Iqaluit council faces a tough three years


When 21 candidates step up to compete for eight council seats in an Iqaluit muncipal election, it can mean only one thing: that large numbers of people aren’t happy with the work of the outgoing city council and think they can do a better job.

So on Oct. 19, Iqaluit residents elected a new council in which new faces greatly outnumber the old. Of eight seats, six are now filled by rookies. Not surprisingly, this new council’s prime characteristic is its inexperience.

This gives all Iqaluit residents reason to be worried — because over the next thee years, the city of Iqaluit will face one tough decision after another on infrastucture, development planning, and money.

These decisions, which will shape the city’s future development for many years, will require good knowledge and good judgment. It won’t be long before our new councillors discover how hard it is to actually run a municipal government in the Arctic.

On infrastructure, councillors face the unresolved issues of how to pay for a new recreational complex, which must include a new swimming pool, and a new city hall.

But so far, it remains to be seen if the new council understands what must be done to get these facilities built.

For example, many candidates said they support the construction of a new recreational centre. This however, is meaningless. It’s already well-known that most Iqaluit residents want a new recreation complex and that the city’s lease on the aging Astro Hill swimming pool is due to expire.

The big question is how to pay for it. For the municipality of Iqaluit the only available option is to borrow a large amount of money, then pay it back over a long period of time. This can’t happen unless ratepayers — those people and businesses who pay property taxes — approve the borrowing in a special vote.

The city learned how hard this can be back in 2006. That fall, ratepayers rejected, by a big margin, a proposal that would have seen the city borrow up to $6 million for a new city hall. In the same vote, they also rejected, by a narrower margin, a proposal to borrow up to $12 million for new a multi-purpose recreation centre.

So the new council has two choices. One: persuade the Government of Nunavut to get rid of the archaic legal provision that gives ratepayers the power to veto decisions that affect all residents, whether or not they’re property-owners. This not likely to happen any time soon.

Two: develop a transparent plan, coupled with a clear communications strategy, aimed at persuading ratepayers that it’s in their interest to have the city borrow money to build a new recreation centre and a new city hall. In the last election campaign, no council candidates offered any suggestions on how to do this.

As for a new city hall, when the new council discovers what it’s like to sit for several hours inside the crampled, airless sweat-box that now serves as a council chamber, they’ll learn soon why Iqaluit needsa new city hall. That will be reinforced when they discover how much the city pays each year in office space leases to accommodate employees for whom there’s no room inside the city’s old building.

On the planning front, it’s likely that the new council will see a big new general plan and zoning bylaw put before them early next year. This is the bylaw that sets out which blocks of land may be developed and what shall and shall not be built on them.

Draft plans circulated earlier this year would see a big expansion of the Lake subdivision along the Road to Nowhere, development of five new blocks of land between the AWG arena and Apex, and more development between Tundra Ridge and Tundra Valley.

When the time comes, we hope councillors opt for high-density development that makes efficient use of water-sewer lines and other expensive utilities, but at the same time sets aside sufficient space for playgrounds and green spaces.

We also hope city council makes it easier for people to run small businesses in neighbourhoods that are primarily residential, including unobtrusive home-based businesses. The growth of the community will likely create more opportunities for small service-oriented businesses. The city should not stifle this kind of economic development by imposing unnecessary regulations.

But if they are in a mood to regulate, city council would do well to consider the hiring of a qualified building inspector and the passage of a building inspection bylaw. Those who buy or lease properties should have some assurance that they’re not paying good money for a fancy facade that masks a shoddy, substandard building.

Last, city council should take a long hard look at their use of in camera sessions. There are only two justifiable reasons for holding secret discussions behind closed doors: matters that affect the privacy of employees and matters that involve the discussion of legal issues related to cases before the courts.

All other matters, even if they’re sensitive or embarrassing, should be dealt with in public. This, by the way, ought to include the value of contract bids and proposals submitted by private contractors. If any bylaw amendments are required to make this happen, then pass them.

This fall’s election campaign gave numerous candidates a chance to indulge in much petty griping and shallow commentary about how the city should do its work.

Within a year or so, we’ll find out if this new group’s actually up to the task. JB

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