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Knock down those doors
NWT News/North - Monday, August 31, 2009

Open government is a crucial pillar of democracy.

Fort Smith town council has struggled to understand that concept, but it must grasp the idea.

In June, a majority of councillors passed a bylaw that would have permitted them to operate behind closed doors at their own whims.

Private discussions could be held on any matter "which council or its committees agree, by resolution, to discuss at an in-camera meeting."

That sets the stage for poor government. Thankfully the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs agrees and the department intervened, advising council to revise the bylaw.

It's generally understood, and largely accepted, that municipal councils are within their bounds to conduct some business confidentially, namely legal issues and personnel matters.

But what happens when a personnel matter balloons into something alarming, something that the public ought to know about because mayor and council may have mishandled the affair?

That's essentially what Fort Smith is now examining. Councillor Brenda Johnson blew the whistle on what she felt was financial mismanagement pertaining to former longtime senior administrative officer Roy Scott's contracts with the town.

Johnson made the relevant accountant's report public, providing it to the local newspaper. Indeed, a look at the document does reveal some startling figures that beg for explanation: Scott reportedly received a $140,00 signing bonus in 2006 and a $20,641 bonus in 2001; there was $52,842 for education leave in 2002 that was never taken; salary payments in 2002 and 2003 that exceeded contract amounts by close to $11,500.

Johnson's fellow councillors are slapping her with disciplinary action and want her to apologize for breaching council's code of conduct. If there's no apology, they want her to resign.

In addition, the disciplinary committee has recommended that she should no longer be allowed to attend future in-camera meetings.

So what exactly should Johnson have done? Been quiet?

It certainly seems that she's raised an issue worthy of some serious consideration. After all, council, in a necessary move signalling accountability, has approved a forensic audit of the town's finances. Council had been preparing to move ahead with a forensic audit shortly after Scott was dismissed in May.

However, Mayor Peter Martselos expressed reluctance to go ahead with such an audit, saying it would be too costly. He contended that a cheaper financial review would achieve the same goal for less money.

Fortunately council wanted to dig deeper, despite the cost, and voted to move ahead with the forensic audit at a special meeting on Aug. 25. That meeting was open to the public, also a positive development. To keep the momentum going in the right direction, the results of this audit should be made readily available to the public.

As well, to ensure residents aren't left in the dark on too much council business done in-camera, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs should adopt an access to information policy for communities similar to what exists for the territorial government. It would be a means of recourse for frustrated citizens.

After all, secrecy is no ally to good government.

Hospital needs first aid
Nunavut News/North - Monday, August 31, 2009

When Qikiqtani General Hospital opened less than two years ago amid great fanfare, it was touted as a modern facility with the capacity to meet the territory's health care needs.

But shiny new facilities and equipment are useless without the appropriate personnel required to staff them.

Last week we reported two cases where the hospital seems to have failed in its attempt to serve Iqalummiut. These incidents should be an embarrassment to Nunavut MP and Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq.

In one incident, a woman in labour expecting her fourth child went to the hospital. She was sent home after being seen by two doctors despite traditional knowledge that women giving birth for the second, third or fourth time (or more) tend to have quicker deliveries.

She gave birth about 10 minutes after arriving home. Fortunately, both mother and daughter are fine.

In another incident, a 52 year-old woman tumbled down the stairs at the Nova Inn after midnight on Aug. 9 and sustained head injuries. An ambulance was called and she was taken to the emergency room. While there, she reportedly caused a disturbance. At about 3 a.m. hospital staff asked police officers who happened to be at the hospital on another matter to remove her from the hospital and to bring her back when she was sober. It's unclear whether she was medically assessed prior to her arrest. As Supt. Howard Eaton put it, "She was brought in by ambulance so we're assuming that somebody looked at her."

When officers called the hospital 12 hours later and asked if they could bring her back, staff told the police the emergency room was busy and had no beds. At 5:20 p.m. on Aug. 9, RCMP staff monitoring the woman noticed she was in medical distress.

She was taken to Qikiqtani General, medevaced to Ottawa and died in hospital Aug. 14. According to the RCMP, her death was the result of the injuries she had sustained prior to her arrest.

RCMP in Winnipeg are investigating the case, as it's being considered that the death occurred while she was in police custody.

But the case deserves a full Nunavut coroner's inquest to determine what went wrong and how it can be fixed. The ability of Qikiqtani General Hospital to provide emergency health care for Iqaluit and the rest of the territory needs to be examined.

These incidents raise concerns that there may not be enough staff and the staff that is there may be overworked or lacking appropriate training.

Qikiqtani has nine emergency room nurse positions, three of which are vacant.

The hospital may need emergency attention of its own before someone else in medical distress slips through the cracks.

Prime real estate
Yellowknifer - Friday, August 28, 2009

While some entities like the Bank of Montreal and the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission are fleeing downtown, or hoping to escape, it's good to know the federal government still considers the city centre a good place in which to invest.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs plans to move into a yet-to-be-built five-storey office building across the street from the federal government's downtown crown jewel, the Greenstone Building.

