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Iqaluit control of social services provides accountability

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

I read Jim Bell’s editorial of June 4 regarding the health board’s decision to deliver social services programs in Iqaluit and my initial reaction was that, somewhere along the line, the department must have failed him or someone he is close to. What else would push this generally balanced editorial writer to suggest that anything was better than letting the local municipal government continue to provide social services in this community?

Apparently, Mr. Bell arrived at these conclusions from having read a report, commissioned last spring by the municipal council, that outlined a number of problems facing the department. The local council had the benefit of reading that report soon after it was completed last summer and after careful consideration decided to support the continued delivery of the services by the municipality.

Whatever problems associated with local service identified in the 10-month-old report were being dealt with and it is very disappointing to think that Mr. Bell has taken the bait and ironic to think that our own report is being used against us.

It reminds me of those who favour the dissolution of the local council in favour of a municipal administrator. Where do we stop? Would we advocate that Ottawa simply appoint provincial and territorial administrators and reduce the number of elections to one — a single federal election?

Last spring, a delegation from the Health and Social Services Board came to a committee of Town Council telling us that a new contract needed to be negotiated — one that saw a reduction in the budget of over 30 per cent, from $1.468 million to $1.1 million. The rationale from the delegation was that was all the Baffin Regional Health and Social Services Board had budgeted for the year. They provided little in the way of recommendations as to how this might be done.

Other councillors and myself became concerned how such a shortfall could be absorbed by the municipality, especially when some of the programs the department provides are legislated — they must be provided, regardless of how much money there is. The municipality had in the past covered the shortfall in the budget for these programs, but a reduction of an additional 30 per cent would mean that local ratepayers might end up footing a large unanticipated bill — something I was unwilling to support.

The report was commissioned to get a clearer picture of what we were dealing with.

The report was enlightening and clearly indicated that the status quo could not continue. Uncertainty surrounding the negotiations had left the department with a series of acting directors and very low morale. Town Council had a choice and voted to continue to deliver the services.

Despite the unresolved budget issues, I voted in favour of continued municipal involvement because of the need for local accountability. Moving the delivery back to the Health Board reduces that accountability. Health Board representatives are not elected but appointed by the minister of health so it is difficult for the community to exert any real influence over how they vote.

The Legislative Assembly has agreed that local accountability is important and is promoting community empowerment. The dissolution of regional health boards within the year is now a legislated fact.

In less than one year, the delivery of local social services will undergo another transformation — yet it will be one that I as a local representative will not have any control over. One thing is for certain, there will be 30 per cent fewer dollars.

This is really the issue. Neither the health board nor the Department of Health had enough money to deliver the program. The municipal government would not let them out of their contractual obligation to pay the municipality $1,468 million, so they cancelled the contract.

Municipal governments play an important function in our democracy and this is being eroded because we do not agree with the present decision of the Baffin regional health board to cancel the contract they had with the Municipality. I do not think it is very responsible for Mr. Bell to advocate this uncertain future for the delivery of the programs, one with little local accountability.

Matthew Spence
Iqaluit Town Councillor

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