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Monday, June 02, 2008
Budget cuts show poor priorities

The proposed territorial budget shows a balance between sound decision making and all-out blunder.

In Inuvik the Arctic Tern Rehabilitation Centre is slated for closure and in Yellowknife the sexual offender and domestic violence treatment programs at the Great Slave Correctional Facility are both on the chopping block.

According to a 2006 report by the NWT Bureau of Statistics, the NWT has four times more sexual assaults than the national average. That same report indicates 12 per cent of the territorial population has been the victim of domestic abuse, five per cent higher than the Canadian average.

Eliminating or even reducing treatment programs in a territory where they are obviously needed would be misguided.

The job of our justice system is more than to simply store offenders until their release. It has a responsibility to attempt rehabilitation to prevent people from reoffending. Even if only successful in a fraction of cases, the programs save money and further trauma brought on by repeat offenders.

Since the announcement that government spending would be scaled back by $135 million, job cuts were the biggest concern around the territory.

Cutting recreation positions in many communities was one of the more hotly-contested ideas. We're pleased to see the government listening to its constituents, choosing to leave those positions in place.

Recreation in the NWT is vital. According to the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey, 57 per cent of NWT residents are either overweight or obese.

Recreation has also been attributed to crime prevention, providing a healthy outlet to both youth and adults.

With those points in mind, it was a wise investment by the GNWT not to cut those positions.

When searching for legitimate fat to cut, the government must make effective use of its $400,000 investment into a program review office. Union feedback is a must during the process. There is no doubt the GNWT is a bloated bureaucracy in need of trimming. The goal will be to make cuts without sacrificing vital services.

Tighter control on travel budgets and expenses will also be key to weeding out unnecessary spending.

Although the union has called some of the GNWT's reinvestment plans insufficient, it is important to recognize some money is finally going into long-standing territorial concerns. More than $17 million to affordable housing will not address all the need, but it's a start.

Hopefully the $33 million into health care will include investment into preventative programs, which will stretch that money even further.

MLAs will have to ensure government accountability and work to protect the jobs and programs that will save the government money in the long run.

Open up, save a life

Words are powerful things.

Whether spoken or written, they are an expression of ourselves.

When we choose not to communicate with others, when we allow negative and damaging emotions to swell and drown us, that is when we get into trouble.

Sometimes our problems seem so serious that we contemplate ending it all. The thought of escape is tempting because it means that we can leave all our hardship behind.

But that is not all we leave behind. Last week guest columnist Sean Rombough (Suicide isn't painless) used searing and heartfelt words to describe the anguish tormenting those left behind.

"We're left feeling we failed them. We're left feeling our love was not enough (...) I don't think there's anything more painful than a friend dying and carrying a sense of responsibility for their death for the rest of your life."

The sad fact is that there are many, too many, left in that predicament in our territory. Close to two dozen Nunavummiut take their own lives every year, a rate 11 times higher than the Canadian average.

Some of that is related to alcohol and drug abuse. Some of it undoubtedly can be traced back to the trauma of a home life torn apart by residential school. Some of it is a response to being physically or sexually abused, or a sign of the guilt plaguing the conscience of those who have abused others.

There is no simple antidote, no magic potion, but there are words. If you're feeling overwhelmed or desperate, please, turn to a parent, a brother, sister or a friend. Let a nurse, a doctor or a social worker know how you are feeling and that you need support.

If you need to remain anonymous, call a helpline. There are counsellors at the other end of the phone ready to listen and offer reassurance.

Here is a sage piece of advice from author Harriet Beecher Stowe, sentiment that would serve any of us well when we find ourselves contemplating the worst:

"When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."

Those who decide to end their lives prematurely never get to see the better days that lie ahead.

Talking to others can see you through your darkest hour, if only you'll let them help.

Regional election a must
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum
Thursday, May 29, 2008

With each passing week that draws the region closer to the Dehcho First Nations' annual assembly, the event gets a bit more exciting.

When he entered office as the grand chief, Jerry Antoine said he expected this year's assembly in Kakisa to be the largest and one of the most important the Deh Cho has ever seen. At the assembly, leaders will be tasked with making plans of action on a variety of issues. The ongoing negotiations with the federal and territorial government is sure to be one of the hot topics.

The assembly also had an extra layer of excitement because a new grand chief was to be chosen at that time. When he began in February Antoine's term was only scheduled to last until the assembly. Plans, however, are in the works that might slightly change that and make the assembly discussions even more important.

The Dehcho leadership recently held their spring leadership meeting in Fort Liard from May 14-16. During the meeting they appointed the Dehcho First Nations' (DFN) executive as an elections committee.

The committee has been tasked with examining options for how to fill the position of grand chief, particularly through a regional election. They will take their research and make a recommendation at the annual assembly.

The idea of holding a regional election, in which all Dehcho First Nations' members would have a direct vote, has been in circulation for a number of years. Most of the speakers at the spring leadership meeting supported the idea.

Holding a regional election would be a step in the right direction for DFN.

The current practice is to elect a grand chief from a list of candidates at the annual assembly. In this process only the delegates at the assembly have a direct vote.

While there's a vote involved in the current practice it only includes a small segment of the population. Yes, the chiefs and delegates at the assembly are there to represent the wishes of their communities but that knowledge still doesn't make the process seem as democratic as it could be.

