Bell’s ‘polarizing’ approach could only go so far

Iqaluit needs a unifier, after three years of the politics of division

Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell speaks during a federal announcement in April, 2022. (File photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Corey Larocque

Iqalummiut should hope for a unifier — instead of a divider — when the city picks a replacement for Mayor Kenny Bell, who resigned his post via Twitter on Tuesday.

In a 2020 interview marking the end of his first year in office, Bell almost bragged about being “a polarizing individual.” At that point, a year into the Kenny Bell era, we had no idea how apt that description was.

Back then, he said he had “talked a lot of smack” in 2019 when he was running for mayor. By 2020, he knew all eyes were on him to see if he could deliver.

Bell’s three years as mayor were a roller-coaster ride. He leaves behind a legacy of some accomplishments, but his combative nature resulted in missed opportunities that a more conciliatory leader might have cashed in on.

During his tenure, there were dizzying highs, including the securing of $214 million in federal funding to improve the city’s water infrastructure.

And there were dismal lows which, of course, included the two-month water emergency in 2021 caused by the contamination of the city’s water supply by diesel fuel.

He tangled with journalists who covered city hall, perhaps in a bid to deflect from the problems at hand.

At one point, he froze out some Nunatsiaq News journalists, vowing not to talk to them. (It’s a reminder of the adage never to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.)

On Oct. 15, 2021 — while citizens of his city were lining up for bottled water handouts because they couldn’t drink their own tap water — Bell lambasted Nunatsiaq News over the criticism its readers hurled at him and at city hall.

In classic shoot-the-messenger fashion, Bell ripped the paper over the many reader comments that called for both him and chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma to resign or be fired over the tainted water mess.

Bell said he, as a politician, was fair game, but criticizing staff was off-limits.

He slammed the comments section, calling it a “vile cesspit of nonsense” — the kind of colourful phrase that made us want to offer him a job.

His coup de grace — or coup de Northmart — was that time in April when Bell punched a guy in front of the grocery store.

On a Friday afternoon, His Worship ducked into the store to do some shopping, only to be confronted by a gentleman who professed his desire to fight the mayor. The man’s first swing struck the mayor around the shoulder, according to Bell’s account of it on Facebook.

Next thing ya know, His Worship “popped him in the jaw with a left.”

In the most colourful mayoral turn of phrase since “vile cesspit,” Bell said the man’s knees buckled, “he did the stanky leg” and ran away.

We know all this because Bell ran home and told the world about it … on Facebook, then seemed surprised that news websites across the North lit up with the retelling of that bizarre incident.

Trust me, Your Worship, when the mayor of a capital city anywhere in the world gets in a scrap at the grocery store, it’s gonna be a headline.

Over the past two years, Nunatsiaq News tried hard and sincerely to mend fences with Bell. There’s never going to be a chummy relationship between a mayor and the journalists who cover him. Nor should there be. But it should be cordial and professional. We did our part.

We told Bell several times his dismissal of the local media was a disservice to our readers and his constituents. It fell on deaf ears.

Since 2016, the world has witnessed a willingness to embrace the politics of division. In the United States, in federal and provincial politics in Canada, and at the municipal level in Iqaluit.

As alluring as it is to elect a take-no-prisoners leader, their approach gets old fast.

For the record, Nunatsiaq News looks forward to a professional relationship with whoever fills Bell’s shoes. It will benefit our readers. It will benefit Iqalummiut.

The door is open. If you’re open-minded and fair, you’ll find it is neither vile, nor a cesspit, nor nonsense.


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(33) Comments:

  1. Posted by Binky the Doormat on

    Nice work Corey, I bet you’ve had a lot of that at the tip of your mind for sometime.

    Bell is not entirely wrong about the comments sections *at times.* Of course for him any criticism was vile, no matter how accurate or fair.

    Come to think of it, isn’t this why you refused to allow comments on Aluki’s most recent op-ed? (your readers would love to know why you set this precedent, will you fill us in?).

