Monday, December 12, 2005
It's simple math and despite all the handringing about how much the territorial government gave away to pipeline companies, the so-called letter of comfort was nothing more than an empty exercise.
Premier Joe Handley has been promising a resource revenue sharing deal "next month" for at least the past year.
Despite five years of hot air, it doesn't seem like we're any closer to an agreement. Promise what you want, Joe, it's not like you have anything tangible to give away, other than words that is.
The real powers that will make or break the proposed Mackenzie Gas Project are the federal government, First Nations and Inuvialuit. We're not entirely sure what the feds have given up, but it's clear that what they have promised will have more impact upon territorial coffers than any letter written by our current premier.
Aboriginal groups stood tall and have won real money from the pipeline companies through impact benefit agreements.
Despite what anyone says, until resource revenue and devolution are written in legislation, the territorial government has nothing to lose by giving away empty assurances.
Anyway, can a future government be held to honour a letter written by a former premier?
Times change, and so can legislation.
It's amazing what an open-door policy to the federal treasury will do to make "impossible dreams" shift into the realm of "why not."
A lot of people are talking up the once-mythical Mackenzie Valley all-season highway, especially the segment that would link Tuktoyaktuk to the world.
As any regular reader of News/North knows, there is no greater champion of the crying need for this highway than our own Cece Hodgson-McCauley, the Northern Notes columnist.
Not a week goes by without this mighty voice of the Sahtu growling her demands that the highway is the key to a better life for the Territories.
"Canadians are hamstrung by zealous, power-hungry bureaucrats with no vision," she blasted in her column last week. Some weeks, her words are so hot you don't need matches to start a fire.
And now a $700 million highway extension is being bandied about as possible by 2010.
The Mackenzie highway may yet be some years away, but whatever happens it must be named for Cece Hodgson-McCauley, its staunchest supporter.
The level of need in Nunavut is staggering. Our communities need more than 3,000 new homes.
Tuberculosis rates are the worst in the western world. Suicide continues to devastate our disillusioned young people. Statistics Canada says 90 per cent of people aged 16-65 are functionally illiterate in English.
Unemployment rates are among the worst in Canada and the government can't meet Inuit-employment levels mandated in the Nunavut land claim agreement.
So while the $5.1 billion package for health, housing, education and economic development programs agreed to between the federal government and Inuit and First Nations leaders last month is a step ahead, the money is just one drop in the bucket.
Of the $1.6 billion promised for housing over five years, $300 million is targeted for three Northern territories. That's nowhere near enough to meet the need. In Nunavut alone, solving the housing shortfall would cost nearly $2 billion.
The agreement includes talks to the ensure Inuit culture, the conditions of living in the Arctic and needs of Inuit living outside land claims areas are respected and addressed. Let's be clear: these promises are just words from the former Liberal government.
Over the past year, the much trumpeted $700 million for First Nations health programs went unspent, which means that once the politicians have said the words, it's going to be a battle with the bureaucrats to release the money.
There's a chance, too, that everyone could be back at the negotiating table following the Jan. 23 federal election.
Yes, it's about time Ottawa awakened to the level of need, but politicians, bureaucrats and all Canadians had better realize it's going to take a lot more to fix the needs left from decades of neglect.
Rumours and unfounded accusations have no place in the legislative assembly.
But that is exactly what Iqaluit Centre MLA Hunter Tootoo introduced recently when he said construction companies were hiring Inuit to "stay at home."
It's a serious accusation, to say the least, but Tootoo couldn't back up his words.
He admitted he had no proof to back up his claims.
If he had repeated those allegations outside the protection of the legislative assembly, he could be open to a libel lawsuit. Then why did he bother bringing it up?
The government responded by saying it will conduct an investigation based on Tootoo's concerns.
What will the government find?
Likely nothing, because there isn't any way to substantiate rumours.
Well, as we have been predicting for quite some time now, Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government had gone the same direction as just about every minority government you can care to mention, and Canadians will be heading to the polls, yet again, in the new year.
While we await the New Democratic Party to announce its candidate in Nunavut, and see if any independents decide to have a go, the first salvoes have been fired by Conservative candidate David Aglukark and Liberal incumbent Nancy Karetak-Lindell.
Of course, as politics go, they were more water-pistol squirts than salvos.
We are rather curious over Lindell's rather cryptic statement about people who want to judge her over one or two things (what might they be, Nancy?) have that right and can vote for another candidate if they should so choose.
Nice to know we have the Liberals' permission to vote for the candidate of our choice.
Lindell has been on a roll since defeating Tory Okalik Eegeesiak back in 1997, and will be seeking her fourth term in 2006.
She easily defeated independent candidate Manitok Thompson and the NDP's Bill Riddell in 2004, garnering 51 per cent of the popular vote.
Aglukark has a daunting task ahead of him in unseating Lindell.
It's been more than 20 years since any party other than the Liberals held power in Nunavut, with the NDP's Peter Ittinuar having a brief fling as Nunatsiaq MP in 1980 and Tory Thomas Suluk in 1984.
Liberal Jack Anawak twice held the seat, once in 1988 and again in 1993.
The biggest problem for Aglukark, and any other challengers to Lindell's throne, is the fact Nunavummiut don't care much for party politics.
As such, the anti-Liberal wave affecting most of the country won't make much more than a small ripple on the shores of Nunavut.
