Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Yellowknife schools are in a mess. The three Catholic schools are packed and need more space. Under ordinary circumstances, construction on a new school would have begun.
The public district has more than 900 empty seats in its schools, two at less than 50 per cent capacity. It costs money to run half-empty schools, money better spent on programs.
Surprisingly, there's never been any discussion of closing schools which happens everywhere else when enrolment falls below a certain level.
A government report says all those empty seats, and projections that the city's school-age population is going to fall, means Yellowknife doesn't need a new school.
Education Minister Charles Dent appointed a committee with representatives from both school districts and Aurora College to plan how to deal with the city's future school needs.
First priority was to come up with recommendations on how to meet the Catholic space crunch: by transferring a public school, sharing a school or capping enrolment.
An initial March 15 deadline to report back to Dent was missed because of delays naming an impartial chairperson who could moderate the competing interests on the school facilities committee.
It was evident from the get-go that it would be nearly impossible for the two school boards to agree. Predictably, frustration flared.
The Catholic board has said only a new school will meet its needs.
The public board has to protect its interests. With declining student population, transferring a school could have devastating financial consequences to a board that will need to dip into savings to pay off a deficit budget next year.
With the committee report only being delivered to Dent this week, time is running out to solve the Catholic space crunch in time for this fall.
Dent has admitted as much publicly, so you wonder how quickly he will move to make a decision on the committee recommendations.
For the past six months, the minister has avoided making a decision. He can duck no more and must address the Catholic board's needs and fill those empty public school seats.
Failure to act could have costly consequences.
The government didn't act to meet the needs of French education or language needs and has now lost two court decisions.
Is it ready for another court fight over the future of Catholic education in Yellowknife?
Rankin Inlet Mayor Lorne Kusugak is not about to end his battle with Canada Post to have an Inuktitut-speaking employee at the local post office anytime soon.
Kusugak has lobbied the Crown corporation for a number of years now, and is growing increasingly frustrated over its unwillingness to address the issue.
If a resolution is not found soon, Kusugak may decide to wage the battle on a different front.
He's already wondering out loud about the legalities of a Crown corporation not being able to provide service in the working language of the territory.
Over the years, Canada Post has responded to Kusugak's requests with a number of reasons, including not receiving any complaints about the lack of Inuktitut service, poor past attempts at local hires and the failure of numerous applicants to pass a criminal records check.
Of course, if nobody in the post office speaks Inuktitut, a number of elders could have complained in person and been left to wonder why the employee they were speaking to kept throwing a book of stamps on the counter in front of them.
Verbal complaints aside, the issue is more complex than it seems.
While we support the mayor's stance for Inuktitut service 100 per cent, we also understand the situation Canada Post finds itself in.
And, let's be honest, you only have to look at what's taken place in a number of Nunavut communities this past year to realize Canada Post is a business like any other when it comes to the bottom line.
So, unless one of its current Rankin employees steps aside, it may take a New York lawyer to force the corporation into hiring another worker.
And, we don't think you'll find too many people in the community with complaints about the job performance of the current staff.
They do a good job under trying circumstances.
That being said, Canada Post should also avoid being too judgmental from its perch on-high.
If criminal-record checks of the past were somewhat less than successful, that doesn't mean every Inuktitut-speaking resident of Rankin Inlet is a criminal.
And just because someone sitting at a desk in Iqaluit hasn't been approached by a unilingual person from Rankin with an official complaint, doesn't mean it isn't happening on the local front.
Likewise, ghosts of the past shouldn't be held against the entire community, even if those ghosts made the ill-advised decision to bring their friend "Mary Jane" to work for a visit.
However, we all know how you conduct yourself on the job can impact those who come behind you.
The bottom line here is that local residents deserve the right to conduct business in their own language.
There would be quite the uproar if Canada Post couldn't provide French service in Quebec towns or English in small Alberta communities.
Surely the two sides can put their heads together and come up with a solution that works for everyone.
And, if they try hard enough, maybe they can do it without a law firm's stamp of approval.
Nothing beats a good gathering of people, and Friday night at the Legion was just that.
It was the musical farewell to James Boraski, and the first event leading up to the End of the Road music festival.
