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No strength in numbers
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 7, 2010

Eleven regular MLAs, seven cabinet ministers - one would think power ultimately rests with the former, but as events have shown us over the last few years, holding our government to account has proved quite elusive.

The latest under-powered thrust comes from Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, who questions the territorial government's position on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, which is currently before the National Energy Board for review. He believes the GNWT is ceding too much ground to big oil and gas interests, demonstrated, he argues, by the government's apparently lack of interest in obtaining a socio-economic agreement.

He may very well be right but it doesn't seem to be a hot topic among his regular MLA colleagues in the legislative assembly, or more precisely, outside of it since MLAs only met in the assembly for a mere 49 days over the past year.

Perhaps other MLAs will join in when the group gathers briefly starting next week but it's doubtful. Yellowknifer contacted or attempted to contact the four other Yellowknife regular MLAs about Bromley's concerns but they either had nothing to say or did not return phone calls.

The regular MLAs lack cohesion, which too often translates into a lack of credibility. Consequently, the issues they raise are easily dismissed by cabinet, which is never divided even when the positions it poses proves widely unpopular.

The lack of time MLAs spend together is part of the problem, especially in a territory as vast and disparate as ours. How can regular MLAs develop decent alternatives to cabinet policies when they hardly ever see each other? We're not suggesting the Yukon is better governed but at least its legislative assembly sat for 61 days last year. That doesn't exactly make them workhorses but a more industrious lot than our legislators.

Our regular MLAs must look among themselves and not just at cabinet when addressing the territory's woes.

The regular MLAs do not even have to present a united front. It was six of the 11 that filed a conflict of interest complaint against Premier Floyd Roland last year. That complaint gained traction and led to an inquiry which found Roland was in conflict but, as adjudicator Ted Hughes ruled, had quietly engaged in a potentially compromising relationship with a legislative assembly clerk "in good faith."

The greatest challenge lies in regular MLAs, like Bromley in this case, acting as a lone voice. They're sure to be drowned out more often than not.

NWT residents deserve better leadership not just from cabinet but from regular MLAs.

The first step is the easiest
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 6, 2010

The federal government has finally come forward with an announcement that has been long awaited by those who have had to deal with regulatory processes in the territory.

On May 3, Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, unveiled an action plan to improve Northern regulatory regimes. It's no secret there's been a longstanding need to revise the system that reviews applications for proposed developments.

Criticism of the system has been made on many different fronts, including developers and government-commissioned reviews like the McCrank report. Announcing that change is coming, however, is the easiest part of the process.

The action plan, as explained by Strahl, is short on details. The Mackenzie Valley Resources Management Act, the Northwest Territories Water Act and the Territorial Lands Act will be amended, but there was no mention of what exactly will be changed.

Existing land and water boards, in an ideal situation, will be condensed into one body - but again, the "how" was missing. The timeline for all of this work was also conspicuously absent, although Strahl said some portions would start immediately.

The process this plan has launched will in all likelihood turn out to be just as complex and time-consuming as it is to get a water licence for a proposed mine.

John Pollard is not in an enviable situation. He has been appointed Canada's chief federal negotiator to lead consultations and negotiations with the territorial government and aboriginal leadership on structural changes to land and water boards. This won't be easy

Aboriginal groups with existing land and water boards enshrined in their land claim agreements are not going to give them up without a fight. Dehcho First Nations doesn't have such a board yet, but the establishment of the Dehcho Resource Management Authority is among the items being negotiated in the ongoing Dehcho Process.

There is a lot at stake here for the territorial government, the federal government and aboriginal groups in the territory, as well as current and potential development projects.

The federal government did the right thing in launching the action plan for reform but the revisions have to be done exactly right.

If consultation isn't carried out in a manner agreed upon by all sides, and if changes are pushed through without widespread consensus, then the reforms have the potential to cause as many headaches as the current regulatory system has.

