for councils to re-visit an issue and re-consider a decision — of course not.

When, in 2010, Ms. Bertol submitted to this very same council the survey sketch that would initiate the development of the Upper Base industrial lots,  the issue was muddied by the personal agenda of a couple of councillors.

It was a classic case of “my mind is made-up; don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Things went down the way they did in 2010 because a few individuals had a personal agenda and that agenda took precedence over the issue at hand —Upper Base industrial lots.

Councillors make bad decisions all the time and sometimes, when they realize it, they have the honesty to revisit their past decision and make the situation right for the community.  With the Michèle Bertol denigration campaign and the tension between her and two councillors over, council could focus more clearly on the real issues. 

Moreover, when the councillors voted to rescind the motion approving the Upper Base industrial lots in 2010 it wasn’t necessarily because they all believed that Ms. Bertol had “misled council”; it was probably because, after seeing councillors Knickelbein and Stevenson engaged in public mud-slinging, the others saw a nasty bag of crabs that they didn’t want to stick their hands into.

It goes to show how obstruction, playing politics, and personal vendettas can undermine the public good.

By May 2012, the personal vendettas were history; council could move forward on putting the policies of the General Plan into action. There was no new light cast on the issue of the Upper base industrial lots in 2012; there was no crucial information which Ms. Bertol had omitted in 2010 brought forward this time around.

It’s simply that time had gone by, Ms. Bertol is no longer in the picture, and most people don’t even remember the 2010 debacle on the matter. Conditions were good for re-visiting the plan for Upper Base.

(Name withheld by request)

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