Editorial page

Monday, August 12, 2002
Say what you mean

Ahh ... words. They slip off the tongue faster than a winter wind blows through a T-shirt.

Sometimes you regret saying something as soon as it's out. Other times, it's not until you read what you said in black and white that you grimace and moan.

For most of us, it's not such a big deal. We turn red in the face, shrug and apologize when necessary. Try to forget the whole thing.

Not so politicians.

Many are well-known for shooting from the lip.

Unfortunately for them, a slip of the tongue can be more than just embarrassing. It can end a career.

OK, so maybe Premier Stephen Kakfwi didn't mean to roll up the welcome mat for prospective Northerners, but his off-the-cuff comment that people who want to live in a big city should stay in the South sent out the wrong message.

After all, everyone knows we're desperately short of tradespeople and other workers needed to keep the current economic boom alive.

Reporting his words caused enough of a kerfuffle that the premier had to call a press conference to explain himself. What he meant to say was growth has to be moderated by respect for the land and the people who live here. Of course we don't want unchecked development that will ruin the environment and upset traditional values.

But we do want a premier who doesn't speak in riddles, whose meaning is clear through the words that he chooses.

This experience is a lesson to the premier and to us all. Words can hurt. They can confuse. Even without that intention. So think first, speak later.

Taxpayers and a double negative

Tax arrears in Iqaluit have reached over $1 million. This is money that should be going back into the city, but for now, it is not. Although city officials say they will start putting their feet down, the fact that arrears can build up to this level is quite disconcerting.

Imagine how long it would take for one resident to repay $130,000 and imagine how many years it would take to accumulate that kind of debt. It seems like someone isn't doing the job he or she is being paid to do because the highest tax arrears adds up to even a little bit more than that. As of July 8, it had reached $132,163.07. The city seems to be sending a message to its people that there is no need to pay taxes. Some property owners struggle each year to stay on top of things, but why bother if they can get away with not dishing out a cent.

Mayor John Matthews says the arrears, especially when they amount to that much money, are causing the city a problem. He has promised more aggressive action but will it be aggressive enough?

Matthews says the city will begin repossessing houses and garnishing wages, but only as a last resort. If the owner of the house is able to make reasonable arrangements with the city to pay off the taxes, Matthews says no legal action will be taken.

At the same time, the people who live in Iqaluit and aren't paying their taxes have to understand they had a hand in preventing many things from moving forward. Perhaps the money they owe could go toward fixing up the roads. Perhaps it could go toward the sewage treatment plant or maybe even toward the city's new garbage compactor. What about something as simple as putting city-issued garbage bins along the streets so that passers-by aren't as tempted to throw their garbage on the ground?

There is no room in Iqaluit for a $1-million debt. This city is growing and it is growing fast. This money is needed to facilitate the growth. Those who aren't paying taxes need to fess up and accept part of the responsibility that comes with owning property and being a part of a city. And the city itself needs to make sure this happens -- and that it happens now.

Those who are paying taxes are not going to accept the responsibility of forever building the city alone. And before this happens, those falling short on their part of the bargain need to do something.

There is a time to blow the whistle

Editorial Comment
Nathan VanderKlippe
Kivalliq News

Hiding disagreements stifles legitimate public debate and prevents people from seeing alternative options to whatever decisions are ultimately made.

That's why an open and transparent democratic process is so important -- it allows the public airing of numerous view points, and public input into the debate that forms an outcome.

For the most part, we're pretty good about holding our elected officials to that standard. Anyone can sit in on most legislative assembly or hamlet council meetings. But we don't have a great track record upholding the same with overnment bureaucrats. Especially among staff members, the right to free speech is one of the more routinely flouted civil liberties in Nunavut.

Most territorial departments forbid their staff from speaking with the media without the consent of the deputy minister. This can become a logistical nightmare, as staff must always seek time-consuming permission from higher-ups. More importantly, it silences vast segments of intelligent, knowledgeable voices in the government.

Now we hear that the hamlet of Rankin Inlet is doing something similar. Herman Bruce, a heavy equipment mechanic with the hamlet, was suspended for three days without pay after discussing several of his complaints with this publication. The logic for the discipline was that Bruce should have followed a set procedure for the complaint process.

Bruce's case presents an interesting dilemma. On one hand, employees should have an unmitigated right to speak their opinions, especially employees of a public entity. On the other hand, employers should have the right to expect their employees to follow due process. The question here is not whether Bruce's complaints were right or wrong -- that is for the complaint process to decide - but whether Bruce should have had a right to speak freely to the media. In many cases, the media rely on whistleblowers -- be they in government or business or parts between -- to shed light on important issues of concern. But media are often called to sort out what are simply internal matters, complaints that do not have broader implications. Bruce's case seems to lean toward the latter. That doesn't mean his difficulties should be ignored. But in this case, there is an argument to be made that proper process should have been followed before the media was involved.

