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City shortsighted on housing
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Low vacancy rates are an ongoing issue in this city, yet city hall appears to be blind to some obvious solutions while creating new hurdles to home-seekers where none existed before.

The Giant Mine town site, shut down ten years ago, includes 22 houses - most of which were still considered salvageable three years ago.

The area includes a dock and boat launch that could make it ideal for a harbour front community. For now, the townsite is the refuge of vandals even while waterfront property in Yellowknife is nearly unobtainable.

The city continues to sit on this land since acquiring it in 2000 in lieu of taxes owed by former mine owner Royal Oak, and is refusing to reopen the area for settlement.

Of course, there are arsenic concerns but that didn't stop residents of Con Place and Rycon trailer park on the other side of town from fighting for their properties when they were facing the boot following the closure of Con Mine in 2003.

This part of the city, like the Giant town site, was not up to "residential standards" either but a will and way was found to prevent these otherwise pleasant neighbourhoods from being permanently mothballed because of some bureaucratic notions of safety and health.

A recent study commissioned by the federal government found that if the Giant town site were occupied today, the daily intake of arsenic would be 0.0009 mg per kg - just slightly higher than the national average. How much effort would it really take to close this gap and re-open it to development?

At the same time, city hall has established a Harbour Planning Committee, one of whose goals is to regulate houseboats in Yellowknife Bay.

In a town short on homes and apartments, houseboat sprawl hardly seems to be an issue.

A harbourfront committee might be needed as the city's population grows - but the city is not growing. Contrary to encouraging housing development, city hall is tripping it up with too many restrictions. Pulling Tin Can Hill, another potentially excellent source of waterfront property, from development is another case in point.

New avenues must be opened up for housing, and existing ones such as the Giant Mine town site must not sit idle.

From playground to capital: the bullying must stop!
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

There should have been outrage expressed by many in the territory over the Government of Nunavut's (GN) dismissal of former Nunavut fire marshal Tony Noakes this past week.

The GN decided Noakes was unsuitable for his position due to his worry over unsafe conditions at the Baffin Correctional Centre (BCC), which included filing a complaint with the RCMP mere days before his dismissal.

It was even reported an unnamed guard at the BCC viewed the facility as a death trap caused by chronic neglect.

Of course, the guard wouldn't allow his name to be released for fear of meeting the same fate as Noakes. And that's exactly why more people – government employees or not – are scared to speak up.

The GN is the biggest decision maker in the territory, the biggest employer and the biggest bully.

In fact, bullying people into submission is the one thing this government has become incredibly proficient at during the past decade.

It's used these same deplorable tactics to silence those who would point out problems in Housing, Finance, Health, Education and Renewable Resources.

In fact, it's even put the clamper on government employees who were elected to hamlet councils and then had the audacity to suggest changes to the way the GN delivered certain programs or products.

Let's be honest about this. A nice paycheque, great benefits and a generous pension are very powerful selling points when an entity wants a person to dummy up.

We all understand the stress involved when one's job could be threatened, but make no mistake about it.

When you choose to remain silent over issues that affect the quality of life for people, dummying up is exactly what you're doing.

What's even more alarming about Noakes's dismissal is how blatant the government is becoming with its bullying tactics.

It seems some of those in charge have reached the point of feeling untouchable in this territory. They, apparently, no longer even feel the need to disguise the distasteful way they conduct some of their business, even when human lives could be at risk, which appears to be the case at the correctional centre.

It seems non-party politics has become a nice way of saying governance with absolute power, no accountability, and precious little care or time for the concerns of the people.

It's time for this government to wake up and start addressing legitimate concerns raised by its workers, and stop using such fear-mongering tactics to demand subserviency.

There are places in this world – where few reading this want to live – where an editorial such as this would be met with grave repercussions delivered by men dressed in menacing military-styled attire. And, right now, I have no doubt there may be some in our capital licking their lips over that concept.

The GN refused to answer questions on the Noakes affair because it didn't want to, and no one could make it answer.

Thousands of bullied kids hear the same words on their playgrounds every day.

Open season on grolar bears
NWT News/North - Monday, May 17, 2010

Grolar bears - a polar bear/grizzly hybrid - gained international attention in 2006 when an American hunter shot the then-thought-to-be one-of-a-kind animal while hunting on Banks Island.

Last month, Ulukhaktok hunter David Kuptana killed a bear later identified as a third- or fourth-generation grolar bear. Last week, another hunter from Ulukhaktok bagged a second bear suspected of being a hybrid - confirmation is pending but officials with the Environment and Natural Resources suspect the animal is a grizzly.

Kuptana received $17,000 for the animal's skin which will be displayed in Ulukhaktok.

The discovery of a multi-generation hybrid grolar bear is evidence a new species might be emerging in the High Arctic. Marsha Branigan, ENR's manager of wildlife management for the Inuvik region, said grizzly bear sightings that far north have been recorded for a few years now. She said because the hybrids are so few in number the department is not considering any type of management strategy.

"The other question - and it's not one for me to answer - is do we want a hybrid species? Do we want to promote that?" Branigan told News/North.

