Editorial page

Friday, August 02, 2002

NNSL photo

Publisher Jack (Sig) Sigvaldason has been in the newspaper business in Yellowknife for 33 years.

From the publisher's desk...

"Sometimes paying more makes good sense"

Should the City of Yellowknife be a good corporate citizen and patronize local firms as much as possible? Does it?

The city does not have a Northern benefits policy. Its 30-page policy paper on purchasing policies makes only one reference to local preference. It states that the city does not normally apply a local preference, but that requests for proposals will usually apply a rating for local preference. It also states that council may elect to incorporate a local preference factor when it thinks such treatment is appropriate.

Perhaps hard-and-fast local preference guidelines are not important.

Apart from the territorial government, there are few local organizations which adhere to a rigid written policy on local preference, but most Yellowknife businesses make a concerted effort to buy locally whenever possible. They realize that keeping the business here is good for everyone. Not only does it spread the money around, but it ensures the survival of local service and supply companies upon whom we all depend.

It is not unusual for local businesses to pay a local supplier ten to fifteen per cent more than the price available in the South. In such cases, freight, convenience and other advantages of buying locally are factored in. Such decisions make good business sense.

What is the case where the City of Yellowknife is concerned? Those responsible for purchasing have an obligation to spend taxpayers' money wisely, but that doesn't necessarily mean the lowest price under all circumstances.

The city is a major customer in the local market. It, even more than private businesses, has a mandate and a responsibility to promote and encourage the growth of a healthy local business economy.

City administration has told council that 87 per cent of its purchasing is local. That is encouraging because it demonstrates that many Northern business are competitive with their Southern counterparts. It also indicates that Northern preference policies over the years by the territorial government and Northern business helped foster the growth of Northern supply and service companies.

But there's a strong possibility the 87 per cent figure is misleading and doesn't tell the whole story. A few major projects by local contractors (big ticket items like road repair) inflate the percentages and may disguise how much more the city could be doing to encourage the local economy.

Having observed the situation for many years, I am far from convinced that those responsible for purchasing at City of Yellowknife and in some corporations, place sufficient emphasis on factors other than price and never play favourites. It is too easy to overlook items such as freight costs, local support services and immediacy of supply and just jump at the lowest price.

Council should encourage local purchasing and provide more direction to its staff.

A hard-and-fast policy on local preference may be unnecessary and impractical, but something is needed.

At the very least, members of council should debate the issue in public and attempt to establish some firm guidelines. It might also be a good idea if at least once a year council took a more detailed look at what is being spent outside, where and why.

Is Gerry Murphy on thin ice?

'Arena' has become bad word in this city.

It's taken years of debate to decide if we need a new arena, where it should be built, how much we should spend on it, and how many pads it should be.

When it seemed we were gliding smoothly toward a new twin-pad ice surface, we ran headlong into the boards with $2 million in construction over-runs.

We will get our new arena -- eventually. But now we hear pad one may not be finished in time for our ice season. So we're back to the drawing board with the Gerry Murphy Arena.

But the community is skeptical about the safety of the 48-year-old Murph -- and with good reason.

A local engineering firm estimated it would cost $1.7 million to keep the arena going another five years in 1998.

A few years ago another study estimated it would cost about $1 million to keep the arena serviceable.

The fire marshal shut down the building in Feb. 2001, citing structural support problems.

But it didn't cost anywhere near a million dollars to keep that arena running for over another year. After about $20,000 in repairs, a local engineer declared the building safe and the Gerry Murphy was back in business.

But the band-aids didn't last long as the fire marshal again ordered the building shut down this past May.

With the threat of having only one ice surface the fall hanging over city councillors heads, they are talking about getting the Gerry Murphy up and running.

This is where we need to slam on the brakes.

The city has to hire an engineering firm without an interest in a huge renovation contract to tell us what it will cost to keep the arena open for another season or if it's safe to re-open in the first place.

And there's no point doing enough repairs to keep it going a couple of more months. Other problems could delay the opening of the first pad. So it's another year for the Murph or nothing.

