Wednesday, January 21, 1998
Whose side is Ottawa on?

As the glitter of gold turns to dust, the resource-based economy of the territories turns hopefully to the diamond business.

No one except the federal government needs to be reminded that the collapse of the price of gold has cost a lot of jobs in this town. Furthermore, the full effect of these layoffs and the closure of Lupin has yet to be felt as it rumbles through our economy.

As elected members and lobbyists press to maximize the economic benefits to the community that spin off from mining diamonds at Ekati, it seems that the federal government has been sabotaging that effort.

Rather than negatively wording questionnaires aimed at European diamond consultants, the federal government would better direct its attention to support this city's efforts to fully exploit BHP's potential.

Surely even the current Liberal regime in Ottawa can rally enough brain power to understand that Northern self-sufficiency is to everybody's benefit.

Working to create an economically attractive climate for the diamond industry would be a more effective use of Ottawa's limited foresight than undermining Northern efforts to lobby for Northern jobs.

Seeing as 80 per cent of the territorial budget comes directly from Ottawa, one would think the federal government might have a clearer understanding than most of how important the creation of job-generating industries is to the North.

Seeing as the feds are in an apologizing mood these days, maybe they could apologize for this mind-boggling miscalculation. Then they could get behind the territorial push for jobs and training in Canada's entry into the diamond business. After all, whose side are they on?

On the road to recovery

Residents of the Keewatin are beginning to see some answers to the questions many have been asking since dramatic changes to the health-care system were introduced in the region several months ago.

The urgent need to change the current situation of staffing shortages has spurred some scrambling by the Department of Health and Social Services, which brought in some assistance for the regional health board.

Less a chief executive officer and chair, the board is, without question, suffering from a lack of guidance. One can hardly help suggesting their exit is convenient after residents of the Keewatin find themselves in a health-care crisis. When the going gets tough, the tough get going ... right out of town.

Former CEO Jim Egan left Rankin Inlet to move south after returning to the community for two days before stepping aside.

Their resignations within days of one another also signal some serious changes are about to occur at the board. That may mean reopening negotiations with the Northern Medical Unit so that a system that had been in place in the region for more than 20 years be restored, according to deputy health minister David Ramsden, who was in Rankin Inlet for most of last week.

So what else can we expect over the coming weeks and months? In Ramsden's words, there will be a "narrowing of the agenda," even if "it means stepping back from what the board has attempted."

In addition to other attributing factors, such as budget cuts, Ramsden sees the crisis as the result of a refocusing of priorities, referring to some of the changes that have occurred since last year.

"What happened is that everyone became so fixated on hospitals and doctors, they forgot about the front-line workers," he added.

With a new focus on the front-line workers, nurses can expect their situations to improve. The department is looking at making their compensation packages more competitive with nurses who work in the South.

Nurses say that, only then will the recruitment and retention of those in their profession become possible. It's something that's needed across the territories, not just the Keewatin.

With all of these issues being addressed, one can only hope things can improve. Health care is an issue that's close to everyone's heart, as it should be, and there has to be faith in the system in which we all may depend on at some point in our lives.

Ramsden is confident that stability can be reached in health care for the region.

A speedy response from Health Minister Kelvin Ng was needed last week and that seems like a good place to begin. A problem can't be solved until it's out in the open, so after two public meetings last week, let's say the air has been cleared. ( Kivalliq News)

Total schooling

It's not often that a high school student dares examine the pros and cons of year-round schooling, but South of 20's Gillian McNaughton did just that in last week's Yellowknifer.

She's not that keen on the idea, of course, but it deserves further study. Cutting summer vacation into several smaller chunks and spreading them out over the entire year will serve the interests of aboriginal families who want to take their children on the land and it will save money because classrooms won't be empty for two months each summer.

School boards across North America are embracing the idea, why not Yellowknife's? Sooner or later, the increase in student populations will force the issue.