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Deh Cho change of heart
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Before the pipeline's approval and during the Joint Review Panel process, this was a sound strategy, providing aboriginal groups in the region with solid leverage when negotiating.
Now that the pipeline has passed the approval stage, it is prudent that Dehcho First Nations considers what actions will best support its members.
Obviously that should not mean compromising cultural, land, harvesting, social and employment interests, but taking a hard line against the pipeline might no longer deliver beneficial results.
Shifting gears, the DFN is now considering ways it can get what it wants while supporting the pipeline -- such as joining the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and building regional expertise to take advantage of associated contracts.
Grand Chief Sam Gargan is correct when he says aboriginal groups in the Deh Cho have to get themselves ready, and his leadership has been instrumental in the DFN's changing approach to the pipeline.
Regardless of DFN's new willingness to work with the pipeline, Gargan has not changed the First Nations' priorities in terms of settling land claims and negotiating impact benefit agreements.
Imperial Oil, the federal government and the GNWT should not mistake co-operation with complacency. First Nations in the Deh Cho still control a large segment of land required for the pipeline and their willingness to work with the those backing the Mackenzie Gas Project should be reciprocated.
Show us the money
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
The GNWT rolled out its 2011 budget on Feb. 3. At $1.3 billion in expenditures, the budget represents a marginal $40 million increase in spending over last year. Although the GNWT should be credited for not raising taxes, the need for more revenue cannot be hidden.
Our debt load is climbing -- expected to reach more than $500 million by the end of the year. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger is proposing a strategy that will see capital funding cut by $75 million each year beginning next year and to cap spending increases by three per cent.
That does not leave a lot of room for new initiatives, but hopefully it won't mean program cuts either.
Regardless, we are in desperate need of more money. The list of wants from the communities is long: new police detachments, long-term care centres, addictions centres and roads, as well as additional investment in everything from health care to education.
Our debt repayment plan will make it difficult for the government to meet those demands. The need for reinvestment can't be ignored, even though it would seem prudent to reduce spending to pay off our massive debt - though some poor choices, Deh Cho Bridge mismanagement primary among them, have allowed that debt to climb too high.
Unfortunately, there is only so much revenue available in the NWT, obvious by the nearly $1 billion we receive from Ottawa each year. Yet, it's not enough, and any hope that devolution will bring us greater riches - some remain quite skeptical of whether we'll truly come out ahead - remains years away.
Canada constantly speaks about the need to increase our Arctic sovereignty, but its financial commitment isn't reflective of that importance. Indeed, there have been a number of funding initiatives in the past few years, but each has had a sunset clause. We need consistent funding year after year.
Waiting for our Territorial Formula Financing to be renewed in 2014 or a devolution deal isn't going to help people in our communities enjoy the quality of life they deserve.
An iron will
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River site, 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, could produce 18 million tonnes of iron ore annually, for a mine life of 45 to 50 years.
On Feb. 4, ArcelorMittal and Nunavut Iron Ore bought more than two thirds of Baffinland's shares.
ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, operates in 60 countries. In 2009, it had revenues of $65.1 billion and produced eight per cent of the world's steel output.
Baffinland, a small Toronto-based exploration company, had established relationships with businesses and organizations in Nunavut, especially in Pond Inlet. Though ArcelorMittal has the technical expertise and the financial clout to establish a mine at Mary River, as a massive multinational company there are questions how responsive it will be to the community's concerns and ambitions.
ArcelorMittal's best approach for establishing a good long-term relationship with Pond Inlet and the people of Nunavut should include, for starters, honouring commitments made by Baffinland prior to its takeover.
As well, the company should waste no time in meeting with Pond Inlet's leadership, as well as hold public meetings, to assure residents that their needs will not be trampled as one of the world's highest-quality iron ore deposits is exploited in their backyard.
Dry in name only
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Thirteen hamlets restrict alcohol to some extent, and seven have decided removing alcohol altogether will help them make their communities safer places to live.
The statistics bear this out. Any RCMP officer in Nunavut will tell you the majority of calls they handle are alcohol-related.
But as Gjoa Haven SAO Enuk Pauloosie told the task force reviewing the Nunavut Liquor Act, dry hamlets are dry in name only. People still manage to get alcohol into the community, which finds its way into the hands and bellies of the people most desperate to drink. Those same individuals are often the most likely to cause trouble while drunk.