If it looks like we'll end up with just one ice surface this winter, let's just build an old-fashioned rink on Frame Lake behind City Hall. We'll get lots of ice and savings too.

Support needed

Yellowknife musicians worried over the lack of venues in town where they can entertain the masses have a legitimate concern.

With only one bar offering live music on a weekly basis, gone are the years when pub-goers had a wide variety of live entertainment.

Yellowknifer's Band of the Week, which was a regular feature in our Pub Crawl in the late 1990's, had to be discontinued because of the lack of bands playing the Yellowknife club scene.

Today, aside from the weekly band that graces the stage at the Gold Range Hotel, and informal jam sessions at some night clubs, club goers instead get to strut their stuff to sounds of djs or karaoke machines.

We can certainly sympathize with businesses who realize the high costs of bringing in bands to the city wasn't paying off.

Sam Yurkiw said unlike the $175 per night for a DJ, bars were forking out more than $3,500 a week to transport, house and pay wages for a Southern band.

But we also sympathize with local musicians who claim the lack of venues for them is stifling their growth.

Some bars, like Jose Locos and the Cave Club are offering informal jam sessions.

We suggest other clubs around town consider doing the same.

What do you have to lose?

First of all the musicians are here.

It's not like you'd have to pay transportation costs.

You'll not only be helping support the arts in our city, but you may boost your profits in the long run.

Making access equal to all is a communal duty

Editorial Comment
Nathan VanderKlippe
Kivalliq News

One of the odd twists of democracy is that we don't really want it to work completely.

Although the system's basic premise is the empowerment of the individual to decide personal fate, in reality a pure democracy boils down to the will of the majority. In some circles, that's called the tyranny of the majority -- the ability of the largest group to triumph unmitigated over those with differing viewpoints.

Quite clearly, such a system could lead to vast suppression of minorities. To counter that, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically protects the rights of a number of minorities.

It also guarantees equitable, non-discriminatory treatment of all Canadian citizens -- including those with physical disabilities.

But in many corners of the country, that isn't possible. Whether due to penny-pinching, lack of concern or just plain ignorance, people with disabilities often suffer an unduly difficult access to the things the rest of us take for granted.

That's true in Rankin, too. Wheelchair ramps aren't always shovelled in winter, forcing some people with disabilities to call ahead before coming to a store. A number of places around town don't have smooth access from wheelchair ramp to indoor hallways. Elevated thresholds are difficult to navigate in a regular wheelchair, nearly impossible in a heavy electric wheelchair.

Some people have difficulty using their own homes, which were built for able tenants. Without extra wide doorways and accessible washrooms and kitchens, even a home can become a never-ending obstacle. As with most problems, part of the solution lies in accessing funds. Money can be used to help people with disabilities renovate their homes and make life more comfortable. One hopes that the newly-formed Association for Community Living will have success accessing funds -- and successfully put them to use. The association is showing some promise by turning to the community before it does anything else. That demonstrates a praiseworthy commitment to meeting people where they are at, instead of imposing solutions.

But wholesale acceptance of those with disabilities is a societal task. For businesses, that can mean making stores as accessible as possible -- not simply to meet building code requirements but as an act recognizing the dignity of all persons.

For the rest of us, that can mean recognition that, as Johnny Ittinuar said, "I'm just an ordinary guy in a wheelchair."

One thing is clear: life will never be as easy for those with disabilities as for those whose bodies function perfectly well. The plain fact is that walking to work is easier than rolling a wheelchair down the road.

But that doesn't mean society can shirk its responsibilities to those who are disabled. Because in an ironic way, protecting minorities is really protecting democracy at its purest: recognizing the fundamental importance and dignity of each individual and levelling the playing field for each of a country's citizens.

Flight of fancy

Editorial Comment
Terry Halifax
Inuvik Drum

The grounding of Arctic Wings last week typifies actions that have forced dozens of aviators out of the Northern skies and out of business permanently. Sometimes it is justified, sometimes it isn't.

