Low turnout in land vote likely result of poor information: Nunavut mayor
But it’s probably not the last word on municipal land sales, says Madeleine Redfern
The mayor of Nunavut’s capital city said May 10 that it’s always difficult to predict the outcome of a vote.
But the Iqaluit results in the May 9 land referendum were not a big surprise for her.
Mayor Madeleine Redfern said in the month leading up the vote, there seemed to be growing momentum for the No side with a strong, vocal Yes minority and the results of yesterday’s vote appear to reflect that.
A low voter turnout in Iqaluit, and across the territory, indicates to her that people just weren’t well enough informed to bother voting on either side.
“The problem that I think occurred in this particular election is that there wasn’t enough information provided to residents, either from the territorial government, from Inuit organizations and from municipalities,” Redfern told Nunatsiaq News May 10.
“I think that’s why you had a very low voter turnout in many places, and especially in Iqaluit,” she added.
“There were people who were simply not prepared even to go out and cast a No vote because they were really uncertain of the effects of the land vote.”
The No vote gives the city a bit of a reprieve to regroup, examine it’s current leasehold system and prepare for the possibility of a future vote, Redfern said.
Under Nunavut’s Plebiscites Act, individual municipalities could choose to hold another vote on land sales but not until five years have passed.
Redfern said before that possibility comes around again, it would be good for Iqaluit staff to identify and map all existing utilities and easements and create a better mechanism for collecting city tax arrears and unpaid debts to the city.
She also said she would like to work with the territorial government on a possible amendment to the Cities, Towns and Villages Act regarding the residency requirement for the purchase of land in advance of any future vote on municipal land sales.
In Iqaluit, and some other communities, there are already residency requirements when it comes to leases for new residential lots.
She said when the city offers lots for single family dwellings, those who apply to the land lease lottery must be at least 18 years old, an Iqaluit resident for at least two years and a first-time city lease holder.
This helps to promote new, local homeownership, she said.
The city hasn’t offered single family lots for three years but plans to offer some in Apex soon as well as possible lots near Joamie School and on Inuit-owned land developments on Federal Road.
Redfern said Iqaluit city council took no official position in the referendum.
Personally, as a beneficiary, she said she was considering voting Yes but after re-reading the land claim agreement and notes on its intent, getting some legal advice on how it would impact the city, and talking with a lot of local residents, she changed her vote to No.
However, she expects this is not the final word on municipal land sales in Nunavut.
And once Nunavummiut are better informed — by both governments and Inuit organizations — they will likely support land sales, at some point in the future.
“I do think that in the future, I absolutely envision that there are going to be communities that choose to change it from a land lease system to a freehold system,” Redfern said.
“But if we revisit this in the future, and I’m sure we will, all different levels of government and Inuit organizations must do better in ensuring we provide the information that our residents need to make an informed decision.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s president is travelling but sent her comments to Nunatsiaq News via email. And she seemed to agree with Redfern.
“As we have said earlier, the current land management system should be changed if it is clearly shown that the majority of Inuit are ready to benefit from the sale of lands,” read a May 10 statement from Cathy Towtongie.
She said that if another vote is held, NTI hopes that there would be a longer lead-in time for community discussion and debate and more comprehensive consultation including materials provided well in advance.
Towtongie said those materials should include “in-depth information and analysis” outlining the fundamental differences between owning and leasing land and the full implications of a yes vote.
The NTI president added that it would be preferable in future for individual municipalities to decide when they are ready to hold a vote and do so.