Editorial page

Monday, May 22, 2000

Sales job on the South

The timing couldn't be better; the approach is well calculated to succeed.

That's our assessment of the territorial government's strategy to decrease the flow of resource royalty dollars South and entice more federal dollars North.

The cash crunch is coming this summer as the budget is finalized. Health costs are going up with people demanding more quality. Education spending must rise if we are to climb out of the dark pit of illiteracy, high drop-out rates and mushy standards.

The government is facing a deficit in the tens of millions of dollars, fast approaching the "debt wall" of $300 million, an arbitrary figure that allows federal bureaucrats to ignore the needs of the NWT while saving all their concern for the ugly red line item on federal government spreadsheets.

Premier Stephen Kakfwi and Finance Minister Joe Handley, instead of quibbling over formula financing or begging Ottawa for more cash, are waking up southern power brokers to the proven riches of the NWT.

Their sales job is aided by billions of dollars the private sector has invested in the NWT the last five years, with billions more planned for the next decade.

This unprecedented show of faith by global industry will move federal bureaucrats and politicians to invest in the North far more than countless stories of stressed-out, over-worked professionals (social workers, teachers, nurses, doctors) and economically crippled communities.

The timing is there, too. If the federal government is going to benefit from the NWT resource boom, they must work in tandem with private industry which adheres to cost-effective schedules. Build and fix those roads for when they are needed and that's now, if not yesterday.

Kakfwi and Handley will be criticized for chasing the almighty dollar and there is a danger of forgetting what is important when more money is so deeply critical to the future of the government itself.

But if we fail to get more money to maintain what we have and fix what is broken in our communities, cutbacks and layoffs will return.

The land of promise will become a haven for the fly in/fly out industrialists while Northerners fight amongst themselves for scraps left on the table.

Luring teachers

Minister of Education Jake Ootes has put forward a plan to make it easier for new teachers to fit into jobs in the North.

Like any astute politician, he has backed his plan with some money, which shows he's serious. And he better be. Education is the only way life is going to substantially improve life for most Northerners.

Smoothing the way for new teachers certainly won't hurt. Increasing funding of student support services won't hurt either.

With all five teachers in Lutsel K'e deciding to leave at the end of the school year, it is clear we are not out of the woods yet.

Perhaps the real solution to keeping teachers in the North is training and hiring more Northern teachers. Spending more money only makes sense if it is money well spent.

Sound saving

No matter who you are or who you work for, $4 million in savings is no small achievement.

The Nunavut government recently announced that it will be saving that much money by reducing the number of services it has to contract out to the Northwest Territories. That's good news.

What the savings represents is the amount of money leaving the territory. The same goods and services will be delivered to the people of Nunavut, but the costs will be incurred in Nunavut, which means more jobs and salaries stay here. That's really good news.

The money represents a 25 per cent reduction in money being spent on services provided by the GNWT to Nunavut. That looks like sound fiscal management to us.

Health hero

"Audrey Woodget came North in 1962, a young nurse looking to make a difference."

That one statement says a lot about the character of the woman who spent more than 30 years in the North, going from isolated communities in what is now Nunavut to the big city of Yellowknife and ending her career in Holman.

The recent recipient of an NWT Nurses' Association honourary life membership, Woodget deserves praise for her long dedication to keeping Northerners healthy.

We believe that while Woodget's long years of service is a tribute to her dedication, many other nurses throughout the North continue to follow the example she, and others, have set.

Northern nurses are a special breed.

Council acts with tenants in mind

The recent decision Iqaluit Town council made to vote down the construction of social housing units in Apex has all the signs of being a sound one.

Intended to house six families in three multi-family units, the new homes are part of the 100 units Housing Minister Manitok Thompson committed her department to building this summer.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation thought building the homes on the lots they owned in Apex was the perfect way to use the land.

Both the neighbours and town council disagreed.

The neighbours told council they didn't want multi-family units built on single-family lots.

Council listened.

They also considered other factors including the stress the addition of six families would put on the community's trucked water delivery system and the distance between Iqaluit and Apex.

As councillor Matthew Spence explained, many tenants in public housing live on the low end of the income scale and don't own vehicles, making the five-kilometre taxi rides from Apex to Iqaluit for food and sundries a costly addition to already high living expenses.

Council mulled over the proposal and then shut it down.

A trade was suggested. The town would take ownership of the ten lots in Apex and in exchange, the Housing Corporation would get two lots in Iqaluit.

The Housing Corporation came out on the short end of the stick -- their lots are worth about $60,000 more than the Town's land -- but council said the difference will pay for the units' hook-up to utilidor.

The exchange will delay construction because the winner of the tender will have to take the modifications into account before ordering materials.

But with that as the only obvious wrinkle, the decision council made was well thought out. As well as being the least burdensome on the municipality's resources, it is beneficial and respectful of the tenants who will eventually live there.

Climbing high

A Nunavut resident has acted on his spirit of adventure in a big way.

For over a month, Gabriel Filippi, site manager at the Nav Canada centre in Iqaluit, has been at Mount Everest in hopes of climbing to the top of the highest mountain in the world.

Filippi was to make an attempt on the summit yesterday (Sunday).

Filippi loves mountain climbing but told News/North that reaching the top isn't a conquest, and that it's all about having respect for and becoming one with the mountain.

This climber's actions and attitude are quite commendable, as is his philosophy that the only person that can stop you is yourself.