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Housing shortage and airline issues tackled during Nunavut municipal conference

Many issues facing the municipalities were discussed by mayors and SAOs gathered for the conference
Municipal leaders from across the territory gathered at the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre in Iqaluit Nov. 27-30 for the Nunavut Association of Municipalities annual general meeting. Kira Wronska Dorward/NNSL photo

Newly-elected and acclaimed municipal leaders, many serving their first terms, came together in Iqaluit Nov. 27-30 to better understand their roles and to tackle a wide array of issues at the Nunavut Association of Municipalities annual general meeting.

“You are the leaders, and we need your help,” said Community and Government Services Minister David Joanasie in his welcoming address alongside Premier P.J. Akeeagok. “We are not 25 years old (as a territory), and we have learned a lot… we still have a lot of catching up to do and are lacking in some things… Many years, the communities did not receive anything. It is hurtful to hear things like that because they have the same needs as others.”

Akeeagok added, “We always tell that to the federal government: you didn’t give enough money to Nunavut. We’re always mentioning the (infrastructure) deficit to the MP (Lori Idlout) and the federal government, and now we are looking to private companies who can provide infrastructure.”

Much discussion took place on municipal issues such as critical development for transportation infrastructure, problems with airlines and the housing crisis over the course of the four-day event, titled “The Northern Lights,” hosted at the Aqsarniit Hotel and Conference Centre.

Chris MacPherson, a retired SAO with experience working in numerous locations in Canada and for the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, was flown in as a consultant to speak on professional development with the mayors and SAOs.

He identified what he found to be the main areas for improvement among his dealings with community leaders, particularly, “finding people, keeping people, especially in small communities. It’s clear everyone wants more housing, but not around them, which is an issue. Also the perception that affordable housing isn’t high-end (construction), which isn’t the case.”

MacPherson also mentioned several issues such as the lack of funds to look after public assets, and media insatiability — “I guess you have to have a thick skin,” he said.

He also mentioned his presentation with Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority CEO Kim Riles about the importance of crisis management and emergency planning, as seen during wildfires in the Northwest Territories over the summer, forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate.

“The territories have to step up to provide training and help,” said MacPherson. “Sometimes it’s too much for the municipalities.”

He later said he was really struck by the enthusiasm of the assembled leaders at the conference.

“They’re very progressive and eager to learn new ways of doing things. It’s pretty enjoyable actually,” he said.

AGM organizer and NAM executive director Marla Limousin added, “For a long time, the communities weren’t communicating with each other. That all changed during Covid, when we discovered we were all experiencing the same issues. This conference is a chance for all these leaders to come together to share their problems and come up with solutions.”