Nunavut mayors strategize on how to meet growing needs
"We share many of the same struggles, but there are also many opportunities"
It was a long trip for many mayors and senior administrative officers to attend their only face-to-face gathering of the year.
But municipal officials from 17 Nunavut communities travelled for up to three days across the territory, each way, to attend the annual general meeting of the Nunavut Association of Municipalities last week in Cambridge Bay.
“It’s important that the mayors and the SAOs have a chance to meet every year,” Madeleine Redfern, the mayor of Iqaluit and the association’s president, told Nunatsiaq News as she began her two-day trip back to Iqaluit from the Kitikmeot hub. “We share many of the same struggles, but there are also many opportunities.”
Among those opportunities: NAM is looking at more advocacy work and lobbying with MLAs and future candidates in the 2019 federal election, which must take place on or before Oct. 21.
“We don’t see an awful lot of the co-ordination or an organization like NAM developing position papers,” Redfern said.
But that’s likely to change, as NAM takes on a more active role to make sure municipal needs are part of government planning and candidates’ platforms.
As always, money remained among the top issues discussed around the NAM table and with visiting officials from the Government of Nunavut.
The challenge? The historical funding amounts for hamlets have remained the same as communities grow, Redfern said.
“We need to make sure there are adequate water services,” Redfern said. “Communities have also been asking for new equipment, to extend their runways, but they don’t have money and they don’t have that much influence.”
Their gathering in Cambridge Bay clarified the need for more integrated planning between the various levels of government to avoid disconnects in how and where money is spent, she said.
“When they looked to building CHARS [Canadian High Arctic Research Station] in Cambridge Bay, they had not realized there was inadequate firefighting service, so they did buy Cambridge Bay a new fire truck and a water truck—but there was no garage,” Redfern said.
In Iqaluit, Redfern could recall scrambling to organize municipal services to handle the expansion of Nunavut Arctic College and construction of the new airport.
But mayors and SAOs are used to dealing with such situations, she said: “They are rather pragmatic. They recognize that there is a limited amount of funding.”
As has been the case at the individual mayors’ meetings, which took place earlier this autumn in Nunavut’s three regions, the mayors and SAOs also called for more mental health services.
“The needs are so widespread that they would like to see regional, and wherever possible local, services,” she said, adding that a lack of housing often hampers service provision, despite the prevalence of vacant government units in communities.
NAM discussions also featured a presentation by the Hamlet of Pangnirtung about its call for improved mental health services earlier this year, after 12 people nearly died in the community of about 1,500 by attempted suicide within a period of roughly two weeks in February.
The community’s hamlet councillors knew they had to do something, so they set up programs for youth and employed elders as addictions counsellors, and the GN sent in mental health workers.
That helped the “super crisis” subside, but the urgent crisis continued in the community and the hamlet council wrote four GN departments—Justice, Economic Development and Transportation, Health and Finance—seeking more help.
In Cambridge Bay, all municipalities also said they need more RCMP officers, Redfern said.
Many of communities also continue to be wary about the legalization of marijuana, she said.
“The mayors would be like to consulted as the GN goes forward with opening cannabis outlets next year,” Redfern said. “There is recognition that it is the law and people can order it from online.”
During the NAM meeting, the City of Iqaluit and the Hamlet of Kugluktuk each provided information about their cannabis bylaws.