The ups and downs of being mayor; some Nunavut leaders reach the end of the road

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Some familiar faces won’t be returning as mayor when municipal elections are held on Oct. 28.

Joanni Sallerina in Gjoa Haven, Ryan Nivingalok in Kugluktuk and Celestino Uyarak in Iglulik are among the incumbents who are not seeking a return to the top municipal office.

Gjoa Haven Mayor Joanni Sallerina: “I can’t make the whole community happy but if I make one person happy a day then I’ve done my duty.” photo courtey of Joanni Sallerina

Sallerina, a school teacher who served seven years as community leader over two terms, said he simply doesn’t have enough time to devote to the position anymore.

There are too many extracurricular activities that he has to tend to after school to allow him to maintain the part-time mayor’s role, he said.

“The community needs to be represented well,” said Sallerina. “I didn’t feel comfortable in sending somebody else to do my job so I decided not to rerun.

“Right now I’m going to be focusing on the students, our future leaders.”

As he reflects on his tenure, he said he’s most proud of having achieved more housing, the community is overcoming its financial deficit and there are better mental health supports, although that still remains one of the biggest issues in Gjoa Haven, he said.

“We have a lot of people who need (mental health counselling) and we don’t have the services in the community.”

As a piece of general advice, he said it’s crucial for the next mayor to develop a strong understanding of municipal and territorial governance and to maintain strong communication with the chief administrative officer.

He also shared part of his philosophy on how he struck a balance over the past several years.

“I always say to myself, I can’t make the whole community happy but if I make one person happy a day then I’ve done my duty,” he said.

Focus on family and health

Kugluktuk Mayor Ryan Nivingalok: “It’s been tough, a struggle. Some days are long, yes. It has its ups and downs. It has its rewards and challenges.”
photo courtesy of Ryan Nivingalok

In Kugluktuk, Nivingalok said he’s opted not to pursue a third term in office for personal reasons.

“I’ve got to take care of my health… I’m ready to focus on my family and my health,” he said, adding that he has five children at home.

Nivingalok held down the mayor’s responsibilities while working for the Kugluktuk Housing Association.

“It’s been tough, a struggle. Some days are long, yes,” he said. “It has its ups and downs. It has its rewards and challenges.”

Among the rewards have been replacing the hamlet’s mobile equipment, getting a quarry running, acquiring new housing and the numerous benefits from the now concluded Moving Forward Together program, he said. The community also has a new diesel power plant with solar power capacity.

However, there has been considerable turmoil over the past several months since Kugluktuk residents voted to remove alcohol restrictions. The crime rate has risen, the police have been accused of not being responsive and there have been at least three recent alcohol-related deaths.

“It’s stressful. I don’t want to comment on that. It’s a difficult one,” said Nivingalok.

One of the projects that Nivingalok and his council have been doggedly pursuing for years is the establishment of a long-term care centre. Although there was nothing announced officially, he hinted that some news may be coming soon.

‘The job is never finished’

In Iglulik, Uyarak will not appear on the ballot for mayor, but he is seeking a council seat.

He said he and his staff set out to improve the hamlet’s finances while also improving pay and benefits for municipal employees and he feels that’s been accomplished.

“We did that,” he said, adding that the water reservoir and sewage lagoon have been overhauled, corresponding training has been provided, the financial department is also upgrading and an ambulance has been brought into Iglulik for the first time.

Without being prompted, the mayor disclosed what he considers to be his failures: he was unable to revive the Rockin’ Walrus Festival, he couldn’t get the public radio station fully functioning and his hopes for improvements to search and rescue weren’t realized.

“But the job is never finished,” he said. “Keep in mind that no matter what you try to do best you don’t satisfy everyone. That’s part of being in politics.”

As mayor, Uyarak travels to represent the community and said he meets daily with the senior administrative officer (SAO), including weekends, to strategize. A former SAO, assistant, SAO and recreation staff member, he, like most mayors, frequently gets stopped in the streets and takes phone calls at home at all hours from people with urgent concerns.

“You have to be open to everyone. If you cannot answer right away, you (look) into it and get back to the individual if you can,” he said. “You don’t get too excited. You don’t get too low. You try not to show it.”