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NWT News/North
Flights of fancy
Monday, December 8, 2008

For months the GNWT has been whining about the need to raise taxes and cut jobs to cover a $40-million deficit.

With that, one would think the government would seek ways to curb unnecessary spending.

Unfortunately, our government leaders have proven time and time again that they have very little common sense in this regard. First and foremost they should remember the people who put the money in the coffers so they can collect their hefty paycheques.

We have long-time territorial residents leaving for the south because they can no longer afford the cost of living, even though salaries in the North are, on average, much higher than the south.

In response to this crisis the government has proposed a tax increase and the power corp. has hiked its rates, which compounds the high costs of food, housing and fuel.

As costs rise, people move. As people move, the territory receives fewer dollars from the federal government in transfers. In response, taxes and rates rise to meet the shortfall. It's a vicious cycle.

In that vein, it is ludicrous that MLAs attempt to justify a $30,000 trip to Malaysia to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, which has very little Northern relevance.

These trips bear minimal value for the significant expenses incurred.

Our MLAs can swear the conference has educational value until they are blue in the face, but the truth is they just don't want to lose an all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic locale. Denying they are nothing more than a vacation is a bald-faced lie. We can't see how a cultural tour of Kuala Lumpur has any value to Northerners.

We would love to be able to tell the people of the North the workshops gave MLAs ideas on how to decrease power costs in the NWT, how to save people on food costs, or even how to build the Mackenzie Valley highway or Deh Cho bridge better and cheaper. But we can't.

The MLAs admit they have no obligation to report on what they did while attending the conference. There is no accountability to the public or even to the legislative assembly. That in itself makes these trips worthless and is basically flushing money down the toilet.

If the GNWT insists on maintaining its membership in the association then the rule should be to only send the Speaker, whose expenses are covered by the membership fee. To continue to allow another MLA to attend with the option to bring his or her partner is ridiculous.

We challenge the legislative assembly to prove the value of these conferences with a public report on what was discussed and how it can be applied to the North. If the public is not convinced then the government should withdraw from the association and spend the money on Northern residents.

Northerners demand more accountability from MLAs than statements such as "It would be shortsighted to think that we don't have anything to learn from other jurisdictions or parts of the world." Those are Speaker Paul Delorey's words.

There may be a kernel of truth in them, but as the economy enters lean times we suggest Delorey and Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko -- who has been on two of these overseas trips -- bring the world to them instead. A subscription to National Geographic, for example, would do just that.

The balance of the funds could stay here at home.

Nunavut News/North
Rent to own
Monday, December 8, 2008

In Nunavut, the amount of rent paid by tenants of social housing units varies according to the household's total disposable income as reported to the Canadian Revenue Agency.

Rent ranges anywhere from 10 to 28 per cent of income. Seniors and the disabled are not charged.

It's been argued that Nunavut's current sliding rent scale discourages tenants to find jobs. If their income increases, so does their rent.

A 2004 report by the Nunavut Housing Corporation and Nunavut Tunngavik stated 45 per cent of all housing in Nunavut was public housing. Only 28 per cent of Nunavummiut were homeowners, compared to 63 per cent nationally. Of the 28 per cent who owned homes, only seven per cent had purchased them without government assistance.

Home ownership tends to go hand-in-hand with long-term, high-paying steady employment, which is rare in most communities.

Those with high-paying jobs are paying the highest social housing rents, making it difficult to accumulate the money to buy a home. Those with household incomes in excess of $125,000 don't qualify for the GN's down-payment grants.

The same report indicated the Nunavut Housing Corporation spent $18,000 per unit a year on operation and maintenance. Waiting lists are regularly more than 1,000 families long. There's is, unquestionably, a public housing crunch.

The government should make an innovative change allowing tenants to put a substantial portion of their rent towards a home down-payment program. This would take many years, allowing for the private housing market to grow.

It's in the government's best interest to encourage home ownership. Every family able to purchase their own home saves the corporation $18,000 annually and reduces the public housing waiting list by one.

An expanded home ownership program would help the territory make the most of its limited federal funds for social housing.

Nunavut News/North
Art: a renewable resource
Monday, December 8, 2008

There is a growing demand for tours in Nunavut; some cruises along the Baffin coast are fully booked years in advance.

Much of this demand stems from the international success of Inuit art and film. People want to see the landscape, culture and people that produced the art seen in galleries and museums all over the world.

Nunavut's art industry has two advantages over most. First, print-making and carving skills are already established in the territory. Second, the territory's art is already popular internationally.

All the artists need is logistical support - grants for materials, shipping, workshops and travel - to boost their incomes and spending power. More art and artists on the world stage increases Nunavut's profile and draws more art buyers and visitors.

