Libraries top priority?
About every two weeks in Iqaluit, just before those special days when the unemployed and the hopelessly unemployable line up for their social assistance checks, there are children falling asleep hungry because their parents can’t buy food.
They’re the same kids you can see in front of The Snack and Arctic Ventures begging loonies so they can stuff their aching bellies with candy.
There are hundreds of people jammed into overcrowded, disease-ridden houses or walking the streets because they have nowhere to live.
There are scores who have lost their jobs and many hundreds more who have lost income they will never recover.
There’s a hospital losing doctors and nurses in droves as our health care system continues to deteriorate in a quickening slide towards privatization.
There’s our wealthiest service industry – dope-dealing and booze – which is robbing our children of their parents, their pride, and even their shelter.
At the same time, there’s a treatment centre whose empty beds are threatening to create a financial crisis.
And Iqaluit’s Inuit are slowly being annihilated by suicide.
Yep, there’s much to correct and heal in Iqaluit
But are these the social ills that are now vexing Iqaluit’s leading citizens?
Surprise, surprise. Neither poverty , homelessness, nor the despair of hungry children is enough to activate the wrath of Iqaluit’s righteous petition-makers and protesters.
From within the insulated bunkers of their homes and offices, it’s the plight of a soon-to-be unemployed librarian that has many of our esteemed citizens howling in protest.
Only in a community as screwed up as Iqaluit could such an absurdity be comprehensible.
Yes, libraries are important. Yes, the GNWT’s recent policy announcements in that area raise legitimate questions. And yes, Charles Dent, the education minister with the fancy haircut and the expensive suits, has done a lousy job explaining what his department plans to do.
But is this molehill of an issue worth the mountain of energy that some Iqaluit citizens are expending on it?
Two, count ’em, two, jobs have been cut – one in Iqaluit and one in Rankin Inlet. No libraries have been closed. No books have been burned. The sky has not fallen and the earth has not opened up to swallow the multitudes.
Indeed, the GNWT even says it wants to take the tens of thousands of dollars a year it will save and use it to provide services to communities that don’t have libraries.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, probably.
But many Iqaluit residents, for some unfathomable reason, think there’s a lot wrong with it. And in a righteous frenzy, some have arm-twisted their gullible neighbours into signing a petition calling on the GNWT to “save our libraries.”
Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco presented that petition in the legislative assembly on Monday, and has repeatedly asked Dent questions about the issue.
One indignant constituent even told Picco that he’ll get thrown out of office in the next election if he doesn’t do more about the library issue.
As “proof” that the GNWT plans to strip Nunavut of its libraries, Iqaluit’s petitioners have been waving around a photocopy of a GNWT discussion paper that somebody dredged up. But what they don’t tell you is that the discussion paper is not GNWT policy, and likely never will be.
And what they also don’t tell you is that Iqaluit is a community already rich in libraries, especially compared to similar-sized towns elsewhere in Canada.
In addition to Iqaluit’s well-funded and well-stocked Centennial Library, the Nunatta Arctic College campus boasts one of the best Arctic libraries in the world – underused though it may be, it’s also open to the public, and managed by a competent librarian. And Inuksuk High School also has an adequate library for youth.
Come on people. Get your priorities straightened out before you cause any more embarrassment for those in the community who do care about the life and death issues many people are facing here.