North West Company asks city of Iqaluit to pay off its water debt

The North West Company asked the City of Iqaluit to pay off its water bills after a leak caused them to soar to $56,000.  (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)
The North West Company asked the City of Iqaluit to pay off its water bills after a leak caused them to soar to $56,000. (David Gunn/CBC - image credit)

The company that operates most of Nunavut's grocery stores asked the City of Iqaluit to pay off the debt the company had accumulated on its water bills late last year.

The North West Company says it accumulated more than $50,000 in water bills because of a leaking pipe.

The company did not reply to inquiries from CBC.

Following an Iqaluit council meeting Tuesday where the company presented to councillors, deputy mayor Kimberly Smith told CBC the request seemed "a little preposterous."

"They're a company who today's market value is $1.9 billion," Smith said.

Smith said the city is still in a water crisis and residents should still be conserving water if they can. The city has been grappling with water issues for years, including fuel contamination and drastically low water levels.

Smith raised the same issues during the meeting on Tuesday.

"Why would a company who makes so much money need the citizens of Iqaluit pay off this debt?" Smith said.

Smith said if a homeowner came to the city with the same issue, the city would tell the homeowner to pay.

The North West Company was the subject of a recent Fifth Estate investigation that looked at rising food prices and raised questions about the way the company distributed the subsidy it receives from Nutrition North.

Alan Lawrie, who manages Iqaluit's Northmart store, appeared before city council over Zoom Tuesday night. The company owns several buildings in the city, including building 194 where the leak was discovered.

Lawrie said he couldn't speak for the entire company but that he could follow up with the company on the request.

He said between September and December last year, it was billed more than $56,000 dollars for water.

Those bills would typically only be about $1,700 a month.

The company says this is all from a broken pipe at building 194, which spilled more than two million litres of water, and went unnoticed until December.

Lawrie said workers crawled under building and found a copper pipe had broken.

He said the company reached out to the city to wipe their debt and was told that the request for relief would be reviewed.

They city eventually denied the ask, but suggested the company book a meeting with mayor and council.

Coun. Kyle Sheppard said it's not the role of the city to pay off the debt in this situation.

"The responsibility for this lies entirely in the recipient of this water's lap," Sheppard said.

Sheppard also said there's no provision to allow for forgiveness of payment of water bills because of leaks, no matter who the applicant is.

"I commend you for trying," he said. "There's no allowance in our policy or procedures in a situation like this where the leak was entirely due to a break in the pipes of the recipient," he said.

Sheppard said he's sure the company will find another way to pay it off.

"I paid 11 bucks for two peppers this week, I'll probably pay 12 bucks next week for not covering this," Sheppard joked.

The council did not vote on the company's request. Smith said she does not expect it to.