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Make it our building

By JIM BELL

Everybody in Nunavut deserves a say on how and where we’ll build our new legislative assembly building in Iqaluit.

But except for a handful of privileged insiders, no one in Nunavut yet has a clue about how that will be done.

Even what we at Nunatsiaq News now know doesn’t amount to much. For what it’s worth, here it is:

The Nunasi Corporation, together with Nunavut’s three regional birthright development corporations, have formed a company called Nunavut Construction Corporation. That company – known by the acronym “NCC” – will build and own all new Nunavut government buildings.

One of them is a two-storey affair to be constructed in Iqaluit with materials brought up on the 1998 sealift. This structure will include an “interim hall” that will serve as a meeting place for Nunavut’s legislative assembly.

The powers that be also say this building will cost about $5 million.

Although no one has officially announced its location, there are many rumors that the Town of Iqaluit’s administration, together with officials from Public Works Canada, have already picked one.

To pay for it, NCC will get a long-term mortgage from a bank. To make payments on that mortgage, NCC will lease the building to the government of Nunavut.

Ottawa will help out by providing the bank with a guarantee for the mortgage, and by supplying NCC with “project advice” from officials within Public Works Canada.

Ottawa, however, has not put aside any money to pay for a permanent Nunavut legislative assembly building.

We know these facts only because the Baffin and Iqaluit chambers of commerce recently hired consultants to dredge them up, and to recommend ways of including the people of Nunavut in planning for our new assembly building. The consultants tabled their report at an Iqaluit town council meeting last week.

Until those chambers of commerce took that step, no leaders anywhere – in Iqaluit or elsewhere in Nunavut – have bothered to say a peep about how our legislative assembly will be built.

While that may be a sad commentary on the state of Nunavut’s leadership right now, there’s still time – not much time mind you – for them to do better.

And do better they must. The people of Iqaluit have endured a long and unpleasant history of alien buildings getting dumped into their lives by outside bureaucracies.

The worst example of that is Iqaluit’s Astro Hill complex – a collection of unrelentingly ugly high-rises that for for three decades have sat like an angry carbuncle on the face of the community.

The people of Iqaluit – and Nunavut – deserve reassurances that Nunavut’s own leaders won’t repeat the planning blunders of the 1970s.

Our legislative assembly should be the kind of place where you can lay out a sheet of cardboard and get down on your hands and knees and eat all the quaq you want without having to apologize for it. It should not be the kind of building where you feel you need to put on a jacket and tie just to get through the front door.

And it must be a place that belongs to all the people of Nunavut. Whether you’re from Coppermine or Pelly Bay or Arviat or Igloolik or Sanikiluaq, that building will belong to you.

Iqaluit elder Abe Okpik has suggested a simple but powerful name for our new legislative assembly buidling – “Qaggiq” – a big gathering place.

Here’s a few more suggestions for what should be included in Nunavut’s Qaggiq:

Public access: The hall to be used as a legislative assembly chamber must have a large public viewing area. And it must be designed for easy access by elders and disabled people.

Location: The public must have a say in where the building is located. If it’s in downtown Iqaluit, will it cause more traffic congestion? Should it be near the sea? Should it be on top of a hill?

A public telecommunications centre: Broadband telecommunication networks will be the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of Nunavut’s government will flow. Such a centre would demonstrate the principle of universal access to such technologies.
This building would also be an ideal place to install electronic kiosks providing access to government information, as well as multimedia information about Nunavut on CD-ROMs.

It’s not often in the history of a country that you get to design a legislative building from scratch.

As soon as possible, officials from the Nunavut Construction Corporation and Public Works Canada should be brought before Iqaluit Town Council and other public forums to be questioned thoroughly – in public – about what they plan to do.

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