Those of you who packed into the Legion for the live music acts that night know what I mean when I say deep atmosphere.
The music was great, and I really enjoyed Craig Fudge's rendition of Johnny Cash's live at Folsom prison performance.
I don't know what it is about the man in black, but I always find time to stop what I am doing and just enjoy his music.
Craig, and everyone else who got up and performed that night, deserve hearty applause.
I have always enjoyed live music, and I don't think I am alone.
There is something about a live band that brings the community together.
Like actor Vince Vaughn said in one of his movies: "Live music is like pizza, it's never bad."
Speaking of pizza, I think I owe the Kraft food company a life -long debt.
I can't get enough of those oven-baked 'Delissio' pizzas.
Cooking was a skill that I never could get a grip on, what with all the take-out, and microwavable goodies out there to tempt me.
I am glad to see that there are youth out there who have skills that will help them later in life.
A group of students from Samuel Hearne just returned from a trip to Yellowknife where they took part in the annual Skills Canada territorial competition.
Again, not to harbour on my past, but I do remember those experiences to be good ones.
Granted, the skills trip was my only "out" during my school years.
(I was not terribly athletic, so Super Soccer was not on my list of yearly trips south.)
I have to applaud the school for sending those nine youth down for the competition.
Experiences like the skills trip help develop a person.
You meet new people, and gain a confidence that can only be found out of mother's nest.
Most of you parents out there can remember what it was like to take that yearly school trip out of town.
Maybe it was by a bus, maybe you packed 10 people into a truck. Either way, you still got to see new things.
I guess the point I am trying to get across is that I want to see more programs that challenge youth's minds, as well as their physical prowess.
It rained on Tuesday morning, and I thought it was pretty cool, until everything froze over.
Try not to slip and fall on the ice outside, because nothing is more embarrassing than falling down on ice.
People in the North can breathe a small sigh of relief.
If the opinions of medical experts can be trusted, it looks like avian flu is something that can be crossed off the short-term list of items to worry about.
Goodness knows that most people have lots on their plate, so taking a potentially deadly virus out of the mix can only be a good thing.
A very relevant question, however, is how concerned should we have been about avian flu in the first place.
If you watch, read or listen to the media, stories about avian flu pop up almost every other day.
There is a scare everytime a bird in a new country is found with the virus. Sometimes it turns out a dead bird didn't have the virus at all, creating yet another story to let people know.
Following medical news for a prolonged period of time is enough to turn almost anyone into to hypochondriac. It can also be dangerous when people hear only bits of stories or reports that contradict each other -- something that happens a fair bit.
At times it's hard to know what to believe about avian flu. Of course this is nothing new. There always seems to be a new disease or virus that becomes the biggest scare for a while before slipping back below the radar, maybe quietly passing its time before rising up again like a monster from the depths.
Sometimes viruses have to be put into perspective. Worldwide, only a few hundred people have died from avian flu. In Canada every year, an average of 500 to 1,500 people die from complications related to normal strains of flu and pneumonia. The numbers are higher using some counting methods, which place the deaths at 700 to 2,500.
But with the light-heartedness wiped away, there is, of course, a deadly serious side to all of this talk of pandemic influenzas.
Pandemics can and do happen with tragic results. Maybe they capture the minds of the masses because unlike many other diseases, they often hit suddenly and people die quickly.
While Canada's chief medical officer Dr. David Butler-Jones said it's far more likely that a new dangerous virus will pop up in south-east Asia, there is still a chance, although a remote one, that it could happen in our own backyard.
But the chance of this happening shouldn't send people scurrying to buy medical face masks and lock themselves in their homes. Oddly enough, Butler-Jones recommends many of the same obvious precautions that any parent shares with their children as they grow up.
In the case of avian flu, don't touch or eat any bird that looks suspicious and make sure you practise safe hygiene while cleaning and preparing them.
For worries about other nasty flu strains, sneeze or cough into tissues so you don't spread germs, disinfect household surfaces that might be contaminated and don't go to work if you are sick.
Only time will tell what will happen with avian flu and other flu variations. In the meantime, keep washing your hands.