Iqalungmiut don’t like the draft amendments to the City of Iqaluit’s water and sewer bylaw, the city heard at a public consultation the evening of Aug. 9.
Most objections had to do with the fact that water is a public resource, and should remain so, while the proposed changes to the bylaw do appear to veer toward privatization, even if unintentionally.
“A compilation of what everyone has said will be done and published on the city website,” Mayor Madeleine Redfern told the 40 or so citizens in attendance.
A dozen had to stand outside the council chambers due to its limited space.
“Ultimately it’s to council’s discretion as to how Bylaw 200 will be amended,” said Redfern.
Bylaw 200 governs the provision of water and sewage treatment and supply services.
In a nutshell, the city is seeking to solve a temporary problem: too strapped to service three local businesses, it wants to enable private hauling of water and sewer. But its solution, introducing licensed service providers, has raised fears of water privatization – the selling of water for profit.
“I think, fundamentally, some of the changes proposed in the bylaw do change how our city interacts with its water source,” said Bethany Scott, adding she doesn’t consider all the changes to be purely administrative.
After quoting section 65.2, which states a licensed service provider can resell water at a rate the provider deems appropriate, Scott said that change was unacceptable.
“Water is a common resource. I really don’t think we should be allowing private companies to be reselling for their own profit,” she said.
Lawyer Anne Crawford continued on that theme, also stressing the temporary nature of the problem needing to be addressed, the importance of keeping the water resource in the public realm, and having a transparent system with documents the public can access.
“I think everybody’s goal is to have a community where water resources are available, and used responsibly,” said Crawford, adding the amendments move the city into a whole new area.
“We’ve introduced a lot of complexities with contracts with various entities.”
Likening the city’s relationship to water as a monopoly under the existing bylaw, she said the proposed changes essentially cut up the municipal monopoly and hand out the pieces.
“Even though people are saying we’re not privatizing (the water), we’re using contracts, we’re using a lot of private standards … and there are risks in that. There’s risks of there becoming ownership, there’s risks of people paying less attention at the next council and the next council, and nobody’s looking.”
Crawford said, in looking at the current bylaw, she can find two or three ways to get water to the businesses needing them without threatening the public monopoly or making major changes to the bylaw.
Redfern perked up at Crawford’s suggestions.
“So from what you said, one alternative solution is that the city has its current system and that possibly the city could enter into an RFP or RFT and have that third party actually be contracted by the city to deliver water to the three business entities, or for the wastewater. Is that what you’re suggesting,” asked Redfern.
“That’s right, create an agency relationship, and you stay completely in control,” said Crawford.
Bylaw 200 in its current state reads: “No person, except those authorized by council, shall directly or indirectly engage in the provision of municipal services within the Town.”
Coun. Joanasie Akumalik asked Crawford if she had figured out what the rationale behind the amendments might be. Crawford said, “Not 100 per cent.”
Akumalik also wondered if she has considered the amendments from the point of view of traditional knowledge.
“It definitely came to my mind that the (proposed) bylaw is very oriented to ownership and property and private control, and those aren’t commonly seen as the elements in Nunavut that we try to integrate into our government,” Crawford said.
“I wondered if fundamentally these are the principles we should be basing this on.”
Other Iqalungmiut also noted they felt alternate solutions could be found to get water to businesses needing it, without rushing to approve amendments which could have lasting and unknown effects into the future.
The public consultation was not intended to deal with the many other issues brought up in relation to water, such as the Nunavut Brewing Company Ltd., the state of the city’s water supply, or how Apex is serviced.
The task force struck to address the low state of Lake Geraldine will update council and the public at the Aug. 14 council meeting.