The right steps have been taken thus far, but the federal government will have to tread very carefully to reach the goal of a regulatory framework that is, in Strahl's words, "strong, effective, efficient and predictable."

A lesson worth spreading
Editorial Comment
Andrew Rankin
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sometimes I cannot spend as much time on a story as I would like. That is especially true for one story I covered on Friday, April 30, at Samuel Hearne Secondary School.

As you can see in the paper it's partly about Dave Jones quest to empower aboriginal youth. But perhaps what didn't come across is how talented this Ojibwe man is at his job.

I sat in on one of his sessions at the school's library on Friday afternoon, and witnessed how he had about 30 Grade 10 students sitting around him, totally absorbed in a group discussion to the point where many of them forgot a reporter was in a room.

Every single one of those students told Jones how valuable the program was to them, and nearly every one of them cited how it changed their lives, whether it had to do with improving their confidence or allowing them let go of anger and frustration. I started thinking about how cool it would have been to meet this guy when I was a teenager, craving an older mentor.

Ultimately Jones' goal is to make leaders out of these students. This is an ambitious but common goal among many teachers. Part of his teachings include getting youth out of their comfort zone to make them feel it's okay to be in a seemingly awkward situation. It's OK to feel different.

The techniques he used to get kids out of their zone included getting them to dance uncontrollably in a circle and strutting along the library floor as if they were supermodels. Naturally, at first I was a little skeptical.

But it didn't take long to feel the positive energy. You could see the more reserved ones starting to come out of their shell, and the more hostile ones begin to loosen up. What I also liked is that Jones, right off the bat, got rid of the ones that would be a distraction to the group and those who weren't ready to pitch in.

After 20-odd years of motivational speaking, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Jones had such a great impact on the students. But what is a surprise is how his teaching philosophy seems to fly in the face of how we as adults like to build our young leaders. We like to tell them there's a certain defined mould they must fit to be a leader, and to succeed, which is true to an extent.

But how many of us encourage and allow youth the freedom to find their own voice? More importantly, how many of us have the patience to offer the support that's often needed for them to find it? Not too many, I suggest. Luckily there are some like Dave Jones, who care enough.

Security on the line
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The installation of emergency phones for the McMahon Frame Lake Trail remains a high profile project thanks to Ecology North.

The organization should be commended. Troubled by three reported sexual assaults on the trail in the past two years, Ecology North realized something needed to be done to improve public safety. The group then sprang into action.

The project is still in need of RCMP approval and funding, and that should come without further delay.

The popular and sometimes dangerous stretch of walkway along Frame Lake has been in need of extra security for some time.

The phone system would provide security not available through an emergency 911 service. The city supports the project, but isn't prepared to put up the funding. Close to $15,000 is needed for the emergency system, and that should come from the Department of Parks and Recreation, which is funded by the GNWT.

That would make sense since it's the GNWT which is acting as a roadblock to Yellowknife, and many other NWT communities, in need of 911 service.

Putting violent offenders in their place
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

We have all heard of people who lash out at a spouse, either in a public place or inside their homes.

Sometimes jealousy or heated arguments turn violent, and one person may be left with serious injuries, physical and emotional.

Even worse is when the offender repeats this behaviour. It is then that so many of us wonder how that individual could have been in a position to strike again.

In some cases, it's because the victimized spouse is too willing to forgive, counselling never takes place and the cycle of violence, sadly, begins again.

In other instances, it's because the offender isn't kept in jail long enough and, ever persuasive but truly bent on wreaking more havoc, returns home to inflict more harm.

For that reason it is welcome news that the police and Crown prosecutors have adopted a new spousal abuse assessment tool known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment.

It provides a checklist of 13 criteria, like whether there's already a history of previous assaults and whether there's support available to the victim. This will help determine whether someone is likely to re-offend.

As a chief federal prosecutor said, the tool will be helpful in focusing attention on important factors, but common sense and discretion must still prevail. That message must be embraced by all police officers and Crown lawyers.