The Liberal machine, as it's not so affectionately referred to by those holding monkey wrenches, has been gearing up for this election for the past year, despite Martin's attempts to keep his minority government in power.
Within the party ranks, Lindell is viewed as a solid and loyal Liberal.
Add to that every seat counts this time out, and Nunavut hasn't been forgotten in the Liberals' attempts to keep Canadians seeing red for the foreseeable future.
Not only did Martin, himself, pay a visit to Nunavut, but the past eight months has featured a steady stream of federal ministers dropping by for tea and bannock while taking every opportunity to trumpet the great job Lindell has done as Nunavut MP.
Coincidence? We think not.
Any candidate who hopes to wrest Nunavut away from Lindell would be well-advised to stay away from the past and focus on the future.
While not the stuff books are written about, Lindell has done a respectable job representing Nunavut with her party in power, which has always been the case.
The picture her opposition may want to paint, is one of a Liberal MP in Nunavut while a Tory government runs the country.
Now that would not be a pretty picture.
I thought I heard it all on the crusade against cigarette smokers until my alarm clock radio startled me out of my slumber with the news announcer talking about the government's plans to ban smoking in all remaining public places.
I bolted out of bed, put the coffee machine on and lit a cigarette to calm my nerves.
Sure, it starts innocently enough with bus shelters but where will it end? Public places could also include sidewalks, roads, parks, campgrounds and beaches. Who will stop the insanity?
And who or what agency will enforce this ridiculous legislation? Town of Inuvik bylaw officers have enough to do chasing loose dogs, illegal snowmobilers, handicapped parking violators and now, perhaps, the guy wandering down Mackenzie Rd. having a butt. Has the government lost its mind?
Imagine there's a guy selling crack just down the road, and you get busted for having a smoke while walking your dog in the opposite direction. Is this the best the braintrust at the legislative assembly can come up with for saving the souls of law-abiding citizens?
I'm completely dumbfounded.
How about legislating people, you know, with serious life-altering addictions like alcohol abuse or those sucking back the really toxic smoke of hard drugs like crack cocaine and crystal meth to get cleaned up? Or what about legislation to enforce punctuality and attendance at school? No, you see these would be violations of one's human right to be intoxicated at all hours or to be a dropout and we wouldn't want to tread on those precious freedoms.
So let's just go after the nicotine maniacs littering the Territories. Yeah, once we teach those guys a lesson this place will see some real results!
(Some real results might be seen if the GNWT built an addictions treatment centre here in Inuvik, but I digress.)
Add this ludicrous public smoking ban to the GNWT plan to ban the display of tobacco products in retail stores while hardcore porn magazines are in full view to anyone over five feet in height and what you're left with is nothing short of a gong-show.
I guess us smokers will be forced to feel like real health-pervs now, asking the clerk to see that luscious carton of duMauriers hiding behind the counter. Oh, Players, they're just too sexy to be in plain sight!
And be sure the advocates will try and push the argument that fewer smokers means less strain on the already cash-strapped health care system in the years to come.
Real believers in this outlandish legislation will even try to tell you that hiding cigarettes from consumers and banning smoking in public places may even curb smoking among youth.
Pure nonsense when you consider the strain drug addiction, including all its cumulative effects, and a large population of school dropouts already put on the public purse.
There is no handbook on how to deal with elders.
Things were undoubtedly more clear cut centuries ago when Dene tradition was strong. Today, however, with the blending of lifestyles and political practices, it's a fluid situation.
This week's Drum profiles emerging elder Jonas Antoine. He, like Rita Cli, was designated a Liidlii Kue First Nation elder by current chief Keyna Norwegian.
Leo Norwegian, one of the members of the old guard, acknowledges the need for a new crop of elders. Yet he would much prefer that the senior elders be the ones to select their successors. That's how he ascended to the role, he said.
So we have a bit of a conundrum: who should rightfully be selecting an elder?
Then there's the question of how much sway the elders should truly have. A future Deh Cho public government - proposed through a draft constitution and based on Dene values - will ostensibly give an elders' council a central role in many weighty decisions.
But, when it's all said and done, will the elders essentially be a bunch of rubber-stamping figureheads, much like Canadian senators or even more ineffectual, similar to the Queen of England? Or will their recommendations carry real influence? Finally, the scenario unfolding with Leo Norwegian brings to light another wrinkle: what happens when an elder falls out of favour with the political leadership? Could there really be such a thing as a rogue or maverick elder? Should there be a power of recall?
These are some of the complex questions that arise when we don't limit the discussion on elders to the usual platitudes, which remind us that the elders are wise and are to be respected. While that may generally be true, there is so much more at play these days. It just has to be brought to the surface and discussed.
There is no shortage of opinions on the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline but it's interesting to get some youth perspective on the topic in this week's Coffee Break.
Although today's teens and children need adults to make prudent decisions on their behalf, the youth should be as informed as possible on the anticipated consequences, both good and bad.
Roxanna Thompson is in the process of taking over as editor of the Deh Cho Drum.
She arrived in Fort Simpson on Sunday and, in the coming weeks and months, will become a familiar face to the people of this region.
I'll be hanging around for another week or two before departing for Halifax. I trust that you will make Roxanna feel as welcomed as you did me.
In last week's Nunavut News/North, we stated that Jayko Neeveacheak had resigned as Mayor of Taloyoak one year ago. In fact, his term ran out and he decided not to run again. We apologize for the error.