Environmental watchdog

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Apr 05/99) - Marcel Mason is one of those guys who seems to be everywhere in town.

He's always at the coffee shop, he's at the park every Sunday having a barbecue, he's in the arena coaching the neighbourhood kids and his philosophical ideas usually come up on Nunanet's political discussion forum.

But what else is there to one of Iqaluit's busiest residents? News/North caught up with him last week and got to the root of one of his biggest beefs with the North.

News/North: Why don't we start by you telling me about some of your environmental activism. You're fairly well known as a guy with strong environmental concerns.

Marcel Mason: My number one concern is the dump across the inlet. It's a horse that I've been flogging for a couple of years now. There's no need for it and it's just wrong, in this particular day and age, to have a big hole in the ground that we dump absolutely everything in and set it on fire and hope it'll all go away. It's not going to go away.

N/N: How would you suggest they get rid of the trash?

Mason: I've been advocating the municipality or the territorial government to look at a high- temperature, multi-stage incinerator that will see a lot of the trash in town reduced to a small pile of ashes that is way easier to deal with and a lot easier on the environment than what we've got now.

Spring is coming again and we're going to have people heading over to the causeway and people going up to the park for picnics. I like going to the park for picnics. It's just a real downer for the whole affair if the wind switches and comes out of the south and all of a sudden you're smelling all of the crap coming out of the dump and there's soot falling on your hotdogs. It's just plain wrong.

N/N: What's your second biggest environmental concern? The toxic soil that sat near the water on the beach last fall?

Mason: That was not the brightest move, whoever orchestrated that. I'm sure it was completely unintentional, but it was poor planning and I think it shows a sense of people's general concern. They wouldn't even consider that it was a place with the second highest tides in the world and they go and sit a bunch of contaminated soil on the beach. For me, that would be fairly high on the list of things to check.

I just don't think due concern is being felt.

N/N: You said you've been flogging that horse for a long time. What have you been doing?

Mason: I've talked about it on the Internet, lobbied municipal councillors, lobbied territorial politicians, talked to media about it. It just doesn't seem, for whatever reason, something others are willing to get behind. I think that's because people look at the waste management facilities that have been available in the North for years. It's always been open-pit burns. This is the way we've always dealt with our garbage. That's not necessary anymore and I think it's just a matter of getting enough information to people.

N/N: Have you ever thought about getting involved in municipal politics or territorial politics so you could approach it from that way?

Mason: I'm not a politician. I did a stint on a municipal council in one of the communities that I lived in. I was on the education council on one of the communities that I lived in. But I'm not cut out to be a politician.

N/N: Why? What is it you don't have in you?

Mason: Bureaucracy. I don't seem to fit within bureaucracies all that well. That's not saying that all bureaucracies are bad or that I just can't get with the program. It's just a fact of life. Some people can do it and others can't and I'm a can't. I find it easier to be on the outside of the system and talk to the people concerned and try and entice them into looking at things in a slightly different way.

N/N: Tell me about your family.

Mason: My wife is a school teacher. I have four children, aged 12 to 20 that are all involved in things in town like cadets, amateur sports, school groups. I guess we're as average a family as it gets.

N/N: Have you lived here for a long time?

Mason: We came here five or six years ago so that Uvinik, my wife, could attend college and finish off her bachelor of education and we just sort of stayed.

N/N: Where were you before you came here?

Mason: I lived in Iglulik for 10 or 12 years I guess. I was involved in the municipality there. I was involved in social housing there.

N/N: What is your job at Nunanet?

Mason: I'm the Web master which means I look after the site.

N/N: Do you look after the political discussion forum as well?

Mason: Yes, that was one of my creations. It's set up as one of those free speech things. It's there to give people, who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to say what's on their mind, the opportunity. People who are working inside the system see things that are going on and either don't agree with it, don't like it or can't put up with what they see, but are forced to toe the corporate line both inside and outside of work.

There are those that abuse that and they go in there under the anonymous heading and spout nonsense, but if you look through it, there's been some very good threads. There's been some very good discussion about how people feel about Nunavut, how people feel we are being perceived by the outside, there's been theological debates where people are revisiting a more traditional spirituality. All of these discussions I don't think would take place if people had to put their real names down.

N/N: How long has the forum been running?

Mason: A couple of years I guess. It started out as an experiment to see if we could do it and it just took off. Initially, it had a local readership, then it went regional, territorial, national and now it's got an international readership. It's taken on a life of its own.

N/N: Do you ever have to censor the forum?

Mason: No, I don't agree with that at all. We do reserve the right to do that, but the number of times it's actually been done in the last year, you could count on one hand. It would have to be pretty rough before we would take it off.

N/N: How would your peers describe you?

Mason: I've always sort of had this take me or leave me attitude. I am what I am, I think what I think because that's me. If people are OK with that -- fine. If people are not OK with that, that's also fine.

Some people have described me as a little bit odd, others have said that I've got a philosophical bent. I don't know.

N/N: Why would they describe you as odd?

Mason: Things that a lot of people get uptight about don't really bother me. I like to think I'm a really tolerant sort and as long as it's not harming anyone else, fine. Think, believe and act how you would like to. There's a lot of people who just aren't like that, so when they're faced with things that are outside what they perceive as the norm, they get a little bit uptight about it and make jokes about it or shun it. I look at those sort of instances and think it's totally normal for the people involved.

N/N: What kind of beliefs, for example?

Mason: I get a few comments now and again about my theological point of view.

N/N: Which is what?

Mason: It's individualistic.

N/N: Is it Christian?

Mason: No. I think I've been fairly upfront in discussions on the Internet that I'm not with that particular philosophy. It's fine for those who it makes happy. But, it's not me.

N/N: So what is you? Do you have a Creator or a Higher Power?

Mason: Yes, but that's not something we'll talk about with the tape machine on. There's just a bit too much intolerance in town for that to go in print.

N/N: Does anything keep you awake at night?

Mason: No, there are things I would like to see changed, but nothing to the extent that when I lay down at night with a book, I'm not able to fall asleep fairly quickly.