A-List should start with different letters
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's known as the A-List in Hollywood, and one has to be on it to be invited to the most highly regarded social gatherings of the year.

Tinseltown denizens regard the A-List with as much reverence as the number of zeroes on the outlandish paycheques they receive for their acting abilities.

Hollywood's AList has, for years, included such prominent personalities as Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Will Smith and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among many others.

Those who live in the celluloid world know they've finally arrived when their name appears on the guest list with such high profile folks.

But in Hollywood, it's all about prestige, being seen with the right people and basking in the limelight as you network for a megabucks role in a Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson production.

It rarely, if ever, has anything to do with survival or program delivery for youth.

Hollywood has gala charity functions where the ultrarich can ease their collective conscience by opening their chequebooks.

The AList starting to rear its ugly head in the Kivalliq, however, is a whole different animal.

More and more programs and youthoriented organizations are running into the AList when they apply for funding or sponsorship.

The A-List doesn't exist, quite so much, with airlines, most commercial and retail operations, and the vast majority of territorial and federal agencies with a few bucks to donate to a worthwhile cause.

This A-List is rearing its head among regional organizations that are supposed to be in place to help meet the needs of everyone, not just those with the right last name.

Too often those in charge of the purse strings in these organizations are deciding whether to approve funding or sponsorship requests based on the surnames of some of the youth involved.

In other words, they're often granting financial assistance to those who need it the least and denying it to those who need it the most.

Some organizations - with mega pay scales, generous benefit packages and lucrative travel allowances for their own employees - won't even sponsor an annual award unless the group applying has a sufficient number of youth with the right last name involved in their program.

Now, let's be perfectly clear here. We're not talking about colour.

We're talking about mostly Inuit youth who come from families a little less fortunate than others.

And many of these kids are the ones who should be on a very special list in their own right.

These kids are working their butts off to improve themselves socially, culturally, educationally and, in the long term, professionally.

In short, they're the type of kids we're supposed to be helping to succeed - the ones ready, willing and able to do their best, but can't without a little help along the way.

As for the A-List of people with influence who are granted help because of who they are, we have two letters in mind that should precede the list - B.S.

Northern bashing
NWT News/North - Monday, May 3, 2010

An effective campaign discouraging the mining, oil and gas industry from exploring in the NWT is being waged by the NWT/Nunavut Chamber of Mines, citing the Northern regulatory system as a deal breaker.

Chamber executive director Mike Vaydik blames the dramatic drop in exploration dollars in 2009 on the regulatory system, conveniently forgetting the world suffered a financial meltdown that scared investors to the dickens.

This is fine. The chamber largely represents outside interests who have no stake in the NWT economy, environment or people. They would prefer no environmental reviews, no hiring quotas, no benefit agreements, just give us the rocks.

Confusing the issue, in reaction to frustration and complaints over the agonizing pipeline review, the Conservative government called in Neil McCrank, former chairman of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board. McCrank has shown little understanding of either NWT political history or the legal basis for land claims. His suggested remedy of consolidating regional boards into one clearinghouse is a fantasy that ignores years of negotiations and ironclad legal agreements putting these regulatory boards in place.

The one unbiased view to come is the recent report by auditor general Sheila Fraser. She found the feds were doing a proper job of training boards and much progress was being made. In areas with settled land claims, there were no rejected applications by industry. Only in the unsettled areas did things get messy.

Aboriginal leaders, in some instances, appeared to use the screening process to delay development and gain leverage at the negotiating table. Much the same as the Chamber of Mines did when they didn't like the duties being imposed on mine traffic to pay for the Deh Cho bridge. To protest, the chamber asked for an environmental screening which suggests it is no different in thinking than aboriginal politicians.

But let us speak of solutions.

Who controls the pace of unsettled land claims with dysfunctional funding and ever changing rules and staff? Who set up the pipeline review panel that went way over budget, bulldozing deadline after deadline, answering only to God? The federal government.

