Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Public, Catholic boards must work together to protect quality of education
1. Come September, Yellowknife Catholic Schools needs classrooms for 100 to 280 students in preparation for the retrofit of Ecole St. Joseph school.
2. Yellowknife Education District No. 1 board is not going to turn one of its schools over to the Catholic board, even for the three years it will take to renovate St. Joe's.
That leaves two options: Education minister Charles Dent will have to fire the Yk 1 board and replace it with an appointed trustee willing to transfer a school; or, the two school districts will have to work together.
Given his reluctance to make damaging political decisions, Dent is unlikely to fire an elected board.
That leaves one option: two school districts sharing space.
The public board says it is willing to share. It has plenty of room, at least 450 empty seats, depending on whose numbers are used; the education department says Yk 1 has more than 800 empty spaces.
It's no secret YCS wants its students in a school of its own, but it's in no position to dictate to anyone, not with three schools full to the brim and a looming construction deadline.
Taking a hard line will appease core supporters, but would alienate a larger number of middle of the road families. The YCS board earned some enemies with its lawsuit and recent accusation that Dent wants to "eradicate" the Catholic system.
There's already growing talk about amalgamating boards as a way to overcome the space crisis.
The only thing YCS can control is the quality of education offered in its schools.
Yk 1 has to be prepared to hand over enough school space to accommodate YCS needs.
Offering a couple of classrooms here and another couple somewhere else is not a workable solution.
That space has to include access to computer labs, science rooms and enough gym time to meet the curriculum.
Sharing a school is not easy, in fact it can be a scheduling nightmare. There were plenty of bumps getting St. Joe's students into William McDonald and NJ McPherson schools after the fire last August, but classes started up on time.
Sharing also means more staff, because you can't have a music teacher in St. Joe's at 10:30 a.m. and then expect them to teach at a school across town at 10:35 a.m.
Both boards need to put aside their differences and work together with one objective: the best possible solution for the students of both districts.
That means the least possible disruption and the best arrangement that doesn't cost taxpayers huge amounts of money.
With another federal election not far in the future, three hats sit in the Liberal ring seeking the Nunavut nomination to run for Parliament Hill.
Unless you live in an iglu far, far on the land, you know Nancy Karetak-Lindell has announced she will not seek another term as Nunavut's member of Parliament (MP).
Lindell never faced any real challenges during the past two elections, neither during the nomination process nor the elections themselves.
That created quick interest in Nunavut as to who would seek the Liberal nomination, and how the successful candidate would fare when Nunavummiut head to the voting booths.
In fact, we would be surprised if the ranks of Nunavut's Liberal Party didn't swell to record numbers before the next election.
Would-be voters on Nunavut's Liberal candidate must join the political big red machine two weeks before a meeting is held to select the party's candidate.
While we do expect a few more candidates to come forward before the Liberals make their choice, we can't help but notice the eclectic mix of the three who have announced their intentions.
We have the old guard firmly represented in former Liberal MP Jack Anawak, the roll-up-the-sleeves-and-let's-get-to-it approach of Rankin Inlet Mayor Lorne Kusugak that's so appealing to the working class, and the ranks of the up-and-coming generation in Iqaluit's Kirt Ejesiak.
While the Kivalliq needs no introduction to either Anawak or Kusugak, Ejesiak is not a household name in this region, despite being the first Inuk to receive a post-secondary degree from Harvard University.
Ejesiak is also a former City of Iqaluit councillor and deputy mayor, and former principal secretary to Premier Paul Okalik.
He has already begun pounding the drum of youth, saying it's time for more youthful leaders to step up and take their place in Nunavut.
There's no doubt he's looking for Kusugak and Anawak to split the votes of long-time party members, and he's canvassing the under-30 crowd hard to join the Liberals and support his nomination.
It would be interesting, although highly unlikely, if these were the only three to seek the nomination.
The youth-versus-the-elders' vote has long been a topic of debate in Nunavut as to which group wields the most political clout.
During my time in Kivalliq since 1998, I would lean towards the elders being the more powerful of the two.
That's mainly due to the fact many young voters don't bother to cast their ballot.
Should Ejesiak prove charismatic enough to entice them to sign up and support his nomination, and then vote on election day, that power base could change in a split second.
So, we already have interesting story lines starting to develop and we still haven't heard much from the Tories or the NDP.
That could change quickly if the new federal budget is not supported when tabled this coming week.
