Mayor Kenny Bell says he stands by taxing churches, but city council already passed a motion earlier in the year that would set gears in motion to do so. (David Venn/Nunatsiaq News)

Iqaluit mayor holds off on motion to tax churches

Kenny Bell steps back as he forgot council passed an earlier motion to revisits non-profit taxation

  • Jul. 15, 2021 1:20 p.m.

Iqaluit’s mayor no longer plans to bring forward a motion to make the city’s churches pay municipal property taxes.

Mayor Kenny Bell announced Monday he was backing off on the proposal, which he announced in late June, shortly after national news stories drew attention to graves containing the remains of former residential school students in southern Canada.

Bell says that when he pitched the idea of taxing churches in a June 24 tweet, he had forgotten that city council had passed a motion he introduced in February that called for the creation of a policy that would revisit how non-profits, including churches, are currently exempt from paying property taxes.

For that reason, he said he wouldn’t table another motion to tax the churches during Tuesday’s council meeting.

“I’m not backing down,” he said. “I mean, I doubled down, really. I mean, I tripled down.”

Bell said that he tweeted about wanting to tax the city’s churches recently after hearing the news that 751 children’s remains were located in unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential school, east of Regina, Sask.

“It literally broke my heart,” he said. “And I was sitting there, like that, [thinking] as a white man, I don’t know what to do.

“The only thing we can do is hold the church accountable.”

Currently, there are 16 organizations under the city’s property tax exemption bylaw, eight of which are religious institutions.

During the finance committee’s February meeting, corporate services senior director Alison Drummond said the city was giving up more than $400,000 in property taxes by exempting non-profits.

“However council view that is up to council, but that is a large chunk that is being exempted fully right now,” she said.

Drummond said that a review she conducted found that more than half of municipalities in Canada do not exempt non-profits from paying property taxes, and those that do have far fewer than 16 organizations exempt.

The motion that then passed directed city staff to draft an application for not-for-profits to apply for a tax exemption based on a sliding scale.

It was carried unanimously at both the finance committee and council meetings.

The sliding scale policy has not been created yet, and Bell said he hasn’t seen any drafts, but it is supposed to “promote fairness and transparency [and] establish criteria so everyone is evaluated the same,” Drummond said.

Staff are still working on the policy, Bell said, and will bring it to council at a later date. It would then need to be approved by council.

— David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News