Hybridization of two different species to create a new species, Branigan suggested, has benefits and drawbacks. Benefits include the ability to better deal with changing climate conditions while drawbacks may include health problems.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any plans to study what the emergence of the grolar bear means for the region.

With the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment dishing out tens of thousands of dollars for each hide, that opportunity may never come. Every hunter in the region is bound to be combing the land for a chance at such a lucrative prize. The bounty on each hide might also put pure-breed grizzlies and polar bears - both limited in numbers - at risk, as hunters shoot first and test later.

Nurses' 'protocol' not working
NWT News/North - Monday, May 17, 2010

A Fort Liard women's struggle to see a doctor in Yellowknife for a serious illness calls into question the Health Department's referral process.

For more than a week Elizabeth Bertrand's pleas to be sent to Yellowknife for treatment of what was later diagnosed as pneumonia were ignored. After three trips to the Fort Liard Health centre where she was refused a referral to a doctor in Yellowknife, her family took matters into their own hands and drove Bertrand to Fort Nelson, B.C. The result was a two-week stay in hospital and Bertrand said two weeks ago she was still recovering at home.

Kathy Tsetso, the chief executive officer of Dehcho Health and Social Services, said the nurses in Fort Liard followed protocol based on the symptoms Bertrand was presenting.

More should have been done to ensure that Bertrand received quality care. Her illness was serious enough - or became serious enough due to poor quality of care - to require hospitalization for two weeks.

Tsetso said the nurses followed protocol, perhaps that means protocols need to be changed since they apparently missed a diagnosis of pneumonia. Had nurses opted to listen to the patient, Bertrand might have been spared any undue suffering.

Bungled books are symptom of a larger issue
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 17, 2010

Another day, another discovery of bungled financial books in Nunavut.

The Nunavut Housing Corporation is blaming improper budgeting and increasing labour costs for the fact that 726 houses being built are costing $60 million more than the $200 million allotted for the project by the federal government in 2006.

The cost of an average home was $75,000 more than expected, yet that overrun was overlooked every year for four years.

Housing Minister Hunter Tootoo points to a "lack of oversight."

Auditor general Sheila Fraser thinks a shortage of staff led to the lack of tracking and reporting spending, and points to her 2008 audit on the corporation which shows that bids for tenders were coming in higher than budgeted.

We don't know which explanation would be worse - that the overrun was simply not noticed by the people in charge, or that there was nobody in charge.

Kudos to new Chief Financial Officer Lori Kimball, who saw the problem soon after starting the job and notified the new president. He notified the minister and the minister, bless his soul, notified the public - a noteworthy act by the Government of Nunavut.

That $60 million overrun will be picked up by Nunavut - $20 million will be carved from NHC's budget and $40 million scraped up by the GN at the expense of other projects.

It's unfortunate that this discovery comes at the same time that NHC is conducting a survey to assess Nunavut's housing needs, partly to provide ammunition with which to lobby the feds for more money for more units and renovations.

Financial mismanagement like this undermines the territory's credibility when it asks the federal government for more money. Why should the feds give the territory more money for housing, when Nunavut can't budget properly with the money they've already got?

Despite the money trouble, the housing corporation says the remaining 407 houses of the 726 scheduled to be built with the Nunavut Housing Trust money will be finished this year. And construction of the 285 houses under the $100 million Affordable Housing Program is also scheduled to begin this summer, though it's not certain what kind of cost overruns will be associated with that project.

Fraser has issued report after report warning that a shortage of qualified staff is jeopardizing the integrity of various Government of Nunavut departments and agencies. It's about time the government deals with the root of the problem instead of mopping up the messes.

All quiet on the taxation front
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 14, 2010

Some may wonder with all this talk the last couple years about the need for tightening belts and showing restraint why city hall continues to plan more and more big budget building projects.

The city unveiled its wish list last week that calls for $132,300,000 in capital spending over the next ten years, including $2 million for renovations at city hall and $25 million for a new water treatment plant that no one with the federal government, as of yet, has demanded must be built. Some of the spending may be supported by federal funding but still we're talking about tens of millions of dollars. This, on the heels of a proposal for a 7.2 per cent property tax hike next year, by far the largest in recent memory.

Generating tax revenue may not have been so much of a problem when Yellowknife's two gold mines were in still in operation, but they've been closed for several years now so the city is reliant almost entirely on homeowners and small businesses to keep the cash flowing.

And it's not like there are more of us out there. The population of Yellowknife has remained relatively stuck for the better part of the last decade at around 19,000, and yet almost 40 positions - about a 19 per cent increase - and more than $30 million - around a 100 per cent increase - have been added to the annual budget since 2001.

It might seem logical that this would be a major cause for concern but it doesn't seem to be yet, at least among those who tend to make themselves heard the most.

Some may recall a poll Yellowknifer conducted last fall during the municipal election. Taxes and city fees fell far behind other issues of concern, such as downtown crime and homelessness.

By far the biggest issue identified by people who answered our poll concerned the amount of greenspace. Some 34 per cent felt it was the most critical issue facing the city, and another 64 per cent argued there could never be too much greenspace - a seemingly paradoxical observation considering the vast amount of it that remains inside and outside of Yellowknife.