If that's the case, it could be the first step in a parade of out with the old and in with the new reaching from Ottawa all the way to Nunavut.
My gears are grinding once again and this time, the territorial government finds itself right in my hot seat.
I'm writing about the government's apparent lack of interest when it comes to negotiating with the owner of the Perry Building, Catia Stamatelakis.
I think the best way to solve the dispute between the building owner and the territorial government is for both parties to sit down and hammer out an agreement of some sort.
In the 30 years the Perry Building has been standing in Inuvik, the GNWT has been the only tenant. Apparently, the building was made especially for the government to use for office space.
Now, after a controversial renovation and an accused lapse in rent payments, the GNWT appears unwilling to negotiate with the Perry Building owner. I can't say for sure because the government isn't talking.
I'm getting confused because this is not the way I expected the government to act.
No matter who did what and why things are in the state they are in, the government should at least be open to discussion with the owner.
The owner of the building has legitimate questions about the building and why it was renovated. She is now the owner of a damaged property that may need hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.
That means that even if she wanted to evict the GNWT from the building, she would have to pay for renovations before putting the property back on the market.
This whole matter has been boiling for more than a year, since the building was evacuated after being declared unsafe.
Since then, an inspector hired by the owner has declared the building safe to use.
What the two parties need to do is get together and work out a settlement regarding what happened to the building that led to it being condemned.
There should be no hesitation from the tenant to explain the events that led to the walls being taken down.
If the reasoning was legitimate, why wasn't the owner informed at the time of the renovation?
The fact is that nobody is standing up for this woman. Her husband started a local business over 30 years ago to serve the GNWT.
The family invested a lot of money and resources into the project they named the Perry Building, after the owner, Perry Stamatelakis.
They lived in Inuvik for 20 years and started a family here. Because of the man's health, they moved to Edmonton, near the medical services he needed to survive.
There should be someone by her side who will look for a fair result to this matter.
This should all start with a new inspection of the entire building from top to bottom, done by an independent engineer agreed to by both parties.
This dispute is the result of two engineers who said different things about the structural integrity of the building.
This matter does not need to go to the courts, but it looks like it might end there if an agreement isn't reached soon.
For the dead of winter, a lot of people have been seeing green lately.
This green isn't the green of the local coniferous trees, the green of a wad of bills or even a green shade of envy - it's the green of environmentalism.
If environmentalism is a bandwagon it must be getting pretty crowded. Lately there has been a lot of movement and talk from all levels of government about how they are either already green or are putting plans in place to become green.
On the national level Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been making a lot of headlines with his apparent turn to the green side which involves a number of promises including more money for provinces to help fight pollution and greenhouse gases.
Shades of green are also becoming prominent in the government of the NWT.
During his recent tour of some of the Deh Cho communities to host constituency meetings, MLA Kevin Menicoche was questioned about the government's plans for the environment.
The NWT is slowly switching to a green agenda, said Menicoche.
Plans in the new budget include programs to help people upgrade to better doors and windows, incentives to switch to hybrid vehicles and more money for testers to conduct energy efficiency tests. Serious searches for alternative energy sources are also part of the game plan.
The colour green has also been making its presence known at the local level.
In Fort Simpson a committee of village councillors and community members is working to create an energy plan that is sure to include ways to decrease energy usage and make better use of the energy that is already available.
Environmental issues have also been part of the long running concerns of members of the Dehcho First Nations.
Recent discussions have focused on the oil sands in Alberta and possible effects on water levels in the Mackenzie River basin. The spectre of cyanide at the Prairie Creek mine site was also on the agenda at the winter leadership meeting.
Why all this greenness?
It may be because people are awakening to the fact that more efforts need to be made to make our lifestyles environmentally friendly and all levels of government are responding to the wishes of their constituents.
The reason could be centered on the fact that leaders realize there is a problem and it will cost less to start finding solutions now than it will to fight the damage later on.
Or it could be that leaders are using fear of environmental disaster to scare people into following their line of thinking.
Whatever the reason, the bonus is that something is being done.
It's not hard to see that things in the natural world people have taken for granted have started to change.
Temperatures aren't following seasonal patterns, ice isn't as thick as it once was, animals are moving in different ways... the list goes on and on.
While it's going to take a lot more than replacing doors and windows for more efficient models or recycling plastic juice containers to fix the mess we're in, this is a beginning and great things often have small beginnings.
It would take a complete shift in our lifestyles to put a halt to environmental degradation but until that time, keep filling your recycling box.