    Indeed, we all knew what Bell would likely bring to the position, his reputation preceded him. Still, in the end it does as you say when it “gets old fast”

    • Posted by Wack on

      Sounds like Corey just doesn’t like the dude, must have a grudge or something, nunatsiaq news probably won’t stop bell articles for awhile

      • Posted by Binky the Doormat on

        I don’t know for certain but Corey strikes me as a reasonable person, even when I disagree with him. On the other hand we know the former mayor could be combatative out of habit, insecurity and sport. I suspect most of the animus was driven by the latter, but again, who knows.

    • Posted by How it looks from here on

      Don’t put the editor on too high a pedestal Mr. Binky. As you’ve pointed out he makes arbitrary decisions in protecting ‘certain’ fragile egos, which are given priority over the public good. This is shameful.

  2. Posted by Eee election please! on

    I will remember Mayor Bell as the one who hid water quality data from Iqalummiut (the one who called the public crazy for thinking there was fuel in our water); the one who is taxing churches and volunteer-run societies; and the one who forced vaccine mandates on our young children without any justification…and now the one that wanted to censor any negative comments/opinions about him and the City. There were some good things he did but it’s enough harm from one mayor (and council) I think. Thanks for your time but will be happy to see someone new in this role. Is it not possible to hold an election sooner than next fall given that the majority of the council have now left and are replaced by people who didn’t get a decent number of votes and by people who were appointed by the council themselves…the council is no longer representative of Iqalummiut so please lets have an election!

    • Posted by I agree but… on

      I agree with you but that comment you made “the one who forced vaccine mandates on our young children without any justification” is incorrect.

      But it brings up an interesting thing about Bell: even if you were on his side about something, he still did it wrong. I liked it at first that he and council were very pro-vaccine. I think it was the right call and it was good to see people in a position of leadership to say over and over that vaccines are good, because misinformation about the vaccine are rampant in Nunavut.

      But the way he acted and the things he said on Facebook and Twitter regarding vaccines were combative and gave ammunition to anti-vaxxers (notably the son of a very popular anti-vax politician). He was in a position to speak for the majority of us who trust the vaccine is safe and that mandates (at the time) were probably the right thing to do (every other jurisdiction was doing it). The city mandates lasted a little longer than most places, but given the low vaccine uptake and lack of health care in Nunavut, that wasn’t a bad decision (even though we were all tired of mandates at the time). Bell spoke for us our elected official and did so by calling anti-vax people morons retweeting pro-vax tweets and articles to antagonize and alienate a sizable chunk of his electorate. I was of the opinion that some anti-vaxxers are often in the wrong and should just STFU, but Bell didn’t improve public discourse at all on the issue (in fact he made it worse).

    • Posted by John K on

      Are we actually taxing churches now?

      That’s awesome!

  3. Posted by Yeaok on

    Anyways, everyone here is only for the bad! So what did he do good? Can you all say what he did good for the so called city? Or just always look for the bad? Because that’s all you can do? I challenge everyone who is a non supporter to run and do better! As for fighting, yea ok, it happens everywhere, I know if someone comes at me I’m going to defend myself at any cost! But cause I’m a official, I should get beat up. Ok. I’m so disappointed in the city people for getting like this! I’m ashamed of being apart of you. How we gonna grow when we always negative? Ask for an apology? As for a lot of us who thinks he did good, thank you Kenny! Keep growing!

    • Posted by JW Paul Murphy on

      Still a hamlet.

  4. Posted by How much does the Ex-Mayor owe us tax payers? on

    I would like to have every penny accounted for the dollars which were spent for travel and related expenses for his trip to Iceland. Since he obviously did not work, his salary should be recovered during his pleasure trip to Iceland. Thank goodness we will now be spared the drama of the ex-mayor.

    • Posted by Yeaok on

      Did you not read the other arctical? It clearly states that yes the city paid but he will reimburse the whole thing?

      • Posted by I have read it on

        No where in the article does it mention the salary he collected during his pleasure trip. He should not be paid my tax dollars for not working!

      • Posted by Not enough on

        Repaying what he took inappropriately is not enough.

        If someone steals your car and gets caught, would you be happy with them simply returning the keys and calling it even?

