City of Iqaluit wonders what big Northmart cheque is really worth
“We never received anything from them”
Heated discussion over the city’s budget for 2014, which took Iqaluit city council six days resolve, brought attention to a great big cheque that might not be more than an empty promise.
In April last year, Iqaluit mayor John Graham, with city councillors Terry Dobbin and Romeyn Stevenson, went to the city’s Northmart store for a small ceremony, where they collected what appeared to be $30,000 from store manager Cliff Stringer and operations manager Glen Johnson.
The big 1.5-by-three-foot ceremonial cheque is written out to “City of Iqaluit – Cardboard Recycling Program.”
At a June 25 meeting, city council passed a motion from Dobbin that administration “spend the thirty thousand dollars from Northmart on Cleaner Iqaluit Initiatives by hiring students and/or BCC to collect garbage throughout the community,” the motion reads.
Administration did hire two students for trash pick-up that summer – but they never actually received Northmart’s $30,000.
In the end, the two summer employees were supervised and paid by the city’s public works department, out of the city’s regular 2013 budget.
In city council’s lengthy budget deliberations, spread out over six meetings, Jan. 9 to Feb. 4, Dobbin noted there was no accounting for the $30,000.
John Mabberi-Mudonyi, the city’s director of corporate affairs, said Northmart never followed through with a cash payment.
On the sixth and final day of discussion, as councillors scrutinized all cuts made to limit increases in city taxes, Dobbin brought up the phantom amount once again.
“Two million owed in tax arrears. A $30,000 cheque from Northmart that we can’t collect. That company [Northwest Co.] makes $40 million a year, and we can’t collect a $30,000 cheque from them? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Dobbin said.
“This tells me the administration is really not doing their job.”
Mabberi-Mudonyi confirmed Feb. 6 that the city had never received the cash amount from Northmart or the Northwest Co.
“They did not refuse to pay,” he said. “They’re supposed to send us a cheque.”
“I called somebody at their head office in Winnipeg and they said they were going to do it, but we never received anything from them.”
The city didn’t intend to push the issue with Northwest Co., Mabberi-Mudonyi said, because the amount is taken as a goodwill gesture.
“It’s not like we have a contract that says Northmart must pay us that money,” he said. “It’s goodwill to the community.
“If they honour it, they honour it. If they don’t want to, so be it. But why publicize yourself, and not follow through?”
Contacted on Feb. 7, Northmart’s store manager in Iqaluit, Cliff Stringer, was quick to say he was seeking an answer to the hang-up from the company’s head office in Winnipeg.
“I’m not sure what’s happening, and we’re working on it,” he said. “Next week I’ll have the information and I’ll give it to the city.”
The $30,000 is part of a larger amount that the Northmart store collected from a 25-cent bag fee, charged on every plastic bag to customers.
As part of the Northwest Co.’s Greener Tomorrow program, the company donates certain amounts of the bag levy proceeds to green projects such as recycling.
The store’s donation was part of that program, Stringer said.
But he clarified that the $30,000 is meant to cover the cost of recycling the store’s waste cardboard, which would otherwise end up in the city’s landfill.
“It’s $30,000 to ship that cardboard back south,” he said. “We store it in the containers all winter, and then send it back down south on the barge.
“It’s money that has saved the town from dumping that garbage.”
Asked if the city could expect any of the cash promised on the big ceremonial cheque, Stinger said he couldn’t comment.
Company headquarters in Winnipeg “are working on something,” he said.
Through its Greener Tomorrow program, Northmart has in recent years sponsored school programs and students involved in environmental-protection programs.
The Iqaluit store also sponsors one of the city’s yearly community-wide clean-ups.