The new facility will replace the aging Gallery building, which has been more or less vacant for the last four years. The property is owned by Toronto-based Dundee Real Estate Investment Trust, landlord to a considerable portion of Yellowknife's prime office space.

The new digs are certain to add some viability to the downtown core, which has suffered in recent years.

Nice, shiny, state-of-the-art buildings are inviting and full of office workers in need of nearby places to shop and do lunch. Naturally, small business owners want to be situated close to these buildings, which further enhances downtown's viability.

What would make this whole scenario better is more attention paid to developers or landlords based right here in Yk.

Hopefully, the feds will think about that next time they go house hunting.

Make pay phone calls free
Yellowknifer - Friday, August 28, 2009

NorthwesTel has raised the cost of local calls made by pay phone to 50 cents from 25 cents as of Aug. 18.

Instead of an increase, NorthwesTel, which is owned by Bell, should be making pay phones free, or at least decreasing the price of a call. For several years, Bell has been charging Northerners a fee of 75 cents a month for 911 service, a service which isn't provided.

Instead of fighting the $6 million civil class action lawsuit, launched by Yellowknife resident James Anderson, it's time Bell acknowledges it has been unfairly charging Northerners and make amends. Making pay phones in the territory free is one such way for the company to make retribution.

With cell phones as popular as they are today, it is hard to believe NorthwesTel would be making any money from the 86 pay phones reported to be scattered around Yellowknife. The fact NorthwesTel refuses to disclose how much revenue the pay phones generate would seem to support that. It's not like there is competition, as NorthwesTel has admitted it has a monopoly on the small market.

The doubling of pay phone rates may not seem like much to NorthwesTel, but the company would be forgetting that to the impoverished who cannot afford a cell phone, an extra 25 cents makes a big difference.

A case for a strategic plan
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 27, 2009

Liidlii Kue First Nation engaged in a constructive exercise last week.

The leadership, along with the band's employees and all interested members, gathered over two days for a strategic planning session. As Chief Jim Antoine explained, the session was designed to get a general view from the membership assessing where the band is at.

Discussions during the session centered on looking at the issues the band is involved in and determining their position in those areas. The goal for the session and the follow-up meetings that are planned is to create an action plan for the current leadership.

Antoine was fulfilling a commitment he made shortly after being elected. While talking to Deh Cho Drum after the election, Antoine said he would be using a traditional approach for making decisions that would involve gathering feedback from elders and band members.

It's hard to think of another process that's more inclusive and involves more consultation with members than inviting the whole membership to participate in a strategic planning session.

The Deh Cho is no stranger to political turmoil within First Nations. When band members rise up against their respective leadership the cause can almost inevitably be traced back to a lack of communication.

Time and time again petitions organized by disgruntled band members make reference to decisions the leadership made or failed to make - and, invariably, the members feel they weren't consulted.

A well developed plan can be the basis for a successful leadership. If the issues the band is dealing with, like land claim negotiations or housing, are clearly laid out, decisions can then be made on how the band wants to address them. From there the chief and council can develop a timeline of what they want to accomplish, and when.

It's well worth the membership's time to participate in this process. A strategic plan is a tool they can use to keep the leadership on track and compliant to the people's wishes. If any decision emerging from the band council chambers seems suspect all that may be required is a glance at the strategic plan to see if it complies with the mandate.

The current leadership has the opportunity to set a timely example for the Deh Cho. They are already on the right track. All that's needed is for them to carry through with the remaining strategic meetings and produce a document that all band members can access.

Where was the audience?
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 27, 2009

If you were among the group that gathered at the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex on Saturday night, I'm willing to bet you had a great time.

I sure enjoyed the final night of the End of the Road music festival.

Let's consider the admission price of $5. Now let's consider the main stage entertainment that played on both Friday and Saturday night from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

I'll be honest and say that before I attended Saturday's show I wouldn't have been able to tell you one song produced by any of the three lead acts, Leonard Adam, Yukon Jack and Doug and the Slugs. But after it was all said and done, I was utterly shocked by the quality of the entertainment, particularly the range of music and the energetic performances.

It's too bad not nearly enough people showed up to support what was truly a top-notch two-day event. We'll start with the traditional Dene group of Leonard Adam and his accompanying two young sons. Laced with passion and energy galore, they were ideal evening openers. His nine-year-old boy, who was the band drummer, stunned the crowd with seemingly effortless solos, all of which were right on time.

Then there was Yukon Jack and his gang who rolled right along with his own distinctive throwback country style, inspiring couple after couple to visit and revisit the dance floor.

The ultimate treat came with the final act Doug and the Slugs. Outrageously entertaining and with the energy of men half their age, it was if the group sent a million volts of electricity through the audience. Lead singer Ted Okos, who really had shockingly great range, bobbed and weaved through each dynamic performance as people piled onto the dance floor, song after song.

On a side note, earlier in the day a small group of kids were lucky enough to see the wacky and brilliant children's entertainer Al Simmons for free

Given the generally poor turnout, you can't help but feel the experience must have been a slap in the face for the few organizers of the event who made it all happen at no personal financial gain.

And really that's what these community festivals are all about. You have a few volunteers on a committee who work overtime to, among many other things, scrape up money and hunt down bands to provide something meaningful for their community.

