Wednesday, March 8, 2006
It will be one year to the day Cyril Fyfe and Kevin Olson lost their lives fighting a fire in a shed at Home Building Centre.
While we join with the families, friends and general public in mourning the two men, this grim anniversary comes around with too many questions left unanswered.
Even the families of the dead men don't know what's going on or why their loved ones died.
Last week's release of a dozen Workers' Compensation Board safety orders cracked the code of silence, but only provided hints all is not right at the fire hall. Our question is: In the hazardous situations firefighters must face, who's in charge of safety?
Is it the fire chief, ultimately responsible for what happened at the deadly fire that day? He has been ordered to become recertified to present firefighting standards, one of a dozen operational deficiencies found by the WCB.
Is it City Hall, which has kept a hands off approach to finding out what went so wrong that two city employees were killed?
Is it the fire marshal of the Northwest Territories who has withheld any findings that would have prevented a similar situation happening any time in the past year?
Is it the Workers' Compensation Board which appears more concerned with "prosecution," something that speaks more to recouping money paid out to the firefighters' survivors than it does workplace safety? It has taken them a year to come up with critical safety orders.
The command structure and procedures in place 51 weeks ago remain intact but no one has identified what went wrong, why Fyfe and Olson died.
Until someone - dare we suggest mayor and council - takes responsibility for management of the fire hall, equipment will continue to deteriorate, morale will erode and firefighter turnover will increase.
Meanwhile the people of Yellowknife will be left to wonder: Is the Yellowknife Fire Department capable of fighting a major blaze without serious injury or another death? Does anybody in authority care?
Rankin Inlet North MLA Tagak Curley's absence at the official announcement of Nunavut's first trade school coming to Rankin did not go unnoticed by hamlet council.
Council and Mayor Lorne Kusugak were so incensed by Curley's absence, that Kusugak drafted an official letter of concern to the MLA, which was endorsed by council during its regular meeting this past week.
Short of an emergency or very poor health, whatever Curley's "personal" reasons were for not attending the announcement or dignitary luncheon afterwards were not good enough.
Kusugak is right with at least two of his assertions to Curley.
First: not only council, but the community noticed his absence.
Second: this was an important announcement for Rankin - one that's going to bring jobs and money into our community.
Curley should have laid aside any differences he had with the way the Government of Nunavut (GN) makes its announcements and showed his support for the trade school.
This was a time for representing the people of Rankin and helping the hamlet celebrate the best economic news it has received in quite some time.
The third of Kusugak's contentions is the most difficult to substantiate, but could have the most dramatic impact.
Premier Paul Okalik and Education Minister Ed Picco will not be happy about being snubbed by an MLA.
And, Rankin is still lobbying long and hard for a new regional correctional facility in the community.
It's not that difficult to imagine a scenario in which such a snub could come back to haunt the community.
We firmly believe our premier is above that type of petty and malicious politics, but if you keep pulling on a bear's ears, sooner or later you're going to get mauled.
The Rankin snub was one of two Curley mis-steps during the month.
Curley's comments concerning the ministerial review in the legislature were ill-advised, and his remarks to Iqaluit Central MLA Hunter Tootoo while his microphone was still on is not the type of mistake you expect from such a seasoned political veteran.
Curley has seemed at odds with the GN since losing his bid to become premier, and it's time he puts his personal feelings aside and puts the needs of his constituents first.
There's a difference between wanting accountability, asking for transparency and simply picking a fight.
And lately, Curley seems bent on picking a fight.
There may come a day when Curley is premier of Nunavut and represents all the people of the territory, but that's not today.
Today, Curley is the MLA for a community that needs him to use his experience and political savvy to bring more opportunity to its doors, not alienate it from the hands controlling the purse strings.
Should Curley continue down the path he is blazing, he may find another difficult day looms ahead - one commonly referred to as election day.
If turning a bunch of converted pipeline employee barracks into low-income housing is the best idea the GNWT braintrust can come up with, it's time to clean house in the legislative assembly.
Too bad the electoral boundaries commission is nearly finished its tour of communities for input, because downsizing the government is the best idea I can come up with. (Come to think of it, NWT residents have until March 7 to submit a written statement regarding the matter, so get your pencils sharpened.)
