Iqaluit’s three big tasks
"A municipal administration that’s bleeding from every orifice"
Look out, Iqaluit.
Those of you who still watch news on television will be well aware of the big federal election that’s scheduled for Oct. 19.
And most of you will, at least, have heard about the four people who seek to represent Nunavut in the House of Commons.
But there’s another election headed your way on Oct. 19. That’s when you’ll get to choose a mayor and eight councillors.
Good luck to them. After they’re sworn into office a couple of weeks or so after the municipal election, this group will get to oversee a municipal administration that’s bleeding from every orifice.
Their first big task will be the restoration of some semblance of stable leadership, within the municipal administration, and at the council table.
This occurred after the previous council had voted to increase the mayor’s salary to about $109,000 a year, a move intended to attract strong candidates. And when John Graham was elected mayor with 71 per cent of votes cast in the October 2012 municipal election, the new Iqaluit council that year appeared ready to start its work on a strong foundation.
But Graham’s tenure lasted less than 18 months. He resigned, for personal reasons, in June 2014, just as the dumpcano crisis had erupted.
Not long after that, in September 2014, council voted to dismiss John Hussey from his job as chief administrative officer, a position he had held since 2007. As CAO and director of finance prior to 2007, Hussey served more than 13 years at the city prior to his abrupt, unexplained departure.
For the next eight months, the city got by with no full-time administrative boss, a state of affairs that continued through much of 2015, until Muhamud Hassan started as CAO this past April.
And it wasn’t until November 2014 that city council appointed Coun. Mary Wilman as full-time mayor, after nearly six months of dithering.
The second big task is to restore financial stability to the municipality. The Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce, which briefly rose from the dead this past January to complain about the issue, alleges the City of Iqaluit could produce an accumulated deficit of about $10 million by the end of this year.
We can’t verify that because the city’s financial year doesn’t end until Dec. 31. But the city’s consolidated financial statement for 2014 shows that in its operating budget last year, the city spent about $38.3 million but received revenues of only $31.1 million.
That created an operating deficit of about $7.2 million for 2014, following an operating deficit of about $1.2 million in 2013. So while the chamber’s fears may be a little exaggerated, they’re not implausible.
The city reports the 2014 dump fire cost them about $3.4 million. This obviously contributed to the 2014 deficit — but it’s not the whole story.
Many parts of the city’s operations are under financial pressure. That’s why the city needs stability at the top. Deficit reduction requires the courage to make unpopular decisions, a commitment to a long-term plan and the wisdom to make good choices between competing priorities. In other words, the hallmarks of leadership.
It also requires something that the city has never before done: the distribution of accessible plain language financial information to city councillors and to the public. When the city finds itself posting deficits that potentially violate the Cities, Towns and Villages Act, the public needs to know immediately.
The third big task is so daunting and so complex we hesitate to even bring it up. And that’s infrastructure.
You’ve already heard about the dilapidated water main system that sends water gushing into the street almost as often as it sends water to your homes. The crumbling roads and the non-existent drainage systems speak for themselves. The city’s main office, which houses the city council chambers, has been due for replacement for at least a decade and a half.
Pending the receipt of a licence from the Nunavut Water Board, the city must soon decommission its old dump and pay for a new landfill at a site just northwest of the built-up area of the city. At the same time, the city isn’t developing new subdivisions fast enough to broaden its tax base and meet demand for new housing and commercial space.
For this three-year term, the best that Iqaluit can hope for on infrastructure is the development of a credible, well-substantiated plan the city can use to justify the contributions it will require from the territorial and federal governments — and the private sector.
But if the city cannot achieve stable leadership and stable financial management, others will be loath to invest in Iqaluit. And the downward spiral will continue. JB