Yukon has an entire government department for tourism and culture, recognizing the link between the two, and their importance to the economy. The department's budget for arts and culture grants currently stands at $2.7 million.

Nunavut doles out a few hundred thousand dollars a year, often late, to the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, which has full-time staff of one person. Money for artists' tools and materials are accessible through community economic development offices.

Art and tourism are valuable renewable resources. It's time the territorial government start treating them as such.

Exiled from main street
Friday, December 05 2008

Cursing, fighting, screaming, panhandling, urinating and defecating - those are just some of the sights and sounds one can expect while strolling through downtown, summer or winter.

Last week, territorial court deputy judge Michel Bourassa banned a homeless, alcoholic woman from an eight-block stretch of Franklin Avenue after she was convicted for disturbing the peace.

The woman had run into an acquaintance on Yellowknife's main street and asked her for $10. When the acquaintance refused, the woman followed her, cursing and shouting along way. She even followed the person into the A&W and continued her harangue there.

There's no doubt that services for addicts and homeless people in the city are lacking. We no longer have a drop-in centre for psychiatric outpatients, neither is there an addictions treatment centre in the city nor an adequate number of public washrooms for homeless people.

These are all areas of concern the government needs to address to make life better for the city's downtrodden.

However, this city's residents - no matter what walk of life they represent - are obligated to show some respect and behave themselves. Accosting and shouting at passersby is certainly not the way.

Yellowknifer staff have seen it all. Our office is downtown and much of the depravity is on display right outside our windows.

A couple of months ago, a Yellowknifer editor was treated to the sight of a woman crouched in an alcove with her pants around her ankles at Centre Square Mall. She urinated a stream that flowed across the sidewalk and into the gutter.

After she was done, the woman stepped onto the sidewalk, obviously intoxicated, and began shouting at people.

Bourassa worried what sort of impression the woman convicted of disturbing the peace last week would leave on tourists.

Undoubtedly, tourists would be disturbed at the sight but so are residents who live in, work and visit downtown everyday.

Lydia Bardak, a city councillor and co-ordinator of community justice with the John Howard Society, questioned whether it is right to bar people from large areas of the city.

"How does that affect our rights of freedom of mobility in this country?" she asked.

The obvious answer is if you're sober and well-behaved you can go wherever you please.

Thursday, December 4, 2008
Foresight needed
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum

When they're making changes governments, ranging from municipal to federal, usually try to package their initiatives in a pleasing way, blatantly promoting the benefits, in order ease the shock of the change. The territorial government has completely missed this boat with their board mergers.

On Oct. 23, Minister Michael Miltenberger announced all public boards in the territory related to housing, education and health will be merged into six regional boards by 2011. A seventh board will also be formed to oversee the new regional boards.

Upon announcing this plan, Miltenberger and the rest of the government should have been prepared to answer the basic questions that everyone was bound to have. Some of the main queries include precisely which boards will be melded and how the new regional boards will function.

Even before the announcement was made all the boards that will be included in the mergers should have been contacted, if not for their opinions, at least so they'd be informed of the basic outline of the plan.

Over a month has passed since the initial announcement and almost everyone, except perhaps Miltenberger himself, is still in the dark about how the merged board will function.

When contacted by the Deh Cho Drum for the story in this week's paper, the heads of many education, housing and health organizations in the Deh Cho stated they haven't been told the details of the plan. The Fort Simpson Housing Authority and the Fort Providence Housing Association haven't even been told officially if their boards will be included in the merger.

If the heads of these organizations don't know about basic details it means the general public have even less information about what the merger will mean for the housing, education and health services they receive.

It doesn't, however, take a speech from an official government representative for residents to realize the community representation they had on the boards will likely decrease. A community that had a representative on the Dehcho Divisional Education Council and another on the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority cannot hope to have as much say in a larger, merged board that has to deal with three separate departments.

There might be benefits as well as detractions to the government's plan to merge the boards. Right now, however, the lack of concrete answers is allowing people to imagine the worst and they will go on imagining until April when the finer details of the plan are expected to be released.

The board mergers might be a good idea on the part of the territorial government, but the lack of visible planning will make it a difficult initiative to sell both in the Deh Cho and across the territory.

Thursday, December 4, 2008
The party's over
Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik Drum

Just when you think you know someone, they go and change.

For years now, I've seen our youth in a dim light, marred by alcoholism and drug abuse among other serious social issues.

Been there, done that, would be a fair overview of my life experiences when it comes to the party scene.

But there comes a time in everyone's life when they look into the reflecting pool and change the way they think and act.

There are young people in our community who have seen themselves and what they are doing with their lives.

