Editorial page
Friday, May 22, 1998

A clever way to avoid debt

It didn't take long for Finance Minister John Todd's experiment in public-private partnerships to catch on.

The Yellowknife Catholic school board wants to take advantage of the scheme to finance construction of a new Weledeh school and gymnasium.

The plan is for a private contractor to spend the $9 million the project will cost, and then lease the building to the school board, with an eye to transferring ownership sometime down the road.

At first glance, it is a good idea. Private enterprise foots the bill, saving the school board from taking on a huge debt, and students still get a state-of-the-art facility, so long as the board trustees keep a close eye on the project.

No doubt the Weledeh project will be the first of many of what Todd calls P3 initiatives. Municipalities and other public agencies eager to embark on ambitious projects but leery of red ink are obvious candidates.

But before we embrace the concept lock, stock and barrel, there is one potential pitfall to consider. Imagine if the aborted twin-pad arena had been built as a P3 project. City council, instead of asking for taxpayer approval for what would have been one of the most expensive undertaking's in Yellowknife recreation history, could have decided to let private industry build it and lease it to the city for a reasonable rent, one that didn't require a plebiscite.

Supporters of the arena might welcome the scenario, but opponents could reasonably argue that the P3 route represents a way around the democratic process.

Public-private partnerships should not be used to subvert public consultation. But if they can bring about legitimate projects that enjoy popular support, they could make it easier for the city to move into the future.

Public relations

Yellowknifer appreciates the initiative by the city's new senior administrator Max Hall to forge a better relationship with the media.

Good communication is the best way to ensure an informed electorate. Too often in the past a reluctance to discuss issues publicly before decisions were made contributed to public confusion and resistance.

Worse, council was often caught in the middle, defending actions taken without full public understanding or input. The more feedback and discussion council gets before decisions are made, the more confidence they and city hall will have that they are carrying out the people's wishes.

Hall calls the media "the wheels of democracy." That is true, as it is that the public is in the driver's seat.

So long, Bill

It's not surprising that the Yellowknife Youth Choir is having trouble finding a new leader.

Mildred Hall music teacher Bill Gilday, who has directed the choir for 11 years, is embarking on a much-deserved year-long sabbatical, leaving the choir with an uncertain future.

Gilday gave up his life as a jazz musician to pursue teaching, and he has had a tremendous influence on hundreds of students over the years. Many have taken their membership in the youth choir to greater heights musically, while the choir has become a familiar and welcome part of the city's musical fabric.

It won't be hard to replace such a man, it will be practically impossible.

Editorial comment
Good cause, bad law
Ian Elliot
Inuvik Drum

Sometimes in the desire to do good, we inadvertently commit great wrongs. The GNWT's proposed amendments to drunk-driving laws do the wrong things for the right reasons.

Some elements of the proposed amendments, which have just been put out for public feedback, are reasonable and indeed, laudable. Increased periods of suspension for convicted impaired drivers? Throw the book at them. Suspensions are ludicrously short and should start at one year for a first offence, permanent suspension for a third conviction.

A graduated licensing system for new drivers, under which they lose their provisional licenses if any alcohol at all is in their bloodstream for the first year or so? Good idea -- what took so long? Educating the public that drunk driving is a really stupid thing to do, especially in a place where a cab can take you from one end of town to the other for $10? Great. All these things have been implemented in other provinces. They work, they reduce drunk driving, they're tough and most importantly, they're fair.

But when the government, any government, starts introducing the word "immediate," you should be alarmed. Such as: immediate 30-day suspension for drivers alleged to have a blood-alcohol content of .04 or above, half the current level.

(The new lower level is a bit puzzling -- anyone who has spent time in territorial court knows a drunk-driving charge where the driver blows any less than twice the legal limit is an interesting novelty. The problem is people at the upper, blind-drunk end of the scale, not the lower end).

Or: immediate seizure of vehicles driven by a person whose licence has been suspended.

Such proposals have been floated in other provinces in the same worthy cause of reducing drunk driving. Most have been withdrawn -- deservedly -- because they violate the part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that says citizens of Canada cannot be punished for a crime until they have actually been convicted of committing one. And taking someone's car or their licence for a month imposes a significant hardship.

Regardless of how much we loathe an offence, we cannot put people beyond the protection of the law just because they are accused of something.

Roadside justice is not justice. The cornerstone, the most important element of our entire legal system, is that a person charged with an offence is innocent until the state, through its agents of police and prosecutors, proves guilt. Only after that can punishment be imposed, freedoms and property taken away.

The GNWT is full of good intentions but the road to hell is paved with those. Drunk drivers are a despicable poison. Bad law is even worse.

Editorial comment
More on my life with Diefenbaker
Arthur Milnes
Deh Cho Drum

The saga continues.

Now, when I picked up a cute little white kitten to give Alison for Christmas this year, I truly didn't know what I was getting myself into.

If truth be known, I thought little Diefenbaker was going to be low-maintenance type of cat -- especially since certain parts of his anatomy were left on the cutting-room floor, so to speak.

However, THE OPERATION appears to have had little effect on the little Chief (I think having to take Dief in to meet the vet that night actually hurt me more than it hurt him. Most men out there will understand).

Instead of calming down, getting fat and learning to purr all the time, Diefenbaker is crazier than ever.

This past weekend, he pulled a classic Diefenbakerisque stunt -- the type of which is becoming all too common around here.

We arrived back in town Sunday after a trip for a couple of days to Fort Providence and Hay River. The Chief met us at the door and actually seemed glad to see us. There were purrs, leg rubs and a whole myriad of happy cat activity as we unpacked.

For a short moment, I was so happy to see my little Tory.

Then we walked into the kitchen.

I should have known something was wrong when Dief didn't follow us all the way into the apartment. Instead, he seemed to hang back by the stairs.

Soon, we saw why.

Our kitchen counter looked as if CIA agents had set out to destroy it with extreme prejudice and disregard for collateral damage.

From the sink to the fridge, a trail of wanton destruction was apparent. There was dirt, more dirt and then a little more dirt thrown in. In the cat dishes, there was -- well, you guessed it -- dirt.

On the carpet in the kitchen, more dirt was piled.

It seems that Dief had decided to unearth all the plants that once sat proudly on our (formerly) beautiful counter. He pulled out each leaf and root and did God only knows what with the dirt.

Now, a firm believer in an accused right to a fair trial, I was at first unwilling to convict Diefenbaker without proof. Afterall, I reasoned, how could a white cat move so much dirt without some of it remaining on his coat?

Then, the Chief strutted by. As he went on his way, I noticed that the backs of his legs had a certain dark, dirt-like color to them.

And, the worst was still to come.

As we set about to clear the mess, a distinct sound could be heard throughout the kitchen -- a kitten's purring filled the air.

There, high above us on his new favorite perch on top of the fridge, sat Diefenbaker. Purring. As only the Chief can.