        He should absolutely pay this money back, but that’s not enough for forgiveness in my books.

  5. Posted by Personal on

    It sounds like NN was personally offended by Bell. His perception of the NN comments section was spot on. Plenty of people have had and will continue to have negative comments, yet Bell was democratically elected.
    Election turn outs are notoriously low and then people attack whomever was elected. At least Bell spoke his mind and didn’t bow down to those who think too much of themselves.
    How is that treatment centre coming along?

  6. Posted by Umingmak on

    Bell was a black eye on Iqaluit, and on Nunavut as a whole. He took every criticism of the city personally, and lashed out at anyone who dared to question anything he ever said or did. His resignation is a good thing for Iqaluit.

    • Posted by DonewithBell on

      Kenny Bell did not have thick skin. Instead he had a fragile ego. Data regarding drinking water belonged to the people of Iqaluit. He blocked the people of Iqaluit from viewing and analyzing that data when water is the very essence of the communities’ wellbeing and welfare – this is unethical. He had no business ever running for mayor nor actively serving in the role as Mayor. He does not understand civil discourse, good governance, accountability nor democracy. He ran a shit show and I’m very glad to see that the show is over!

  7. Posted by real funny on

    So NN, you are accusing the Mayor of being polarizing and you may be CORRECT. That approach works nowhere including YOUR comments section. It enables Hate and Racism to go unchecked but you do NOTHING about it. Why is that?

    The Mayor finally did the right thing and resigned, good on him, about time!!! NN when are you going to do the right thing with your very polarizing comments section???

    FYI, there is nothing wrong with holding people accountable through professional journalism but who holds you responsible for allowing hate and racism on your site.

    • Posted by iThink on

      I notice racism from time to time, and think that could be monitored a little better. On the other hand, I am more concerned with the restriction of open speech and comments, which seems to necessitate the allowance of unsavory comments. It is a difficult line to walk.

  8. Posted by 868 on

    Y’all living in crack town lol zombies walking all over

    • Posted by hermann kliest on

      It takes a zombie to know one eh? hey 868 ???

  9. Posted by Alex on

    I can’t say I was a big fan of Kenny Bell, but I know Nunatsiaq is not near perfect and this article is making Kenny Bell resignation about itself……lol Nunatsiaq is nothing but the north’s version of TMZ…doubt this will make it out there because they censor… they complain about Kenny shutting them out, they’ll shut me out

  10. Posted by I don’t suppose on

    Gee, I wonder if click-bait headlines and editorials written by people who live in Ottawa and who have no clue what it’s like to actually live in Iqaluit have anything to do with that strained relationship?

  11. Posted by Collaboration on

    Polarizing? Look how his resignation is bringing us all together in your comments section?

    The unifier we needed!!

  12. Posted by Lore on

    Does the editor of Nunatsiaq News have a degree in journalism from a University ? I bet not. I see nothing but hate and racism in this article very unprofessional.

    • Posted by flo on

      wait, where is the racism in this article?

    • Posted by Umingmak on

      Racism? Are you joking?

      1) Nothing was said about race.
      2) Bell is white.

      • Posted by Confused reader on

        Bell is white, so… ? What’s your point?

  13. Posted by Amusing article on

    This article had me laughing. Although I do find the malicious “your Highness” to be a bit unprofessional.

    • Posted by Thats what you call a mayor on

      Your Worship was Bell’s official title. That’s a Mayor’s title.

      I definitely detected a hint of sarcasm though, if not a truckload.

      • Posted by Amusing Article on

        Wow, I didn’t realize that was the official term one would use. The salt load in that truck could keep our roads ice-free for the whole winter!

    • Posted by Good Zingers on

      Your Worship is the actual title for a mayor so, the sarcasm is both plausibly deniable, yet practically undeniable.

  14. Posted by 867 on

    Reminds me of the downfall of another well-known former US president who was very active on Twitter and would refuse to talk to the media… hmm…

  15. Posted by Snapfish on

    Wow, Kenny Bell and now Liz Truss resign in the same week!

Comments are closed.