A key role played by media is the airing and questioning of issues of public concern. Were Bruce's complaints directly linked with significant public safety problems, this would be an entirely different story, one that would fight to protect a municipal staff members right to inform the public.

Whether Bruce knew he was prohibited from speaking with the media is a different issue altogether. He says he didn't, and based on that alone he should not have been suspended without pay. Further, hamlet employees need to be told in very definite terms how these kinds of procedures work. Just as important, they need to know that when there are issues that the public needs to know about -- they need to approach the media without fear of reproach.

Stick to your plan

Editorial Comment
Terry Halifax
Inuvik Drum

Monday's meeting with the residents of Husky Trailer Park is bound to spur-on another debate at the next council meeting.

This park has been a thorn in the side of council since the town took it over and, by the looks of things, they are far from finished with their obligations to the people who live there.

It's a tough call, but unless some deal can be made to eventually bring the park up to code, I think council had better stick to their original decision.

For starters, there are 12 trailers parked where there should only be 11. That would require forcing one home owner out and moving all the others a foot or two to comply with code.

One owner had quote on such a move and they were told, "Whether it's three feet or 30 feet, the price is $3,000."

Second, is the cost of replacing the utilidor. Depending on who you listen to, the system is either a "disaster" or "needs some work", but replacement of 70 metres of utilidor will run the town about $175,000.

While these numbers would still fall drastically short of the town manager's estimate of $500,000, it still is an expensive undertaking.

Given the town's profit margin on the pad rentals of $5,000 per year, that investment would take the town 40 years to pay off -- not an investment you'd expect a private developer to make.

If this were a private development, there would be no golden parachute offered. A landlord need only give proper notice and the tenant must vacate.

The situation is an awkward one, to say the least.

The town picked up this property when the previous owner couldn't pay back taxes.

The place was not up to code then and the town couldn't sell the property without first complying with code.

Should the town leave the situation as is, they are liable for any insurance claim against that property and since the development is not up to code they could also be found negligent should a fire rip through there.

So, for the third time since they've owned it, the town is trying to crawl out from under this dilemma.

You have to feel for these residents and that's why I think the town should make some room to allow for the residents to form a co-op.

The residents could assume liability and gradually, through attrition move out one home and bring the place up to code.

Since MACA is helping the town out with other utilidor upgrades, certainly a few dollars could be shared with these people.

Looking around at the rental situation here in town, the last thing we need is to get rid of affordable housing.

Between a rock and a hard place

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

The Fort Liard RCMP's plea to the community for co-operation in catching bootleggers brings to light an unfortunate but bona fide problem in communities that restrict or prohibit alcohol. Not only do bootleggers and drug dealers prey on the addicted, they hook the young, trying to set up clientele for the future.

It's the RCMP's job to catch these criminals. Yet they cannot nab all bootleggers and drug traffickers without assistance from local residents. Anonymous tips are often useful. However, occasions also arise when it may be necessary to testify against a bootlegger or drug dealer in court. Let's face it, it's not an envious position.

The potential for backlash from bootleggers and drug dealers may be a deterrent to those who wish to speak up, but the alternative is not appealing. While there is a possibility that bootleggers or drug dealers may take retaliatory action, there is also a possibility that an intoxicated individual may arbitrarily wreak havoc through vandalism or violence.

There comes a time when individuals have to make a decision. Is it worth taking a stand to make delinquents pay a price, or is it best to say nothing and allow poison to flow relatively unimpeded into the community?

Happy Daze

Congratulations to Mackenzie Daze organizers on a successful four-day celebration. There was some tinkering with the format this year, putting more emphasis on a music-fest. Unfortunately there weren't many people inside the arena listening to the music on Saturday while a few outdoor events coincided. Outside of that conflict, it was a well-arranged event.

It was good to see a new event like the strong-man competition take hold. Initially it didn't look like there would be many participants or spectators, but the numbers gradually built. By the end of the afternoon there were nearly 20 competitors and scores of onlookers.

Hand games is an event that has been revived. It is extremely popular in Fort Providence, and that's also good to see. With a lot of nostalgia about the war canoe races, which have fizzled out over the past few years, maybe it's time to make an effort to breathe new life into that event as well. Teams from other Northern communities used to come to Fort Providence to paddle for pride and major prize money. The two-person canoe races, although amusing, simply don't elicit the same excitement.


In last Wednesday's city council briefs, Yellowknifer, July 24, it was reported that Coun. Kevin O'Reilly made the lone vote against adopting the priorities, policies, and budget committee's recommended plans for Twin Pine Hill. This information is incorrect. Coun. Dave Ramsay also voted against the plan.