No matter how the delegates vote they will never be able to satisfy all their members because not everyone will want the same candidate.

All members of DFN should have the right to have a direct vote on who is elected as the next grand chief.

Barring any incidents, that person will be heading the organization for the next three years. That individual will be the spokesperson and the face that organizations, governments and individuals across the territory and the country will associate with DFN. It will often be up to that person as grand chief to rally the communities together and promote certain courses of action.

The position of grand chief is an important one in the Deh Cho. A regional election would assure that all members of DFN feel that they've had the chance to choose their own leader. Even if their chosen candidate isn't elected, at least they had an opportunity to influence the outcome.

When the assembly begins at the end of June hopefully a regional election will be announced as the next step for choosing a grand chief.

The right choice is rarely easy
Editorial Comment
Brodie Thomas
Inuvik News
Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fiscal restraint is rarely glamorous or exciting.

We live in a society of instant gratification where advertisers tell us that we deserve it all, we deserve the best, and we shouldn't have to wait for those things we want.

In reality, a good percentage of the population is saddled with debt that is a result of buying things they could have lived without.

That is not to say that families here in the territory do not struggle to make ends meet. But as someone who once worked in retail I have watched rent go unpaid so Ski-Doos and DVDs could instead be purchased. I've seen people buy a week's worth of junk food with their monthly food budget, only to come looking for a loan when the cupboards were bare. It is painful to watch someone without self-control, but we live in a free society and people can spend their money as they please.

Premier Floyd Roland showed great fiscal restraint on two levels in the past few weeks. He finally took advantage of the pension plan that was coming to him, and he presented a balanced budget for the territories.

By opting into a pension plan that he originally voted against, Roland is taking his retirement into his own hands and lessening the burden on the federal and territorial social security nets. I'm sure it wasn't an easy choice. By opting in, he opened himself to criticism from the media. He was portrayed as a hypocrite for taking advantage of something he originally opposed. But we are all entitled to change our minds.

When you have the facts, it is clear that the pension plan is no longer costing the taxpayers a single cent. It was originally set up with a modest input of public money in the 1990s, but it is now growing on its own though member's private investments and the magic of compound interest. Putting aside part of your paycheque for a rainy day rather than succumbing to instant gratification is a wise move.

As finance minister, Roland made some tough choices in the territorial budget. The matter is by no means settled yet. He decided it was necessary to cut jobs. He will face opposition on this, and perhaps an alternative solution will be found, but he deserves kudos for at least making the tough decision.

Too many politicians in other provinces have borrowed billions to buy votes, saddling future generations with debt.

There are real people out there who face the prospect of losing their jobs, but the job market here in the territories is still strong. There is no such thing as job security in the 21st century.

Hopefully those facing the axe have exercised fiscal restraint of their own in the past, and have some money set aside for this rainy season ahead.

Quebec approach now in disfavour
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Journalism 101 quickly shows the next generation of Peter Gzowski or Robertson Davies wannabes how numbers can be used to paint many different pictures.

They are to be viewed with inherent suspicion and skepticism, and rarely to be taken at face value.

For every positive quill writing about an almost 75 per cent success rate, there's a negative pen telling you more than one in four failed.

Such are the basic angles played in a 70-30, depending on the agenda of those presenting the numbers.

But numbers aren't alone when it comes to distorting issues so the masses see things in a certain light.

Trade unions are wonderful when they're protecting job seniority, arguing grievances, obtaining cost-of-living allowances and securing better health benefits.

They're not so wonderful, however, when you realize you can't meet your mortgage, pay your Visa or enjoy all those little perks you've grown accustomed to on $100 strike pay.

That's when "they" put you in this position, those unionists who you never really agreed with anyway.

A short time ago, Nunavummiut were engaged in passionate debate over a new language act on its way.

At that point in time, Quebec was a shining example, to many, of what could be accomplished.

Conveniently forgotten was the fact French is an official language in this country, and the denizens of a large upper-scale apartment building in Montreal pay more into federal coffers yearly than our entire territory.

Also not mentioned was Quebec being Canada's only officially unilingual province since Robert Bourassa introduced Bill 22 in 1974.

No matter, even, that Quebec's Bill 101 later made it illegal to post business signs in any other language other than French, and it took a Supreme Court of Canada ruling and a United Nations appeal to strike it down.

Nope, as militant and unconstitutional as the approach may have been, to many, Quebec was a shining example of how Nunavut should approach making Inuktitut its official language.

But the debate has changed, and while members of the legislative assembly banter over language, passionate voices are rising over our proposed education act and, suddenly, Quebec is not such a shining example anymore.

It's perceived that francophones are going to have more control over their educational system than local District Education Authorities are going to have over theirs, and we can't have that.

But, really, why should we care?

What really matters is that every Nunavut resident has access to the best possible education they can obtain, and that everyone can get the answer to their question at the end of the day.

Hopefully, the laws that govern our language and education will, really, end up being made in Nunavut and not adopted from Quebec or anywhere else.

And maybe they'll even view all our residents as equals, seeing as how we all live as neighbours.

If not, maybe someone can further their agenda by dropping me a line explaining when equal access and opportunity became such a contentious notion - in any language!