Also, the exorbitant cost of the bootlegged alcohol - hundreds of dollars a bottle - diverts money away from groceries and fuels crime. Bootlegging can wreak enough damage that people wonder if there's much point to declaring a hamlet dry.
Hamlets alone can't enforce alcohol bans. Keeping alcohol out of communities that choose to be dry requires a concerted effort by hamlets, the territory, police and alert residents. The task force should make recommendations to address these needs in the amended Liquor Act.
Grading our MLAs
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 11, 2011
With clashes over proposed job cuts, board mergers and changes to supplementary health benefits, not to mention Premier Floyd Roland's personal problems, it's been a bumpy ride for the territorial government.
MLAs are back in the legislative assembly for their last budget session before the territorial general election this fall. It seems an opportune time to grade our seven Yellowknife MLAs.
Sandy Lee: The Range Lake MLA was in tough as Health and Social Services minister but it's the portfolio Lee wanted in her two terms serving as a regular MLA prior to this one, so it's a job for which she should have been well-prepared. Alas, she wasn't and it showed almost immediately. Whether backpedaling (twice) on proposed changes to supplementary health benefits for seniors and persons with chronic illnesses, or all too often, hiding behind bureaucrats in her department when controversy arises, the minister was on unsteady ground several times. That said, there have been successes. Lee helped establish the homeless day shelter and opened a dementia centre at Aven Manor. It's been a rough ride for Lee, perhaps she's due for a rebound. Grade: C-
Dave Ramsay: The Kam Lake MLA has been a perennial thorn in the side of cabinet since his first election to the legislative assembly in 2003, and there's been no love lost in this term. He was one of Premier Floyd Roland's harshest critics during the debacle over the premier's extra-marital affair, and has dined on the Deh Cho Bridge fiasco in the legislative assembly for three years. Ramsay has made no bones about his desire to be a cabinet minister, and was disappointed he wasn't given the finance portfolio in this government. He should therefore be wary of the cautionary tale exemplified by Sandy Lee, who he replaced as Yellowknife's barking attack dog in the legislative assembly after she was promoted to cabinet. Grade: B
Bob McLeod: Much like his brother and cabinet colleague, Michael McLeod, the Yellowknife South MLA has flown largely under the radar. The Industry, Tourism and Investment minister has drawn few complaints during his first foray into territorial politics, even while numerous issues facing the NWT affected his portfolio: complaints about too much red tape in mineral exploration, Yellowknife's flagging diamond cutting and polishing industry, the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. A former bureaucrat, McLeod's lack of knowledge on certain issues - he didn't know that the Ontario government had rejected the shared use of the GNWT's Canadian diamond brand, for instance - is troubling. As was his pledge for "cabinet solidarity" when cabinet colleague Michael Miltenberger wanted to do away with our elected school boards. Grade: B-
Wendy Bisaro: The Frame Lake MLA was a fence sitter while on city council, and is a fence sitter in the legislative assembly. "I'm a firm believer in the autonomy of school boards," she said in response to auditor general Sheila Fraser's 2010 report on NWT education. "That said, I agree the department needs to play more of a leadership role as recommended by the auditor general. The department needs to provide more direction and more guidance."
She wasn't very inspiring either when she railed against GNWT spending at last year's Winter Olympic Games and then joined a MLA junket to attend them, or in her comparison of social problems between the NWT and Kenya from the comfort of her posh hotel in Nairobi. She gets points for helping to push through legislation to make it easier for people to donate food. Her predecessor Charles Dent once rated himself a B+, we'll give her a C-
Bob Bromley: Regardless of one's opinions on global warming, it's hard to ignore the influence the Ecology North founder exacts over cabinet and regular MLAs.
Whether it be getting the government to set aside $1.3 million a year to establish a biomass industry, or tightening up conflict of interest rules for former cabinet ministers, the Weledeh MLA has proved to be one of the most effective politicians in the legislative assembly. Any bets on who will be minister of Environment and Natural Resources next term? Grade: A
Robert Hawkins: Possibly one of the worst public speakers ever elected to represent a Yellowknife riding in the legislative assembly; hopeless in his pursuit of a cabinet seat; shameless in his self-promotion and ceaseless campaigning. Still, the Yellowknife Centre MLA has developed a reputation as being one of the most accessible politicians in the legislative assembly. Few birthday parties, weddings, funerals and bridge games go by without his attendance. He is also apparently on call for his constituents day and night. Grade: B
Glen Abernethy: The first-term MLA representing the Great Slave riding has put in a solid performance. He was instrumental in getting a review of the Child and Family Services Act and bold in his questioning over proposed changes to supplementary health benefits.
