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Chamber begins breakfast speaker series

City of Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, seated with new Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce president Matthew Clark, addresses an early-morning crowd of roughly 40 at the first monthly Breakfast Networking Speaker Series held at the Hotel Arctic April 26. - Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

A wide range of early-rising Iqalungmiut attended a new monthly morning speakers' series to hear Mayor Madeleine Redfern speak on the topic of Iqaluit Today and the Opportunities in Our Future.

The breakfast event, put on by the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce, signals a revived organization ready to bring the community together.

Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director Chris West said the umbrella organization – Iqaluit's chamber is a member – is excited at the prospect of renewed activity.

"The chamber hasn't been very active at all," he said, adding "it's great for the community."

The assembled crowd of roughly 40 people included those from many walks of life, not just the business sector, and new president Matthew Clark says the $10 event is open to any resident interested in their community.

Clark, who is general manager of Arctic Co-operatives Limited, was previously vice-president of the Inuvik Chamber of Commerce.

"In Inuvik, we held breakfast networking meetings, which worked very well. I felt they would work well here in Iqaluit, and our board agreed," he said.

To those assembled, he noted: "The Iqaluit chamber decided we needed to actually do something for Iqaluit businesses."

Redfern spoke on a wide range of topics – current number of business licences (300), how many employees that might represent (about 1000), the declining state of city infrastructure assets, the dire need for housing, land clean-up, and what she called transformational investment, such as communication infrastructure in Nunavut and a university in the city.

During the question and answer period, one attendee noted that unlike cities in the south, Iqaluit's infrastructure has one-fifth of the average life expectancy, and that a strategic plan was needed rather than the repeated temporary fixes.

Redfern agreed and said the city did an asset inventory, "which included looking at the age, condition and the requirement for either maintenance and replacement and without a doubt we're looking at hundreds of millions of dollars."

The federal government, she said, has money available for climate change infrastructure, and adaptation and mitigation, to help the city deal with specific issues.

"The problem is that even on the 75 cent to 25 cent ratio, the city's tapped out. We have very little money left in our gas tax fund or our block funding to be able to access that on our own. The GN, for this year, has no new municipal infrastructure funding," said Redfern.

Even new infrastructure projects – like the airport and the port – put more stress on the existing infrastructure.

"Which is our services. It puts stress on out booster stations, treatment plant, our pipes, our roads. It's very vulnerable," said Redfern. "And we can't raise taxes. With the high cost of living, we're tapped out as residents."

To those complaining about the money spent on the new Iqaluit Aquatic Centre, a rebuttal came from Arctic Infrastructure Limited Partnership chief executive officer John Wood, who oversees the airport project.

"The most frustrating thing for me is when I see people criticize facilities, as if they don't deserve them," said Wood, who is from London, England and has lived in the city for four years. "The one that resonates with me is the aquatic centre. On a personal level, I'm not going to be the highest user. But it's a facility and the city (residents) deserve it. But they also deserve good sanitation, good infrastructure, good schools, good housing. So I get a little bit frustrated when people express, either on the internet or in public, 'That was a waste of money.'"

Clark was pleased with the turnout.

"And we were very happy with the mayor's address," he said following the event. "She had taken the time to really focus her remarks on business interest."

He also said the chamber hopes to grow membership from its current 23 members over the next two years, "to represent more local businesses."

The next breakfast event is scheduled for May 25. Economic Development and Transportation deputy minister Sherri Rowe will address Nunavut Today and the Opportunities in Our Future.