Of course, we'd be the first to admit our online polls are less than scientific. Just as city council can be swayed toward limiting development and maintaining services at all costs by the vocal few, so too can the responses to our polls. It all depends on who's pushing the buttons.

It's worth noting that there was a lot of talk two months ago about forming a citizens' group to combat the high cost of living in Yellowknife following a massive response on Facebook, but little has been heard of that since.

To its credit, the city has provided a portal on its website until June 1 inviting residents to comment on city budget plans for the next three years. Mayor Gord Van Tighem promises the comments will be made public.

If people really are concerned about city spending they have to make themselves heard. This would be the time to do it.

Well-deserved thanks
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 13, 2010

The third time has proven to be the charm for Fort Simpson's Owen Rowe.

Rowe has been named a RBC Local Hockey Leader. The national award recognizes the "unsung heroes" of Canada's favourite winter game.

The fact that Rowe won the award says just as much about him as it does about the community of Fort Simpson, and volunteerism in the Deh Cho at large.

The award shows village residents are willing to take the time to recognize those who make a difference in the community. Rowe was the first to point out that a lot of people put a lot of effort into writing the nomination that helped him win the award.

Local leaders, business people and hockey players took the time to write letters and provide comments that were included in the nomination paper. Covering 16 pages, the nomination was possibly the longest the panel of judges had ever seen. It was the photo on the last page, however, that really made an impact, according to Katie Hammill, a spokesperson with the program.

The photo shows 16 people cheering enthusiastically around the recreation centre's sign where they posted the news of Rowe's nomination. The photo spoke to everything the nomination paper said about Rowe's importance to hockey in the community, Hammill said.

In Fort Simpson when volunteers are going the extra distance to help others out, residents are also willing to rally to see they are recognized for it.

The award also shows volunteerism is, fortunately, still alive and strong in the Deh Cho.

In many Deh Cho communities there are volunteers like Rowe who act as a rallying point and role model for others. Their efforts encourage others to also step forward.

These volunteers can be found in sports, cultural and youth activities. The activities would still exist without them, but they wouldn't be nearly as vibrant or successful.

There's an important link between volunteers and recognition that shouldn't be overlooked. Most volunteers donate their time and energy not for awards, trophies or other forms of recognition. They do it because they are passionate about their activity or cause and want to see others share that enthusiasm.

The occasional award, however, helps ensure volunteers stay engaged. The awards don't have to be on a national level. Rowe said he was almost happier reading the nomination paper that people put together for him than he was with actually receiving the honour.

Volunteers are an important part of the Deh Cho and the occasional thank-you and expression of gratitude can be enough to ensure communities continue to benefit from their tireless efforts.

Hope in the face of suffering
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 13, 2010

A few weeks ago I was helped out of a jam by a good natured fella, whose name I won't reveal (I know, I hate using anonymous sources but trust me, he's a real person).

This man, whom we will call Frank, is one of those guys that likes helping people and doesn't expect a big fuss in exchange. In the midst of our conversation he mentioned he's a recovering alcoholic and it had been a few decades since he last had a drink. He's also given up smoking for several years now.

Anyway, he attributed his recovery to Inuvik's now defunct addictions centre. He told me he arrived there many years ago drunk, crawling on his knees. But someone there recognized him, put him in a bed and he slept for a week straight and then he went through the torture of withdrawal. He admits it hasn't been an easy road to recovery. But he made it and he no longer craves alcohol. He credits that facility, which was shut down due to a lack of funding, for saving his life. Frank's mended many relationships, holds a good job and discovered his self worth.

At the old addictions centre he got the medical assistance and holistic support he needed. He felt safe there, where he found a community of people behind him.

In past editorials I have argued that detox centres are a must in Inuvik. I still think so. But there must be a collective will to achieve this. The Gwich'in Wellness Camp outside of Inuvik offers hope for people. Hope lies in Tuktoyaktuk, too.

The community has been promised $100,000 in funding from the GNWT and The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to transform a donated NWT Housing Corp. building into a new addictions centre. It's not expected to provide the community and the area with an on site medical detox treatment, which is desperately needed. But it's a start.

It should be a place where people might find a safe environment to sober up and get encouragement. In other words, start on the process of healing. That shows Tuktoyaktuk is, at least on the surface, taking addictions treatment seriously, and that it is committed to doing something about it.

In my work here I've interviewed some pretty resilient people who have overcome addictions and are currently living productive lives - Winston Moses for one, and, as featured in today's paper, Aurora College graduate Patricia Rogers. The one ingredient they both said was essential for recovery was a caring support group. Hopefully Tuktoyaktuk's will to battle addictions in its community will take hold here as well.

I think Gwich'in Tribal Council president Fred Carmichael got to the heart of the matter in a quote that was published in a News/North story earlier this month, "Tuk to revive addictions centre."

In it, Carmichael said: "Addiction has no borders. It does not discriminate, no matter who you are. There's limited dollars out there, and the greatest cost is operational. How are we going to build relationships if we continue to do stuff that's really pulling people apart."

How can you argue with that?

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