This is all missing in the chamber of mines' message to the global mining community.

Also missing is any response from the Government of the NWT, in particular the minister of development Bob McLeod. It's as if the GNWT agrees with the assessment of the unsuitability of exploration in the North.

Perhaps worse, the GNWT doesn't properly value the enormous benefits in jobs and dollars that the mineral, oil and gas exploration business brings to the North at the community level.

Despite the bad public relations and GNWT inaction, the exploration business will return to the NWT because we have the precious resources.

In the meantime, the Chamber of Mines should be shedding its old-world blinkers and helping aboriginal leaders get their deals done with the federal government. The Inuvialuit, Gwich'in, Sahtu and Tlicho leaders and entrepreneurs -- all with settled land claims -- are aching to do business and have proven themselves solid business partners.

The Inuvialuit Development Corporation has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of airline, construction and oil and gas development companies.

There are 46 registered Gwich'in-owned businesses and 28 registered Sahtu-owned companies. The Tlicho Investment Corporation has 16 divisions involved in ventures ranging from hydro power to trucking to explosives and much more.

Settled land claims creates a business environment from which everyone profits. That's the message the GNWT should be trumpeting.

Where else in the world would you find such excellent aboriginal economic models and rich resources?

Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 3, 2010

Nunavut deserves more from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The three-member panel will visit Nunavut to hear stories from survivors of Nunavut's residential schools - the institutions and the system that tore them away from their parents, their language and their culture. The assurance of a visit came from commissioner Marie Wilson in April.

However, that is the bare minimum the commission can do, and it seems that's all it is prepared to do.

The commission will hold seven "national events" in Canada, which are more elaborate gatherings designed to promote broader awareness and public education about residential schools and the hurt they caused many students.

The North's "national event" will be held in Inuvik. As deserving a location as that may be, not holding a national event in Nunavut is a clear misjudgement. Many Nunavummiut have been vocal about the distinct Inuit experience from that era and many badly wanted to see an Inuk chosen as a commissioner. Ottawa had two chances to accommodate that request as the initial commission dissolved due to infighting among the panel members, who all resigned.

Nowhere in this struggle has Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) made a strenuous argument on behalf of the Inuit people the organization represents across Canada. It turns out ITK actually supported Inuvik as the site of the commission's national event.

"How else can they ignore us? Is our pain less than theirs," asked Joe Krimmerdjuar, a residential school survivor from Nunavut.

He and every other Nunavummiuq is right to feel insulted. But, after decades of enduring deep wounds in a territory sorely lacking social resources, sadly, they must once again find a way to overcome the pain with the barest of support.

Closing doors on 'open' government
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 3, 2010

How much did it cost to create and install new signs along the Northwest Passage trail in Gjoa Haven?

Nunavut News/North would like to inform you of that, but we can't - at least not yet.

A bureaucrat in the Department of Environment vehemently refused to reveal the figure recently. He did admit that the number is public information. He also acknowledged that withholding the information isn't departmental policy, but his own choice.

He said releasing the figure would invite criticism. Imagine that? Perhaps there's an opening in the North Korean government. Criticizing the state is certainly frowned upon there. Here, it's part of an open and democratic society, one where information is power.

The bureaucrat chastised Nunavut News/North for taking the "easy" route by calling him and asking for the figure. He said an access to information request could be filed if this newspaper really wanted to obtain that detail. So, even though it will take months to complete, we will indeed take the long and indirect route.

When Eva Aariak was elected premier in November 2008, she said one of her top priorities was to remove the "culture of fear" that exists within the territorial government, one which made civil servants feel muzzled.

There may be a hint of progress on that front, but there's a long, long way to go.

In this particularly case, either the senior bureaucrat in question didn't get the memo or he thinks he's above being accountable.

Either way, he needs some training in media relations, and a reminder that providing a figure may have added one line to a newspaper story, but refusing to budge provoked a half-page editorial.

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