If the territories were hosting the next Olympic Games, housing issues would be addressed in the wake of the event by a bunch of sweet condos built for visiting athletes and ready for any future occupancy. But instead, we're on the threshold of building a pipeline, so lo' and behold, why not house people in the remaining tin shacks after the construction workforce returns south?
Not only will this idea of converting trailers to "suitable" housing serve to stigmatize their occupants, but this future solution to the ongoing housing problems plaguing the territories will become available somewhere after 2010 - the earliest case scenario for completing the pipeline.
Honestly, it makes you thankful the territory isn't hosting a travelling circus or they'd probably corral low-income qualifiers into the leftover big top tent. Send in the clowns!
I think if I have to hear the phrase "working together" one more time, perhaps I'll puke. At a recent meeting in town (not the electoral one), this particular political-speak was uttered more than a dozen times. And you can bet those doing the uttering weren't talking about the elder in Tsiigehtchic whose house was in danger of being washed onto the frozen Arctic Red River by overflow spilling from a Dempster Highway culvert. (News/North, Feb. 20)
The Department of Transportation (DOT) said it was the housing authority's problem - despite the fact the overflow source was coming from a highway culvert - but in the end, DOT fixed it and billed housing for the work.
But just think if these government departments hadn't decided to "work together" when they did: the home in question could've been floating down the river come breakup.
The electoral boundaries commission says its parameters, in terms of recommending the addition or subtraction of seats in the legislative assembly - already with 19 members - is between 15 and 25.
I say drop the number of MLAs to 15. Then go through each department and clear out the redundant positions. With regional self-government throughout the NWT in various stages of reaching fruition, the last thing the GNWT needs is more politicians.
Judging from the recent culvert controversy, it would appear to some the government can't even fix an overflow problem without stirring up an internal hullabaloo.
Something struck me while I was talking to Yvonne Haist, one of the instructors at the trauma workshop offered this week in Fort Simpson.
Haist commented that she was impressed by the number of resources available in the community for dealing with trauma.
This recognition is something to be proud of, since it comes from a professional who is accustomed to the larger centres in British Columbia.
The resources Haist mentioned are not just programs - they also have a human element.
She stated that there is a lot of strength in the community to help people work through trauma. This points to both the inner strength of those who are suffering, but also to the strength that people have to help them.
It's unfortunate that so many resources, including a workshop, are needed for trauma because it shows that many people are traumatized by events in their lives. But it's also comforting to know that the community stands ready to help those who need assistance.
Someone with an outside perspective like Haist is often able to look at a community and notice strong points that may go unnoticed or taken for granted in daily life. But outsiders can also look in and point out deficiencies.
On Feb. 27, another workshop was offered in Fort Simpson. This session focussed on helping people understand disabilities and the issues that the disabled face.
The message coming from the workshop is that a lot of work is still needed in this area. Many people still have misconceptions and need to be educated about disabilities, said Cecily Hewitt, the executive director for the NWT Council for Persons with Disabilities.
Even disabilities that seem reasonably straightforward, like hearing loss, remain surrounded by false information. Hearing loss is often mistaken for senility, said Hewitt.
People also need to understand what it's like to live with a physical disability.
One exercise at the workshop involved oven gloves wrapped in tape. Participants had to wear the gloves while trying to complete simple tasks like taking the lid off a tube of toothpaste, squeezing some paste out and brushing their teeth. They were also asked to brush their hair with a comb.
The purpose of the exercise was to illustrate the frustration of living with a form of limited mobility. It also provided an experience of not being independent and having to ask for help.
In communities, the biggest barrier for people with physical disabilities remains the lack of accessible buildings. Disabled people can be barred from completing tasks and errands that others take for granted because they cannot enter certain buildings.
With the communities showing success in pooling together and creating the resources necessary to help people cope with trauma, maybe the next project should be to meet the needs of those living with disabilities.
In the Friday, March 3 edition of Yellowknifer, the Chris Argue Memorial Fund was incorrectly identified.
As well, Canadian Idol contestant Noel Taylor is from Yellowknife. Incorrect information was printed in Yellowknifer on March 1.
We regret any embarrassment or inconvenience that may have resulted from the errors.
Kaila Anawak-Gamble of Rankin Inlet attended the Canadian Idol audition in Yellowknife to support a friend. Incorrect information was printed in Kivalliq News March 1. We apologize for any embarrassment or confusion.