Now we have groups of kids who are willing to change their lifestyles and spread the word.

For too long, the people of this community have been enabling binge drinking and substance abuse.

Generations of families pack themselves into bars and drink themselves stupid.

Before our community even had a name, people were gathering to get drunk.

A lot of our kids are admitting they drink and they're ready to start doing it in a responsible fashion.

Sure it's still illegal, but those young people are showing more sense than a lot of adults in the same situation.

It's no secret that our teens are drinking. The inexplicable part is why they're being more responsible than their parents.

They're just kids being kids. It's the adults with excuses that we need to cull.

It's easy for a student to rationalize getting drunk with friends when their parents are always out having a few.

"Oh, well at least I didn't get as wasted as that guy. Man, he was blacked out," is a quote heard too often the morning after a party.

After meeting with a couple of members of the youth alliance, it was clear they're ready for a change.

Students at Samuel Hearne were asked to identify the biggest issues facing them today.

The top three issues brought forward were alcohol abuse, drug abuse and bullying.

The first thing I was told during the interview is that it's common knowledge that young people drink, but too many are taking it too far.

They need to be taught responsibility and moderation.

Every time I spout off about alcohol and the grip it has on us, I'm obliged to bring up moderation.

Too many people have died or gotten hurt because of foolish decisions and extreme drinking.

I spent years waking up after a party, regretting it. It took the help of my loved ones for me to realize nobody was having a good time.

We need to set a good example.

There is nothing wrong with having a beer or going out to the bar and listening to some live music.

But drinking to the point of physical or mental illness is stupid.

You start offending your friends and losing grip on reality.

Inuvik can seem like an endless drinking party, and it is for a lot of people I know. We need to put the shot glasses away.

Maybe then, once the drunken haze has lifted, youth and adults will realize the best times of our lives don't come from alcohol.

Wednesday, December 03 2008
I never knew my friend's name
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

It was with more than a little interest I followed the recent debate in Iqaluit on the need for an animal protection act in Nunavut.

I spoke about it with some people in Rankin Inlet and they were unanimous in their contention that Nunavut is still not ready for such a move.

While they respected the efforts of those trying to make such an act a reality, they said too many Nunavummiut still view dogs as simple animals, not loved family pets.

The discussion took me back about five years.

I was still a have-boots-will-travel editor in those days, and spent a lot of time walking around with my camera bag slung firmly over my shoulder (not as mundane as it sounds in 70-kilometre winds).

That year filled with me anger and pity concerning a certain dog in Rankin.

Now, understand, I am a dog person and, other than my time in the military, there has always been one in my life since childhood.

I became aware of the dog during my treks around the community in those days.

The poor animal was always tied on about three feet of rope, and was forced to eat and sleep in its own urine and feces.

Because it barely had room to turn around, let alone walk or run, its hind quarters barely functioned.

During the coldest times of the year, it had a very hard time even standing up.

Knowing dogs, through no fault of their own, can get cross existing like that, I approached it the first few times with extreme caution.

I spoke softly to it and made my mannerisms as non-threatening as possible.

For the first 10 times, or so, I tossed the Beggin' Strip (bacon flavoured dog treat) a bit away from the poor dog so it wouldn't have to take it directly from my hand.

I cannot imagine any living creature getting more enjoyment out of something than what that dog derived from those treats.

I got in the habit of carrying a sandwich bag with a few of the treats inside my parka or jacket pocket so I'd always have one when my travels took me near the dog.

Eventually, it grew to trust me and would gently take the treat from my hand.

The image that haunts me is from a particularly cold winter day when the dog saw me coming down the road.

It struggled to its feet to meet me and, as I revealed the treat, managed to wag its tail in appreciation, although I could see even that simple act was causing it discomfort.

Then, for the first time since our ritual began, it feebly licked my hand a few times before taking the treat and settling down, best it could, to enjoy its one simple pleasure in life.

Shortly thereafter, the dog was gone and I still regret never having known its name.

I still catch myself glancing toward the tiny area that was my friend's entire world every time I drive past.

I never asked anyone who kept that dog, because I didn't trust myself to remain civil if I ever ran into them while out and about.

When I did query a hamlet official about the situation, the response was nothing could be done because there was no animal protection or similar act in Nunavut.

Simple animals that don't deserve protection? I had a good friend once who would beg to differ.

A brief on page 3 of the Dec. 1 edition of News/North titled "Marijuana bust" should have reported a man and a woman were arrested in Paulatuk. As well, in the Nov. 24 edition, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada was wrongly identified as the National Transportation Safety Board, which is the American equivalent. News/North apologizes for the errors and an embarrassment or inconvenience they may have caused.