Regardless, out of all the MLAs representing Yellowknife ridings, he is the least known and likely the most vulnerable come election time this fall. Grade: B+
A brighter future
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011
In bold black letters against a white background, one side of the sign currently reads missing school is missing out. Ideas don't get much more straightforward than that.
The Fort Liard District Education Authority and the Youth Justice Committee, which partnered to install the display board and sponsor the related poster contest, were ahead of their time. School attendance, which has always been lurking as a concern, has recently moved to the forefront primarily because of the territorial government's Aboriginal Student Achievement Initiative.
According to information provided during the Deh Cho's Aboriginal Student Achievement forum, it's estimated the average aboriginal student in the NWT misses more than 41 days of school each year. By the end of Grade 9 that adds up to two years of missed classes. Non-aboriginal students miss half as much school.
Clearly attendance, or rather the lack thereof, has to be tackled if student achievement, aboriginal or otherwise, is to improve. Students who miss classes not only hurt their own education, they also slow down the education of their classmates. Teachers have to spend extra time helping students catch up on the lessons they missed so they can advance with the rest of the class.
Students in the Deh Cho are almost on par with their counterparts in the rest of the territory when it comes to truancy.
The Deh Cho has, on average, approximately an 85 per cent attendance level. The percentage ranges from close to 80 to more than 90 in different schools in the region.
Territory-wide the average attendance was 86 per cent for the 2009-10 school year, the equivalent of a student missing one and a half days of school every two weeks. The average rose slightly above the 2008-09 number of 85.5 per cent.
The Fort Liard District Education Authority and the Youth Justice Committee deserve credit for taking steps to help combat the problem of low attendance. By partnering to develop a poster contest with a public display board, the two groups are targeting everyone in the hamlet to ensure the message gets out.
Attendance, after all, isn't just the responsibility of students. Parents, caregivers and even concerned community members play a role in ensuring students attend classes every day.
As Robert Firth, the project's organizer, pointed out, a display board and some posters are a small step to combat truancy, but they are a step. If communities come together to create enough steps, improved student attendance and student achievement will be the reward.
A manly North
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011
That should mean we women have the pick of the litter this Valentine's, so to speak. Like a game of musical chairs: when the song and dance is over, some guy's going to be left standing without a date.
There's a couple reasons why this statistic swings in our favour, one being that the world over, more boys are born than girls every year. In fact, in Canada there's about five per cent more, so that already tilts the scales.
But the other, more obvious reason, is that males tend to migrate to places where there's more heavy industry, like the oil sands in Alberta, the logging industry along the north coast of mainland British Columbia and the diamond mines of the NWT.
There are 10 per cent more men up here vying to stand out and win over a lady.
This is great news to any single woman in the North, especially in comparison to women living in some of southern Canada's heavily female populated cities. This yang of the statistic leaves southern women fighting over men's affection, which I'm sure is very lovely for the guys, but I am not a guy and fighting for attention is a battle I'd rather avoid.
Now I don't know whether we women are drawn to the beaches, or that the gruff and manly industries of coastal Canada have died, taking the men with them, but both eastern and western shores are a hot spot for women. Each tip of Canada's wingspan has the lowest concentration of men, from Cape Breton, N.S., to Victoria, B.C. - or as we from Vancouver Island refer to it: "Chicktoria."
Oh yes, the capital of British Columbia has one of the least favourable population demographics for single females in Canada, with about seven per cent more gals than guys.
So moving straight from what should be my least favourable population in to what should be my favourite was exciting. Yellowknife has around 400 more single lads than lasses. Of Norman Wells 765 residents, 405 of them are guys leaving only 355 girls, and even the smaller hamlet of Aklavik, our closest companion, has 315 men to 275 women.
So why then, of all the places I choose to settle down throughout this massive territory, would I decide on Inuvik - the only town in the NWT where the women outnumber the men. I guess you can take the girl away from "Chicktoria" but you can't take the "Chicktoria" away from the girl.
Talk is cheap
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Yellowknifer spoke to four Yellowknife MLAs last week concerning the city's proposed Con Mine community energy system and all, save Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay, spoke enthusiastically of the $60 million project.