Long gone are the days of a pilot going into business for himself with just a wing and a prayer.

The regulation and re-regulation of this industry has heaped so much paperwork and restriction on aviators that it's become impossible to do business in the air without a team of engineers and paper pushers on the ground.

Even with that team in place and a perfect flying record, one complaint is able to bring the whole fleet at Arctic Wings to the tarmac.

Without any explanation it appears Transport Canada has gone on a witch hunt and closed down the airline along with the livelihood of 20 people and put hundreds of passengers on hold.

Certainly, the safe transportation of people by air is more important now than ever, but this safety must be based on reasonable facts and not the impulsive act of Transport Canada.

No safe airline would send up a pilot with that type of an attitude -- when lives hang in the balance, you don't want some hot shot on the stick.

Transport Canada would do well to adopt the same policy, since many livelihoods also hang in the balance.

Not just fun and games

Watching on TV and with talking to Roy Desjarlais and some of the staff at the North American Indigenous Games, I can tell the event is a real blast for all.

It must be quite an experience for the continent's original peoples to get together to not only compete, but to share culture on a national scale.

Much more than the thrill of competition, these games will help rebuild a sense of pride among First Nations that many felt was lost forever.

Good luck to all our NWT athletes in the competition, but what they'll be bringing back will be something much more important than a medal on a ribbon.

A welcome addition

This week you'll notice in the Drum that we have features from Kristian Binder and Catalyna Correa.

These two will be filing regular features for the paper and I'd like to take some space to thank them both.

Kristian was writing music reviews for us a few years back and we're happy to see him back in the pages.

Catalyna will be writing feature articles, as her time permits between her two other jobs.

It will be nice to see some youth in the paper and thanks for helping the old guy out you two!

Entrepreneurial spirit

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

Gabe Hardisty, considered a Wrigley elder, is now co-owner of his first business.

For more than two decades he held the government contract to dispense fuel in Wrigley. That has changed. With Walter Blondin's help, Hardisty is now dispensing fuel through his own enterprise. Like all ventures it involves some risk, but if it is viable now, think of how lucrative it will become when natural gas exploration and development gears up.

Not only does Hardisty stand to profit, the people of Wrigley have already seen a benefit - gas is six cents a litre cheaper than it was a month ago.

Wrigley, which has year-round road access, used to be one of 18 communities that fell under the territorial government's fuel supply program, but a few of those communities have now gone commercial. As Michael Aumond, director of the government's Petroleum Products Division once explained, most of the other communities under the program, which equalizes fuel prices, had higher transportation costs because they are refuelled by barge or airlift. Therefore Wrigley residents, only a 220 kilometre drive from Fort Simpson, were essentially helping to subsidize costs in other communities. The overall average among all 18 communities was more than Wrigley would have paid on its own, as proven by the conversion to private service.

There are numerous other business opportunities that could be seized upon in the Wrigley and the rest of the Deh Cho. Some will flourish with oil and gas development, others could prosper notwithstanding. All it takes is a good idea, some sound guidance and loads of hard work.

Making it happen

Guy Norwegian, featured in this week's On the Job, had his sights set on becoming a pilot and he has made that happen. He said he encourages others who have a similar goal to approach pilots and ask questions. He did. He then followed through on a two-year commitment to become qualified.

Although he's quite content to be flying bush planes and float planes now, he said he's trying not to limit his future options, which are vast. Maybe he'll pilot a water bomber, or military aircraft or a commercial jet. Or, just maybe, someday we'll be flying aboard Norwegian Airlines here in the Deh Cho.

Right decision

The Mackenzie Valley Land has made a judicious decision regarding North American Tungsten's water licence application. By conducting an environmental assessment, the board will ensure that current environmental standards are being met and that there won't be any adverse effects on cultural practices. While this review is ongoing, CanTung mine will be permitted to sustain its operations.

The review shouldn't cost North American Tungsten anything, unless it's found that the mine doesn't meet existing criteria. Then the expenses for additional safeguards, if necessary, would be an ounce of caution, which is worth a pound of cure.


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.