Editorial page

Monday, October 28, 2002
Friends win, taxpayers lose

A whole bunch of words describe the handling of the Groenewegen conflict affair.

Poor judgment, cronyism, patronage are just some. Incompetence jumps to the head of the list.

That's been affirmed by the federal auditor general's review of severance payouts to two top political aides.

Indeed, auditor general Sheila Fraser's report is a must-read for anyone who wants a lesson in how not to fire staff.

Former cabinet principal secretary John Bayly and Kakfwi chief of staff Lynda Sorensen received $684,000 in total. Figure in the fact Bayly received about $6,000 and Sorensen about $250,000 more than what their employment contracts specified.

There are a few juicy quotes about how there was "no justification" for the "additional" severance payments. For good measure, there's the question why they received "performance pay" of $20,000 and $25,000 with little or no documentation to support it except for the letter of reprimand in each of their files.

If that evidence isn't sufficiently damning, read how the termination agreements were "approved by Stephen Kakfwi," without the sensible precaution of having them scrutinized by government lawyers. There's also the question of why the premier thought it appropriate that he approved a payout to his longtime political aide and friend Sorensen.

One thing must be made clear: this is a political problem.

One cannot fault Bayly or Sorensen for doing all they can to get the best deal possible for themselves.

It's up to the government -- Kakfwi and cabinet -- to get the best deal possible for taxpayers.

That means following written contracts. That means negotiating rather than giving everything that's asked.

These packages, especially the payout to Sorensen, are not good deals.

Cabinet members can defend them all they want, but regular MLAs did a smart thing by asking the auditor general to take a look.

They've taken the severance payments out of the political arena by getting an impartial second opinion. Surely any vote on the report's findings must have the same impartiality -- a free vote where every MLA is able to vote their conscience.

If Kakfwi and his bunch want to play politics and reward political supporters and friends, they ought to set their sights on Ottawa.

After all, the real patronage money is to be made at the federal level.

Just ask Jean Chretien and his friends.

Registration is key to solving problem

Nunavut's legislation says the use of off-road motorbikes is prohibited on roadways in the territory because they can't be registered.

But in a territory where ATV and snowmobiles are more common than cars, it's not fair to leave out dirt bikes.

It costs a considerable amount of money to get a car in Nunavut and having different transportation options is important.

A person living in the territory would have no trouble if they took a snowmobile to the store, and then drove out onto the land.

What is the big difference with a motorbike? How different is it from an ATV?

The RCMP in Panniqtuuq began seizing motorbikes because they were being used carelessly, by people under the legal driving age of 16.

"They've been speeding. They don't have headlights. They drive them in the dark. It was creating a danger," said Cpl. Law Power.

By allowing motorbikes to be registered, hamlets, RCMP and Motor Vehicles could regulate the use of dirt bikes in the territory.

Owners would have to equip their bikes with headlights.

They would have to respect the legal driving age, and they would have to be licensed.

The legal age for operating an ATV in Panniqtuuq is 15 years old, 14 for operating a snowmobile.

By licensing a vehicle, the driver becomes responsible for it and the action he or she takes while operating it.

The Motor Vehicles division of the Department of Community Government and Transportation will review Nunavut's ATV Act and Motor Vehicles Act over the next year.

We hope they include dirt bikes.

An off-road bike should be treated like any motor vehicle.

If someone breaks the law by speeding limit while driving a car, there is a penalty.

Depending on the offence, that driver may lose their licence.

Registering off-road motorbikes would make drivers more accountable and even more responsible. And those who choose to be reckless will be punished.

More to treatment than price

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

It has been interesting during the past few weeks to listen to Health Minister Ed Picco react over the local airwaves to the story broken in the Kivalliq News on the plan to open a private clinic in Rankin Inlet (Rankin aims at world's first, Oct. 9).

If things go the Piruqsaijit Ltd.'s way, this would be no ordinary private clinic.

Rankin would be home to the first computer tomography laser mammography system to be put into general use worldwide.

The system has the ability to detect breast cancer by identifying breast tumours at a very early stage.

Picco says the clinic being open early in the new year is overly optimistic, and we tend to agree.

However, we're having trouble with some of the minister's other statements.

Picco says he's against private clinics because (a) everyone has the right to the same level of health care and (b) no one should have to pay for health care.

Both may be valid points on a level playing field, but that's far from the case here should the clinic open its doors as planned.

With the Nunavut government unable to provide the same technology, we can only surmise that Picco equates an uncomfortable traditional mammogram to the same level of care for Nunavut women as the painless new treatment promises to deliver.

Maybe the minister should talk to a few women who have had a traditional mammogram before finishing his equation.

Better yet, let's make sure one or two can relay to the minister the emotional suffering and physical pain associated with false biopsies.