"There's a lot of safeguards built into this, that way we just don't run out and get a $49 million loan and realize it will never work," said Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins of the city's plan to seek voter approval to borrow money that would in all likelihood pay for the lion's share of the project should it proceed.
It's curious how none of those MLAs thought it necessary for the GNWT to step in and offer some money toward what essentially is the city's biggest capital expense undertaking ever.
The federal government is contributing between $10 million and $20 million toward the project. A substantial sum, but the city - and its ratepayers - are potentially on the hook for the remainder of the cost as long as private backers remain lacking.
Last week, Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger announced $2.7 million will be set aside in this year's territorial budget for energy projects that reduce the use of fossil fuels, like hydro, biomass and geothermal.
Why aren't Yellowknife MLAs chasing down some of this money for the city's downtown district energy system?
Questions still remain on whether the Con energy plan is even viable, but it would be reassuring to know that our territorial government was willing to help out with the enormous costs associated with this plan, and not just tepid assurances that territorial government buildings will be signed on as energy plan users.
Yellowknife represents one half the territory; our MLAs sometimes seem unable to remember that.
Full disclosure essential in democracy
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 9, 2011
The public discussion of Yellowknives Ndilo Chief Ted Tsetta spending with the band's credit card should be welcomed by Ndilo and Dettah band members.
All politicians must be held accountable for the way they spend public money, from mayors to chiefs to MLAs and premiers.
The main problem with the debate over the chief's spending is that the facts have only been revealed in a secret meeting of the band council.
This is a mistake. Band members are now being asked to evaluate the actions of their leaders with only sketchy information. Dettah Band Chief Ed Sangris accuses Chief Tsetta of misspending. Tsetta denies it, insisting the money was spent properly. Sangris refuses to reveal exactly how much was spent and for what.
So now band members are left in the dark. Who are they to believe?
Maybe both chiefs are half right. Perhaps band members, if they knew how the money was spent, may agree some of Tsetta's expenditures were legitimate and some were not.
The public discussion could lead to new policies based upon direction given by band members.
But that discussion isn't going to take place because of secrecy. Who does that serve? Not the band members, not democracy.
Band members should insist the credit card charges be laid on the table at another special meeting. Let the people decide the right and wrong based on the facts.
Maybe we haven't come so far
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It wasn't all that long ago when a woman, assaulted by her boyfriend or husband, could expect to
be blamed for the beating she took.
After all, she must have said or done something to bring such fury her way, right? When all was said and done, she probably got just what she had coming to her.
But we've come a long way since then, and now we expect people to be accountable for their actions, especially ones of violence.
That is, unless you happen to be a Kivalliq teacher or a young offender.
The teacher in our region who was assaulted in his classroom recently by a male student, has been left alone to deal with the emotional scars the incident left in its wake.
He has the support of family members, of course, and a number of fellow educators phoned with well wishes, but the system he's served so well has abandoned him.
There have been no calls from the Government of Nunavut offering any form of counselling in the wake of the beating the teacher took.
There's been no understanding. No support.
And the teacher, like the women of so long ago, has been asked numerous times what he said or did to tick the student off.
The teacher feels like he's being blamed for being a victim, and is left to deal with the insinuation that it was his fault the student lost control.
Peering through blackened eyes over his swollen face - knowing he's always done his best in his classroom - who could blame him for feeling there's no empathy left in the world and no accountability for a person's actions?
Thankfully, he had a stand-up boss who went to the wall for him when the local district education authority met over the incident, convincing it to expel the student.
And some in the community did approach the teacher to express their heartfelt concern, but one wonders if more would have come forward if the teacher was a homegrown educator.
Hey, we all know the problems when something like this happens in our region.
Some don't show support or speak out because they're scared of retribution, especially when violence is involved.
Others ill-advisedly feel it's better to side with the local person, even if he or she is in the wrong.
And, still others look for excuses to justify the action, as in the person must have done something to provoke it.
All three responses deprive a town or hamlet from ever truly becoming a community.
Communities support each other through difficult times, have the courage to separate right from wrong, and take steps to make things right when a wrong has been committed.
When we ostracize someone for being a victim of violence, we become a community in name only.
We open a dark place where we can go to create a false sense of security by convincing ourselves the person probably had it coming and if we just ignore what happened, it will go away.
Maybe we really haven't come all that far after all!