Iqaluit mayor misses annual town hall to attend FCM meeting

Residents talk about population growth, lack of capacity


Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson says new developments in the city are making Iqaluit into a “gateway hub” for the North. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson says new developments in the city are making Iqaluit into a “gateway hub” for the North. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Moderator Eva Aariak opens Iqaluit City Council's town hall meeting Nov. 23. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Moderator Eva Aariak opens Iqaluit City Council’s town hall meeting Nov. 23. (PHOTO BY BETH BROWN)

Among the many questions posed at the City of Iqaluit’s town hall meeting held last week, one came up more than once: Why isn’t the mayor, Madeleine Redfern, here?

With Redfern away attending a meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Deputy Mayor Romeyn Stevenson and five of seven city councillors were left to field questions from the public during a two-hour meeting held on Thursday, Nov. 23, in the Koojesse Ball Room at Iqaluit’s Frobisher Inn.

Cedric Rusike, an ex-officio member of Iqaluit’s economic development committee, began his questions by saying, “it’s disappointing that the mayor is not here, there are quite a few events that I’ve participated in and she hasn’t been present.”

Eva Aariak, the event’s moderator, conveyed Redfern’s regrets, saying she was attending meetings for the FCM.

Redfern later told Nunatsiaq News Nov. 24 that while she had planned to go to the town hall meeting, the election of former Cambridge Bay Mayor Jeannie Ehaloak forced her to attend an FCM meeting as interim president of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities.

“It was decided that I should attend FCM meetings—on the basis … that there is tremendous benefit both for NAM, NAM members and the City of Iqaluit [and] that we ensure there is northern and Nunavut representation at the FCM meetings,” she said in an email.

“Council members were informed of my attendance at FCM meetings at the last council meeting and there was full council support.”

Last year, Redfern said the city’s annual town hall meetings were a step towards increased accountability and transparency from city council.

Redfern said the deputy mayor and city councillors were capable of answering any questions put to them by the public at the town hall meeting.

While Stevenson and five other councillors attended the town hall, only Stevenson, Kuthula Matshazi, Kyle Sheppard and Joanasie Akumalik fielded questions.

Councillors Noah Papatsie and Jason Rochon attended the meeting but did not contribute to the discussion.

Councillors Terry Dobbin and Simon Nattaq were unable to attend.

Residents raised concerns about how traffic congestion in the city’s downtown could delay emergency services, as could slow snow-clearing on the road to Apex. They also noted hold-ups for water delivery, especially following snowstorms.

“It can take up to three days to get your water,” one man said.

Coun. Akumalik, who is in his third term, said he wasn’t surprised by the questions being asked.

“Public work issues, roads, blizzards and water trucks, the normal stuff … cemetery, emergency services, I was expecting those already,” he said, adding he was happy with the turnout that filled about half the room.

“At least people came … I try to advocate for more communication to the residents. I’d like to see more information being dispersed to the community members so that they know what is going on.”

One elder, who said it was her civic duty to attend the meeting, said she would like to see more elders and city residents attend regular public council meetings.

“They say that what they say would not be taken seriously,” she said of people she has encouraged to go, adding that some are shy.

Councillors reminded attendees that the public can go to council twice each month and are able to speak as delegates. A link to a Google calendar page showing the city’s meeting schedule can be found on the city’s website.

But attendee Susie Ishulutak said she wants to hear more from the city via other public forums.

“We used to hear from the mayor every month on the radio. I don’t know what’s going on with the city,” she said.

In September, the city began recording and broadcasting council meetings on Thursdays on CFRT, 107.3 FM.

While the mayor was not present at the town hall meeting, according to the City of Iqaluit, she has attended two thirds of city council meetings held so far this year—18 of the 26—as of Oct. 25.

That’s down from the year before where the city said she attended 23 out of 27 meetings.

The mayor is the only elected official who is an employee of the city of Iqaluit with a full salary, which was set at around $109,000 per year in 2015.

Also during the town hall, participants asked how the city has addressed complaints about firefighters being overworked and under-supported, as indicated by the partner of a city firefighter last year.

Stevenson said that the city has developed a certification program so firefighters can be trained in the territory, but he and Sheppard could not clearly explain how support for firefighters had improved.

Stevenson also said the city had a need for more homeless shelters, when residents brought up concerns about loitering around local stores.

One woman asked why the city does not make an effort to build small shacks or dwellings for the homeless. “Some people are living in tents,” she said.

Coun. Sheppard said shacks are just not enough.

“The solution has to be bigger. We have to have a larger vision than we have right now,” he said, adding that transitional housing, mental health and support services need to be a part of that plan.

But another resident wanted to make sure that such a plan actually happens.

“This is not just transitional housing. These are people, we need to not forget them. Their needs have to be boosted up the priority list,” he said.

Stevenson said 2017 was a “watershed year for our city,” citing increased development in multiple sectors.

Two upcoming projects include closure of the West 40 Landfill and the passing of a new land administration bylaw.

The city hopes to close the dump and open a new one by 2020 when the new deep-water port opens at the causeway next to the existing dump.

“It’s an eyesore to our city,” Stevenson said.

The updated land administration bylaw will change how city land can be priced, acquired and developed. The amendment marks the first time the bylaw has been changed in 13 years.

Stevenson cited other recent city achievements including:

• The opening of the new aquatic centre.

• Upgrades to the city’s waste water treatment plant.

• Upgrades to Apex Road.

• A new heating system at the Arnaitok Arena.

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