Editorial page

Friday, September 6, 2002
Union integrity hurt by hiring sitting president

It's too bad Georgina Rolt-Kaiser wasn't taken to task at last weekend's Union of Northern Workers (UNW) convention over a potential conflict of interest.

Last week, Yellowknifer revealed Rolt-Kaiser had taken the job as a UNW service officer while still serving as UNW's president. Some UNW members objected, and quite properly too.

Members asked if Rolt-Kaiser, as president, might be in a conflict of interest position because she was hired by a committee that included one of her employees.

Paul McAdams, a delegate from Fort Smith, put forth a good point in his complaint to Yellowknifer that it was extremely possible the hiring committee could have been influenced in their decision.

"How could the person doing the hiring not hire you, for fear that if you didn't hire them they would fire you two weeks down the road," McAdams asked.

Clearly the hiring committee could have been influenced during the hiring process.

McAdams compared Rolt-Kaiser's actions to a territorial cabinet minister who, nearing the end of a term as an elected MLA, applied for a senior post in the same department of which she was in charge.

A formal query was brought before the UNW's convention on the weekend. However Rolt-Kaiser emerged unscathed, after a motion to discuss the hiring was nixed by a 17-12 vote.

While we don't question Rolt-Kaiser may well be qualified to be a service officer, she should have resigned as president before applying for the position.

If union rules don't prevent such potential conflicts, the rules should be changed.

We can only imagine if such a scenario were to play out in the upper levels of government, union leaders would scream conflict.

Right now, they would have to remain silent and redfaced because of their own questionable behaviour.

Lack of numbers doesn't add up

The substantial increase in medevacs from Stanton Territorial Hospital this summer comes as no surprise, but the lack of record-keeping by hospital officials does.

Stanton could not tell Yellowknifer how many of the 167 medevacs in June and July were directly related to the Intensive Care Unit closure. So we have to rely on numbers provided by Edmonton-based Capital Health Authority.

Stanton's operations manager even expressed amazement when told the number given by CHA.

There is nothing amazing about keeping a daily count of patients medevaced south who would have remained in ICU had it been opened. It's not rocket science. It's basic arithmetic that tells the sad state of healthcare in Yellowknife.

Time to get serious

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

For a cargo company seeking support, the points raised before Rankin Inlet hamlet council by the Northern Transportation Company Ltd.'s Tommy Owlijoot carried little weight. Owlijoot's talk of an "alliance" among NTCL, Gardewine North and the Hudson Bay Railroad Co. didn't impress the council -- and rightly so.

Referring to the alliance as the Kivalliq Transportation Group, the best Owlijoot could offer was the move toward one shipping bill and the assurance NTCL is "negotiating" with Gardewine North on a better rate for shipping goods from Winnipeg to Churchill.

Here's a flash for NTCL: If Gardewine North won't lower its Winnipeg-to-Churchill rates enough to be competitive in the Kivalliq market, maybe it's time to find another partner in your "alliance."

Having one bill for customers is something NTCL should have addressed a long time ago. And Coun. Justin Merritt was bang on when he implied Kivalliq consumers are tired of hearing about NTCL's "negotiating" problems with Gardewine.

First of all, if NTCL thought for one minute the fuel resupply contract was not going out to tender after the tainted fuel fiasco of the past year, its senior-management types had their heads buried in the sand.

Second, if ever there was a prime example of companies doing business in the North being spoiled by the monopolistic environment of the past few decades, this is it. For the size of company it has become, we can't get our heads around NTCL's contention that it "cannot dictate" the rates it wants from Winnipeg to Churchill or Thompson. It's not like no other transportation company would jump at the chance to get a slice of the region's lucrative cargo pie.

Merritt was right again when he said NTCL has become big enough to take matters in its own hands and set up an independent shipping system if its "alliance" won't help deliver competitive rates to Kivalliq residents.

NTCL's claim it will no longer be able to conduct business in the region with dry cargo alone was met with the same collective shrug of the shoulders by Rankin council that the company is, obviously, getting from its "alliance" partners. The time is now for NTCL to realize the gravy train has jumped its tracks.

If the company has any hope of support from the Kivalliq, its senior managers had better show up with an offer for that support. And that offer has to be a lot more substantial than one bill for consumers. If not, NTCL will soon receive its own cargo bill -- and that will be for a one-way trip out of the Kivalliq.

