Iqaluit’s taxi drivers deserve a raise

“No business anywhere can improve service if it’s deprived of revenue”


The next time you catch some Nunavut official babbling about “self-reliance,” do this: point them in the direction of an underpaid Iqaluit taxi driver.

Amidst what passes for the private sector in Nunavut, the taxi business stands out, along with only a few others, for the ability of its owners and workers to survive with no support from government.

That means no subsidies, no northern allowances, no vacation travel assistance, no CanNor handouts, no subsidized housing, no rigged government contracts, no arts and culture grants, and no phony joint ventures that claim to be Inuit-owned and really aren’t.

This is what self-reliance means: the ability to function without outside support. According to the Nunavut government, this is supposed to be a good thing. “Our efforts must emphasize self-reliance,” the GN claims in its latest feel-good mandate, Sivumut Abluqta.

Don’t worry. We know they don’t mean it and we know you know that too. Indeed, it’s a concept that few in Nunavut really get. Especially in Iqaluit, where a large group of working people, namely taxi drivers, have not seen a wage increase in nearly seven years.

That’s because their industry — to the great misfortune of its workers — happens to be regulated by the level of government that is least able to understand the economics of a self-reliant business: Iqaluit’s municipal council.

For the better part of a year, they’ve waited for a $1 dollar basic fare increase that the city should have authorized immediately. The same thing happened in 2006, when cab drivers waited a year, until 2007, before city council got around to raising the basic fare from $5 to $6.

Since 2007, Iqaluit’s inflation rate — the cost of basic goods and services — ran at slightly less than 2 per cent a year. This means that $6 doesn’t buy as much this year as it did then. In 2014, to buy what $6 would have bought you in 2007 now requires — guess what — about $7.

But instead of recognizing this, the city opted for “consultations with the community.”

Why? In 2011, when Iqaluit City Council agreed to annual wage increases of 2.5 per cent a year for their unionized workers, they didn’t hold a public meeting to ask if it was okay for them to divert more public funds into wages and benefits.

And when the Government of Nunavut decides to spend more public funds on raises for teachers, power corporation workers and its notoriously under-performing civil servants, they don’t consult anybody either.

And with the exception of the power corporation, no commercial enterprise in Nunavut is required to consult anybody before they raise the price of any good or service.

There are those who point out that low income people are more likely than others to make regular use of taxis. The sensible response to that issue is to index social assistance to the cost of living. Or to encourage employers to help workers cover their transportation costs.

And there are those in Iqaluit, far too many of them, who use the taxi industry and its large numbers of migrant workers as an outlet for various repressed hatreds and resentments. Outsiders are convenient scapegoats and easy targets for abuse — which is why public opinion on such issues is often worthless.

There are others who gripe about the physical condition of some taxi vehicles and various quality of service issues. Some, but not all, of this is valid.

But one thing is certain. No business anywhere can improve service if it’s deprived of revenue. Like working people in every other occupation, taxi drivers deserve a raise once in a while. Let them have it. JB

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