Editorial page
Wednesday, July 22, 1998

The non-existent need for secrecy

As city council moves toward a new era of openness, it must bend over backwards to avoid discussing any matters behind closed doors whenever possible. Secret meetings should be avoided and the list of subjects that warrant shutting out the public should be as short and as concise as possible.

The only legislation governing how city council conducts its meetings is sadly vague and open-ended. The NWT Cities, Towns and Villages Act allows councillors to go in camera whenever the council decides doing so, provided council agrees it would be in the public interest.

As the fiasco of the Yellowknife Property Owners Association suit against the city's secret-meeting habit shows, that right is too easy to abuse. Even some members of council agree that it gives them far too much leeway. The territorial law needs to be tightened, but city council doesn't have to wait for that.

In fact, council is already in the midst of reviewing a new set of guidelines for running its meeting, including a list of subjects suitable for in camera sessions.

Among the list are reasonable items, such as property and contract negotiations and personnel matters. But other matters are troubling and open to abuse. For example, "information of a deliberative nature and draft reports." Why do draft reports, which are routinely made public by many governments at many levels, warrant closing the doors? And aren't all council meetings "deliberative" in nature?

The most disturbing item on the list is the last one: "any other matter which council or its committees agrees ... to discuss at an in camera session." In other words, anything goes.

Now we're right back to where we started. What we need is much shorter and specific list. We suggest: contracts and other financial negotiations; city personnel issues; and legal issues before the court. That's it.

All other matters must be held in an open session.

A class act

We don't want to discourage the organizers of next year's Folk on the Rocks, but -- it's pretty evident already that this year's festival will be difficult to match in the years to come.

It wasn't just seeing Big Rude Jake, Guy Davis and all those other southern acts that put us in the big league that made this festival. It was seeing the high school kids from St. Pat's in Unonymous perform and watching our neighborhood children prance under the rafters of the new and brilliant stage that made the festival the unique showcase that it was.

From "stupid" milkshakes to the rubdown room, this festival had something for everyone. Our only advice for next year is to start praying that the festivals administrators Jodi Woollam and Nadira Begg sign on for another year.

Check your equipment

What better way to spend a summer afternoon than sneaking out of work a bit early and hopping in a boat?

But things can go very wrong, particularly up here, where the weather can change in the wink of an eye from indescribably beautiful to unforgivably bad.

A recent spot check of 36 boats by the RCMP turned up only one that was adequately outfitted with safety equipment. We've said it before and we'll say it again. Ninety per cent of drownings happen because people aren't wearing life jackets.

No amount of safety equipment can stop accidents, but that equipment can make the difference between a tragedy and an incident.

So check your equipment, put on your life jacket and enjoy yourself.

Promise broken
Editorial comment
Jennifer Pritchett
Kivalliq News

Keewatin residents have once again been left in the lurch. With no dental program expected to be in place by the time Kiguti Dental Services Ltd. pulls out July 31, people will no doubt experience a disruption in service.

This gap in care is not what the health board and the Kivalliq Inuit Association promised back in May at a public meeting held to announce the departure of Kiguti. Where is their accountability to the people they represent?

The regional health board's CEO at the time, Chris Keeley, stated that there would be no disruption in service after the end of July. KIA president Paul Kaludjak agreed, saying that the people of the Keewatin could rest assured they would have dental services on Aug. 1 after Kiguti leaves. So much for their word.

Now it seems they are scrambling to get a contingency plan together so that Keewatin residents won't be without dental care for too long after the end of July. The issue now is not whether they will have a program in place immediately after Kiguti leaves, but how long residents will be without service.

Officials are still unaware of how long it will take to get a program up and running. The board is still in the process of hiring dental therapists and a manager, and are in the midst of recruiting dentists. They are waiting on equipment for the clinics that is expected to take a month to arrive in the region. It doesn't look promising that the gap in service won't last long.

If residents have to wait as long for dentists as they have for doctors, watch out. Rest assured there will be a lot of teeth falling out in the Keewatin over the coming months.

Residents can, however, take some comfort in the fact that Health Canada is expected to provide some dental care on an interim basis. What kind of services these temporary dentists will provide and how will they work without a clinic or many of the supplies they will need is still unclear. These questions need to be answered and so far those responsible for developing the dental program haven't assured people that services will be in place.

Furthermore, if there is an accident that leaves a patient unable to get necessary care, those who promised that services would be in place three months ago are clearly responsible. If there isn't an accident that forces the board to be accountable, they are just lucky.

Since the chaos left by former KRHB officials has yet to be fully resolved, it's a wonder more patients don't go without the care they need. And what's even more disturbing is that there is little hope the KRHB will actually straighten out this mess anytime in the near future.