It must be said again that admission for Friday and Saturday night entertainment was $5!

I find it difficult to understand why people wouldn't want to support a cause such as this. Why wouldn't anyone want to get out and celebrate such a rare occasion of great, live, honest and true folk music? In doing that you're acknowledging a few people's efforts of trying add to their community and bring everyone together.

I was disappointed when Doug and the Slugs performed its last encore song, knowing that was it, no more entertainment; that special energy that they shared with the audience was over.

Knowing how close this year's festival was to nearly being called off, I wonder if the same few volunteers will bother trying again next year. I didn't ask, I only congratulated. But something tells me they'll be a few less committee members come next year.

Maybe Doug and the Slugs was the final curtain call. If so, that would be sad indeed.

Is inquiry needed?
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On July 16, Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro and Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay asked sole adjudicator Ted Hughes to hold the inquiry into Premier Floyd Roland's intimate relationship with a legislative assembly clerk in private.

That same day, after hearing Roland's lawyer say the premier was not against a public inquiry, the two MLAs began to question their request and later withdrew it.

Now Bisaro is saying she'll only vote to remove Roland as premier if Hughes says so. Why does she need someone else to tell her what to do about Roland's behaviour?

Ramsay initially called Roland dishonest over the affair and said he should resign. Since then, Ramsay has said publicly Roland shouldn't resign, based upon his improved performance.

This muddled thinking is reminiscent of MLAs attempting to oust the entire cabinet in January. Had they simply gone after the source of the government's poor performance - Premier Roland - we wouldn't be wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars and sidetracking other assembly priorities for the sake of an inquiry.

Roland had already demonstrated he lacked solid leadership. The secret affair with a legislative assembly clerk is just the most obvious example.

A good leader would have been able to spot the poor work done last winter on the proposed board mergers and supplementary health care plan changes affecting seniors. A leader would have overruled his cabinet colleagues and put a halt to the ill-conceived plans. Instead, Roland did nothing. His government looked out of touch with the people and his ministers were ripped by residents for their poor performance. The plans were withdrawn.

No matter what comes out of the Hughes inquiry, MLAs know Roland having an affair with a clerk was in poor judgment, an embarrassment to the territorial government, and failing to disclose it was wrong. Whether he used the relationship to his advantage or not won't change those facts.

So MLAs do not need to waste money on an inquiry to determine whether Roland is suited to be premier. All they have to do is hold a vote of confidence. Why wasn't this done in the first place? The answer is more poor judgment.

We can only hope MLAs act to restore the integrity of the government. A special session to hold a vote of confidence would be a first good step.

Premier Stephen Kakfwi and his government experienced two confidence votes in 2005. Both the office of the premier and the territorial government emerged stronger for it. That type of decisive action is needed now.

Defining free and Canadian
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Every generation in modern history lays claim to a single defining moment.

But those of us born before July 20, 1969, can actually claim two.

One defined us as part of a free society; the other as a nation.

I never include Woodstock in this esteemed category because, although it was the mother of all music festivals, its influence on both history and modern society has always been grossly overstated.

Both our truly defining moments came at the expense of a world superpower during the Cold War years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

While many instantly envision Russia alone when confronted with the term USSR, it was, in fact, an alliance of Russia and 14 other soviet socialist republics.

The USSR formed in 1922 (the same year Foster Hewitt would call his first hockey game in Canada) and dissolved on Dec. 31, 1991.

Here in August, we have the anniversary of two defining historical moments as monthly bookends.

I was 11 years old when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

I can still vividly recall our family gathered around the TV, watching in complete silence and clinging to every word that came out of the speaker of our old black and white set.

Even at the tender age of 11, the surge of pride that rushed through my body as I listened to the timeless line, "That's one small step..." was nothing short of incredible.

It was all anyone talked about for days.

Forget the fact our heroes were Americans. Those were the days of Us versus Them as it pertained to communism and democracy, and we had got there first.

Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would feel such an event-inspired euphoria again -- but I did. And only three years later.

During the summer of 1972 everyone was again talking about the same thing.

Only this time the event was a lot closer to home.

The best Canadian NHL hockey players (Bobby Hull wasn't allowed to play because he had signed with the World Hockey Association) were about to square off with Team USSR in what became known as the greatest hockey event in the history of our nation -- The Summit Series.

And, unlike the Apollo 11 landing, the series provided a smorgasbord of powerful emotions leading up to its climax on Sept. 28, 1972.

There was the complete shock, anger and disbelief that devoured us when the USSR stunned Team Canada 7-3 in Game 1 at the legendary Montreal Forum.

Three games later, Canadians everywhere looked down at their feet in shame as Phil Esposito admonished the country on live TV for booing the Canadian players following Game 4 in Vancouver.

Then there was the triumphant return of belief and excitement when Team Canada took games six and seven to even the series.

And, of course, the maniacal jubilation when Paul Henderson scored in the final minute to give Canada a 6-5 victory in Game 8 -- a call I would hear Hewitt make a 1,000 times over the years.

Two defining events to forever remind us of the pride in being free and Canadian!