A study of studies

Editorial Comment
Terry Halifax
Inuvik Drum

It seems despite the attempts of the Gwich'in Development Corp. to research the best deal for the Gwich'in people in the proposed pipeline project, there are still some dissenters within the ranks.

James Firth says the Mackenzie Gas Project doesn't provide enough benefits to the aboriginal people and the ARC plan guarantees aboriginal ownership.

As Chief of the Inuvik Native Band and also as president of the Northern Route Gas Pipeline Corporation, James Firth has a fine line to walk. On the other side of the issue is Nellie Cournoyea, who is chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and chair of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group.

Clearly, both groups have their own agendas. The Inuvialuit have subsurface rights to trillions of cubic feet of natural gas that needs to get to market and the Gwich'in don't.

With much of the gas discovered lying beneath the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the Inuvik Native Band is feeling left out of the economic equation and Firth feels holding out for pipeline ownership is in the best interest of his people.

While the ideal seems honourable, the goal, simply put, is unachievable.

The producers will never relinquish control of the pipeline to any one group. From all I understand, the big three in this deal were more than reluctant to concede even the one-third ownership negotiated by the APG.

Without producer support in a pipe, there will be no shipping contracts, without the shipping contracts, there can be no bonds issued and without the sale of bonds, there will be no pipeline construction.

Should the ARC plan ever get to the sale of bonds, the real owners of the pipe would be the bond holders, so the issue of ownership is a moot one -- with either plan the aboriginal groups have to go into debt.

So, unsatisfied with the GDC report, now the Inuvik Native Band is having its own study done.

With money from ArctiGas, the band has commissioned a study that will no doubt give them the answer the want to hear.

Seems to me, with all these "independent studies" and all the various factions seeking their own answers to the same problem, no one's getting any closer to building a pipeline.

Granted, the two pipelines are not like comparing apples to apples, but I think we all know that an "independent study" is generally dependent on finding the answers sought by the one paying for the study.

If these groups really wanted the truth, they should all get together to agree on one consultant to conduct one independent study and live with the findings.

This infighting is not making for good relations and certainly isn't inspiring the producers to think that even 25 years after Berger, the North is now open for business.

Business sense

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

While the last thing some businesses want is a meddling financier, the NWT Development Corporation's arm's-length approach with Nats'enelu has been a flop.

The fledgling enterprise needed financial guidance over the past few years, but either didn't receive it or ignored it.

The Development Corporation has a spotty track record as none of its current stable of clients are profitable. Development Corporation president Fred Koe says "it's a tough business."

The high costs for labour, materials and marketing make conditions formidable, according to Koe.

With that in mind, and having been funding businesses for more than a decade, why couldn't the Development Corporation see early on that problems were arising with Nats'enelu? Why didn't it assume enough of a hands-on approach to ensure that its investments can be recouped?

Three years ago -- Koe pointed out that it pre-dated his tenure -- the Development Corporation's board voted in favour of supporting Nats'enelu by becoming a minority owner in the venture.

It was a shortsighted decision. On the face of it, the business produced quality products and had the potential to be profitable, but the necessary expertise was not in place over the past five years.

The Development Corporation elected to hand over investment capital to a company that was essentially flying by the seat of it's moose-hide pants.

In becoming a minority shareholder, the Development Corporation, with all its collective knowledge, could do nothing more than be a background player.

D'Arcy Moses was a gifted designer, but he was up-front about the fact that business was not his forte.

Leaving important financial decisions in his lap was not prudent.

Although he grew into the general manager job to some degree, no one was to take his place.

Fort Simpson cannot be absolved from blame in the downfall of the business, either.

Several appeals were made for board members over the past few years but few people answered the call.

That seems to be changing, with 10 people having attended a luncheon meeting in late August.

Martina Norwegian said there was renewed enthusiasm in the room.

Here's to hoping that enough residents are ready to make a long-term commitment. Otherwise, it won't bode well for the already faltering enterprise.

With Nats'enelu on the ropes, the question that begs to be asked is whether a future Deh Cho Economic Development Corporation would be willing to bail the company out.

At what cost would an investment be made and how long would the Economic Corporation wait for the ship to right itself?