Some Cambridge Bay residents are insisting on a byelection to determine the community’s next mayor, and Angulalik Pedersen, whom five hamlet councillors appointed to the mayor’s seat on Nov. 4, says he’s not ruling out that possibility, if there’s enough weight behind the outcry.
There’s been a recent firestorm of social media comments from frustrated individuals and talk of a petition circulating to force a byelection.
Pedersen said he doesn’t pay much attention to Facebook but he has heard around town that some people are “not happy” with council’s decisions on leadership, even though the hamlet consulted with the chief electoral officer to ensure compliance with the Nunavut Elections Act. Despite talk of a petition, nothing has been presented to council yet and there’s been no delegation making any formal complaints, the mayor noted on Wednesday.
If such a petition were to materialize, Pedersen said he would follow direction from council.
“I’m not making any decisions on my own,” he said, adding that a community meeting would be a possibility if a “strong” petition were to land in front of council.
“I’d want to sit down with those people and others and say, ‘Look, what can we do here? There’s steps we can take and things we can do.’ If a byelection is what they’re requesting, that’s what I’ll go to council (with) and say, ‘This number of people showed up, this is what they wanted. What’s your choice?’”
Pedersen, who has served on council since late 2018 and was deputy mayor, accepted the mayor’s role after former municipal leader Pamela Gross resigned to become a candidate in the October territorial election, where she won the seat to become Cambridge Bay’s MLA.
A municipal byelection to choose her successor would have meant waiting until late February to have the next mayor-elect sworn in.
However, that delay would have been worthwhile, some residents argue, including Keith Peterson who has previously served as Cambridge Bay mayor and MLA, who commented on the issue via Facebook.
“This current community issue where the hamlet council convened a special meeting two days after former mayor Pam Gross resigned, to ‘appoint’ a new mayor, was rather hasty in my opinion. There were two years left in the former mayor’s four-year term. Two years, not six-months,” Peterson wrote. “The voters of Cambridge Bay should have been given the choice to nominate and elect their new mayor. I suspect that the lawmakers expected hamlet councils to apply the rules wisely and fairly. In other words, just because the law gives them the authority to appoint a mayor with two years remaining in the original term, it doesn’t mean they should. Otherwise why include the option to hold a byelection?”
Peterson called upon the mayor to host a townhall meeting to explain the rationale behind council’s decisions.
There has been considerable turnover within hamlet council since the last municipal elections in October 2018. With the first few resignations, the remaining councillors went down the list of candidates from the last election, asking those individuals to fill vacant seats, although some declined the offer. After the list was exhausted and more councillors resigned, the hamlet advertised publicly for interested individuals to join council. The first round of advertising elicited three responses. The advertisement went up again recently to fill one current vacancy on council.
That process follows the rules set out under the Nunavut Elections Act, and there’s no limit on the number of appointees as members of council under the act, according to chief electoral officer Dustin Fredlund.
Another critique of the hamlet has been that too few Inuit are hired, but 82 per cent of hamlet staff are Inuit, according to chief administrative officer Marla Limousin.
While Pedersen is happy with that percentage, he said the hamlet can do better, particularly at the management level.
“We are doing training on the job to move staff up in those positions,” he said, acknowledging that there’s competition among employers for staff who possess skills and certification.
Other Cambridge Bay residents pointed out that council minutes from recent meetings were not available online. Pedersen replied that those minutes are now publicly available.
The mayor said his priorities include making improvements to mental health services in the community, particularly in light of the effects of Covid-19.
“It’s been a rough couple of years,” he said, noting that he’d like to see a role model program established for young residents and the youth centre open more often.
“I want to put in place something where the youth can talk to each other and others when they need it, and not just digitally,” he said.
He added that he wants to strengthen the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council and the Mayor’s Elders Advisory Council, which Gross had worked to promote, and he’s aiming to upgrade housing and airport infrastructure.