Nunatsiaq Online
COMMENTARY: Nunavut April 28, 2016 - 11:45 am

Four better ways to spend $2.8 million

“My plan is to not reward the negligence of 20 years”

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
A view of some municipal lands in Iqaluit. Is the May 9 land sales referendum a waste of money? (FILE PHOTO)
A view of some municipal lands in Iqaluit. Is the May 9 land sales referendum a waste of money? (FILE PHOTO)

ANNE CRAWFORD

In February 2014, Nunavut MLAs, after meeting in full caucus in Kugluktuk, announced that there would be a vote on the status of municipal lands.

The voting day of May 9, 2016 now approaches, and as Nunavummiut we need to decide which way is forward.

The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement does permit this vote, but does not require that the vote take place.

While the Government of Nunavut clearly tells us that it has no preference as to the result, the process will cost approximately $2.8 million. It does seem curious that they would spend $2.8 million on a vote that is not required, for a result that they do not care about.

Logic suggests an alternate conclusion: some part of the GN wants to hold this vote, and wants to change the land holding system, and also wants to mask their desire for that change.

But why? And how could we better advance the goals of financing and supporting municipalities and homeowners?

Why Nunavut is unique

Start with the acknowledgement that Nunavut is a creation of the land claims agreement, but is still a public government. Inuit negotiators used Article 14 and the land claims process to deliver ownership of municipal lands into the hands of local governments.

They spent a significant pile of the few chips Inuit had in that process to secure community-level control. Canada and the Northwest Territories of the day were appalled by this scheme, and insisted on the escape hatch of a referendum.

Land ownership makes Nunavut municipalities unique in Canada. Iqaluit and the hamlets actually have constitutionally protected land rights, while even the largest Canadian cities in the south are still legally dependent wholly on their provincial governments.

The municipal lands provisions of the land claims agreement were designed to counter-balance the central authority, create a unique order of government for Nunavut and ensure that land decisions were made in a community-based forum.

This transfer of power to municipalities was pretty effectively hollowed out by the GNWT (and continued in Nunavut) with the invention of both the equity lease and the policy requirement that local governments never profit from land ownership.

The no-profit requirement is likely unenforceable and unconstitutional. It prevents municipalities from the full benefit of the fee simple ownership they were granted under the land claim agreement, and it also ensures that the nest-egg inheritance offered by Inuit to our communities has effectively been sucked out of municipal pockets.

The original idea was that land ownership would provide a financial resource to support much-needed municipal programming, such as swimming pools and recreation programs, and would give municipalities a level of local independence. 

None of these goals have been achieved, in part because no one ever acknowledged that these were the goals of municipal land ownership, or that strong local government was a goal of the NLCA.

The issue is being played out as a question of restricting or allowing homeowner rights. And while homeowners may be the most vocal on this issue, it is municipalities themselves and their neighbours in public or rented housing who have the most to lose.

The foundation for a prosperous public asset has been given away “at cost” to those of us fortunate enough to own a house today.

Productive uses for $2.8 million

Assuming the option were available, what better way could $2.8 million have been spent?

If the GN’s goal is to encourage home ownership, small business development. or ease access to mortgages and simplify registrations, there are more direct approaches:

1. Improve existing leasehold registries

For 20 years, leasehold registries have been underfunded and ignored.  Staff have struggled to get training, leases have gone unenforced and landholdings have lapsed.

These issues with individual and community land titles will likely come back to bite once the GN transfers this troublesome child into homeowner hands.

2. End Double Registration

If the inherited GNWT laws were adapted to the Nunavut realities there would be cheaper, simpler and faster registrations for everyone — without this vote or changes in how we own land. It is entirely possible to amend the Land Titles Act and have a single entry point for registrations. 

3. Train local surveyors and assessors

A primary cost driver in developing land in Nunavut is the shortage of land surveyors and property assessors. This shortage means a single boundary change can cost $10,000, while the same work in the south would cost $650.

Assessors for Nunavut properties fly in regularly at great expense.  These are great careers. Why not use that money to train some of our own?

4. Get the Nunavut Housing Corp. to do bridge financing

Before 1999, homeowners and builders were able to access housing corporation financing to buy and ship materials to build a specific house, and then received reasonable advances during construction.

When finished, a regular mortgage was put in place and housing funds were repaid.  The cost to government was very, very low as the money was re-circulated each year. This assisted many homeowners to manage their own projects and built up our base of contractors.

Why not re-fund this program?

In the end each voter and community will judge for themselves the benefits of change, but my plan is to not reward the negligence of 20 years.

I will be voting against taking land registration issues away from the GN and dropping them onto the unsuspecting public. 

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