When bad weather comes to the Kivalliq, all eyes go to Facebook, and all ears the local radio, to see which facilities will be shut down and which won’t.
Sometimes, those decisions seem to come later than many would like, spurring confusion and frantic planning when one part of town is closed but another one isn’t.
David Kakuktinniq Jr. has seen that story play out several times in recent history and has taken to social media to try to push for a new system of making bad-weather shutdown calls.
“When conditions are questionable, people wait and wait and wait to hear an update from either the hamlet or GN (Government of Nunavut),” said Kakuktinniq Jr. “A lot of the time on those questionable days, people are late. It would be nice to know whether they’re open or closed.”
He’s found support on social media from people who have also been agitated about the decision-making process.
“The people who are making the decisions, they drive a vehicle that’s paid for,” said Kakuktinniq Jr. “They don’t pay for operation or repair costs. Then you have your typical working class who they might have a family to look after and they have to take care of finding childcare on days that schools are closed but hamlet and GN are open, and you have people walking across (town) from end to end four times a day to get to and from work, morning and afternoon in 60 below or colder. Those people are affected the most and that’s who I’m speaking out for.”
The GN uses a directive, not a policy, to determine when weather should shut down operations, stated Arijana Haramincic, assistant deputy minister of Human Resources, in an email. The following factors help inform that decision: visibility less than 200 metres; constant wind speed exceeding 60 kilometres per hour; a wind chill index of -50 C or greater; status of road clearing and municipal decisions to remove road clearing machinery from roadways; and availability of taxi or other publicly available transportation services in the community. If the municipal corporation declares its road closed, that will trigger a community-wide closure for the GN as well.
“The directive doesn’t vary by community,” stated Haramincic. “Closures will be based on the weather in the community and not the region as a whole. The decision to close is determined each day.”
Asked to comment on the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet’s policy for weather shutdowns, senior administrative officer Darren Flynn replied in email that he was not prepared to discuss that as of Feb. 22, as he would be discussing it with council first. He offered to discuss it afterward.
Leonie Pameolik, senior administrative officer for the Hamlet of Coral Harbour, told Kivalliq News that when bad weather hits the community, she discusses it with the mayor and the town uses a weather closure policy similar to the GN’s.
Coral Harbour had closed its hamlet office during the cold weather. Pameolik said many office staff live on the other side of town and since school was closed, had their children at home with no sitter.
“All these things we have to look at too when it’s too cold,” she said.
“In Coral, even if it’s extreme cold, GN won’t close, unless hamlet shuts down municipal services.”
She added that if the hamlet decides to stay open, employees may take leave for safety and transportation reasons. The GN also allows staff to use their leave if they fear the weather conditions.
To eliminate confusion or inconsistent decisions, Kakuktinniq Jr. thinks an automated points system should be implemented, one that leaves no subjectivity at play.
He suggested a handful of criteria similar to what is used now could be accompanied by points depending on how severe each factor is. So, the colder it is, the more points that would count for, and the faster the wind, the more points that adds up to, etc.
“Then they could use it as a formula where if you get to X amount of points, it’s an automatic shutdown, and it wouldn’t be affected by who’s in charge like right now,” said Kakuktinniq Jr. “Because whatever is going on right now, people are not happy.”
Some commenters online support closures, while others point out how busy the stores are despite the ‘severe weather’ shutting down office work.
“People need to eat,” said Kakuktinniq Jr. when asked about that criticism of shutdowns. “That’s why they go to the store. Not everyone stocks up on groceries for the next day.”