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'Tapped out' city is sign of bigger problems

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern was the first guest speaker for a breakfast meeting series organized by a reborn Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce last month.She told attendees about the city's woes finding the money to fund infrastructure repairs, which are such a burden on the city that it has had a hard time considering the creation of new infrastructure. But a growing population demands housing development, which requires sewage and water pipes. Apart from September 2016 funding for much-needed wastewater treatment, it's a cost the city has to bear.

Compared to the other communities, Iqaluit is blessed with a solid base of people with decent incomes. This fact leaves Iqaluit ratepayers holding the bag for infrastructure that supports all Baffin communities. The city, for example, is responsible for the roads that will lead to the airport set to open in August. Washrooms and food beyond security are among the perks of the new airport, but the water and sewer infrastructure for those are paid for by the city. Who decided that was fair?

Anyone in the city knows well the condition of the underground infrastructure, as city workers are always digging somewhere to replace pipes that are long past their expiry date. Redfern said the city would need hundreds of millions of dollars to get out of the business of temporary fixes.

Every hamlet faces similar problems. The federal and territorial governments took an important step this week in announcing $230 million to help ease some of them.

But the infrastructure funding deficit is only a symptom of a bigger problem: the economy on Baffin Island is too dependent on government and one large company, Baffinland. We are told about 100 businesses in Iqaluit – Redfern says the city has 300 licensed businesses in total – are contractors for Baffinland, and the trickle-down from the mine's activity means work for a lot of Baffin Island's workers.

But when Baffinland isn't producing, we also see the lack of trickle-down.

The positive effects of a busy mine are seen in Baker Lake, where Agnico Eagle has taken a depressed community and turned it into a thriving one.

Work begets work begets work.

A mine needs housing, services, groceries, airlines, etc. It's hard to quantify the number of people supported by such a corporation but it's easy to see the quality of life that comes from having it in the community and region.

And mine infrastructure begets other infrastructure. Depending on the mine, the business may need new or upgraded roads, airports and seaports. And those need workers to build and maintain them.

Governments often see infrastructure as the way to stimulate the economy, and it can certainly be an effective approach. Compared to local infrastructure, the feds are spending far more – billions – on Arctic/offshore patrol ships. That no doubt serves a purpose in maintaining Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic, but so does healthy and happy communities.

For years to come, the territory will need massive support to even approach the level of infrastructure wealth enjoyed by southern businesses and communities.

The federal government and southern taxpayers must understand the overwhelming infrastructure needs of the North, and if Canada is truly a nation from coast to coast to coast, it is unacceptable that Northern communities exist in Third World conditions.