On the paying-for- health care side, Picco's concerns seem to rest more with picking up the tab for Inuit women 35 and older to have laser mammography included as part of an annual examination, than Nunavummiut paying for the service themselves.

It is common knowledge that a traditional mammogram often doesn't detect malignant tumours until they've reached a point requiring major surgery.

We can't help but wonder if that was also figured into the minister's equation.

In Picco's defence, he has said the government would have to examine all aspects of the treatment before coming to a decision, if, and when, the clinic becomes a reality.

That being said, the prospect of women from across Canada receiving a medical treatment in Rankin that Nunavummiut don't have access to hardly strikes us as the same level of health care for everyone.

Mementos at the memorial

Editorial Comment
Terry Halifax
Inuvik Drum

Every once in a while, this line of work gets me into a really special place. This week, it was the funeral and memorial service for the late Agnes Semmler. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Agnes, it was an honour to attend this celebration of her long and accomplished life.

Old friends embraced, ate and laughed, recalling story after story of her acerbic wit and many adventures.

Judging from the tales I heard, she wasn't one to mince words, and she always seemed to be able to treat people like people, whatever their nationality or station in life.

I hope those who didn't know her will at least get to read about her, and learn like I did, about her remarkable way of being in this world.

Electoral apathy

It was a pretty dismal turnout for Monday's municipal election.

Perhaps I just spend too much time at town hall, but I happen to think municipal politics is a pretty important thing and seeing only 35 per cent of voters turn out came as a bit of a shock to me.

I always feel good after voting and it's not so much that I've made a huge difference, but that I've exercised the right that so many millions don't have; that, and the fact that it earns me the right to bitch.

After the polls closed on election night, I popped 'round to one of the local watering holes and was taken aside by a couple patrons who appeared as though they'd been there a while.

"Aren't you the guy who writes that newspaper column," one asked.

I pleaded guilty and the table railed on about what was wrong with the town and what I should write about, until I asked if they voted. Then things got quiet.

That's the whole deal with this democracy thing. If you don't vote, you can't affect change and really, you forfeit your opportunity to bitch.

I think they should post the list of non-voters in the coffee shops and watering holes around town, just to keep tabs on who's earned the right to complain.

Power play

The recent actions of cabinet over the power rates has most of us wondering if the powers that be have suffered a short-circuit.

For months, everyone in cabinet thought taking a look at a one-rate system would be good for the territory, but all of a sudden it was a bad idea.

So bad, in fact, the government yanked the rug out from under democracy.

Preparedness is the key

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

A mock disaster exercise held in Fort Simpson Saturday proved that local agencies are quite capable of responding to a tragic accident.

But it also brought to light a number of deficiencies, such as communications problems, co-ordinating multiple medevacs and a shortage of certain supplies, namely blankets.

The fact that these shortcomings exist shouldn't be the primary concern. The aim of the exercise was to expose these very flaws. It's now imperative that follow-up meetings take place to ensure these problems are eliminated in the event of a real disaster.

Having a community-generated list of key people, places and equipment would be invaluable. As it has been pointed out, not all numbers are listed in the phone book. The revamped blue pages in the latest edition of the phone book are widely considered as nothing short of shoddy, especially when time is of the essence.

The mock disaster exercise -- the first of its kind to be held in Fort Simpson in winter conditions -- was meant to overburden the community's medical staff, firefighters, police, transportation employees and emergency measures personnel. Some of these groups found themselves short-staffed on Saturday. The firefighters, for instance, had nine of 16 members available and the fire chief was out of town. The RCMP had three members in uniform, one volunteering as a victim and another assisting the fire department. They are seven strong at full force. In a sense, those are ideal circumstances for such an exercise, as disasters always seem to strike at the worst possible time.

A doctor and a full complement of nurses would not necessarily be on hand in the midst of a crisis either.

It was made clear Saturday that, sometimes, even the most efficient of responses will not save all lives. The local health centre is not the University of Alberta hospital. There is neither an intensive care unit nor is there a surgeon on staff in Fort Simpson. This is a region of 3,000 people, not a city of millions. That's just the reality of the situation.

Also worth noting, the exercise was originally scheduled to be held in September. Delays resulted in it being held on the heels of a memorial service in Fort Liard.

Last week, people in that community gathered to remember three people who perished in a tragic plane crash last October. The exercise was certainly not intended to disrespect surviving family members nor the memory of those who passed away. On the contrary, the purpose was to improve the odds of survival when another disaster occurs.

Nobody wants a tragedy, but it's in everybody's best interest to be prepared for one.


The benevolent fund has donated $13,800 to the hospital in the past three years, not "well over $10,000," as reported in "Mainly because of the meat" (Yellowknifer, Oct. 23).