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Seize the advantage
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 20, 2011

The GNWT's new ownership of two diamond processing plants needs to go hand in hand with a firm strategy on re-opening these plants; specifically, ensuring these plants have an adequate supply of rough diamonds.

Since the diamond industry sprouted from NWT kimberlite, the GNWT has been operating on seemingly nothing more than a handshake to ensure that 10 per cent of rough diamonds are set aside for Yk polishing plants by the three mining companies - BHP Billiton, De Beers and Rio Tinto.

Though these multi-national corporations have given back to the North in many ways -- through generous charitable donations, sponsorships, taxes and jobs -- they have paid little heed to the non-legally binding agreement to supply the NWT with 10 per cent of rough diamonds.

Last fall, Yellowknife city councillors and some MLAs heaped a considerable amount of blame on the GNWT for not doing enough to provide an environment for diamond plants to thrive, and losing its steam on marketing Northern diamonds to the world.

With the recent creation of an advisory board for Northern diamond manufacturers to feed ideas to the government on marketing strategies, it is possible more headway will be made on promoting Northern gems.

The GNWT's revised diamond strategy also places, as its first clause, a requirement of future mines to only be approved when agreements are in place to guarantee a portion of rough diamonds are set aside for NWT diamond manufacturers. This needs to be strictly enforced by offering a Northern advantage, especially with the possible future opening of the Gahcho Kue mine.

Industry Minister Bob McLeod said the newly-acquired plants will be available to all bidders. HRA Investments Ltd., the parent company of Crossworks, the only plant left standing after four other plants on Diamond Row shut down, has already expressed some interest in the facilities.

The GNWT cannot back down in making sure a plentiful supply of diamonds is available to Northern manufacturers at affordable prices so the secondary diamond industry can kick back into full gear.

Niven 'cash grab' a good plan
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 20, 2011

Two years ago city council approved a 12 per cent subsidy on 31 lots in Phase VII of the Niven Lake subdivision out of fear the lots couldn't be sold at their full base price.

Until now, multiple bidders pursuing the same property paid the base price set by the city after having their name drawn from a hat. Now the city wants to sell the remaining 11 high-end lots to the highest bidder, subsidy still intact. The base price for these lots range from $116,800 to $193,000.

But the good news here, as Mayor Gord Van Tighem has explained to Yellowknifer, is that the city intends to put any extra cash made from bids higher than the base price toward paying down the subsidy on Phase VII - thereby relieving at least some of the burden borne by the taxpayer.

The projected revenue for Phase VII is expected to come in at just under $11 million but construction costs are expected to total $12.4 million, which means the subsidy is covering nearly $1.5 million - a substantial sum. We can only hope these lots collect a good profit, considering the city's lack of confidence when the subsidy was adopted.

City councillor Cory Vanthuyne calls the latest sales scheme a "cash grab," which it would be if the city was spending the extra cash somewhere else, such as buying more computers for city hall or hiring more staff. Or, if the sales method was being applied to land designated for affordable housing, since a higher purchase price would counter council's goal of making sure people who can't buy a monster home can at least purchase a reasonably affordable one.

It's therefore critical that city council holds Van Tighem to his word that the money paid above the base price goes to paying off the subsidy and not to increasing the cost of living.

Progress, at least
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Fort Providence the announcement the Deh Cho Bridge's completion will likely be delayed wasn't ground breaking news.

According to Deh Cho leaders, it wasn't hard to see it coming. Sure the trusses on the north side of the bridge were placed across the piers during the winter but that was the only visible sign of progress. There were no signs of the trusses for the south side or the pylons and cables that were supposed to be on both ends before break-up. The structure looks a bit more like a bridge and less like a giant abstract art instalment but just barely.

News of the potential delays that could push construction into the spring and possibly summer of 2012 shouldn't surprise residents of the wider territory either. The project hasn't exactly been going smoothly up to this point.

The bridge has been rife with controversy and accusations of mismanagement from the beginning of construction. There was the required re-design in 2009 that caused a delay followed by the removal of ATCON as the general contractor at the end of that year. The territorial government took over the project in April 2010, and the $182 million bill.

Further warning about the project came this March when Sheila Fraser, Canada's auditor general, tabled a full audit of the bridge in which she stated that she wouldn't be surprised if the bridge exceeded its budget. The Department of Transportation, she noted, had not addressed what would happen if the bridge opened late.

So where does the delayed completion leave the unsurprised residents of the territory?

As Mayor Raymond Bonnetrouge of Fort Providence pointed out there isn't much that can be done. Residents and community governments can't affect the course of work.

Residents, therefore, are more or less left to sit back and watch the unfolding drama and shelve any plans for driving across the bridge this November.

While residents can't make the bridge go up any faster, they can take a close look at who they think is responsible for the delays. This is a valid question given the upcoming territorial election.

The choices include voting for a change in elected officials on the grounds that the territorial government hasn't done a great job in managing the bridge nor keeping the project on track.

Conversely, voters could take the opinion that the responsibilities for the delays lay elsewhere, with the steel manufacturers and that it was out of the government's hands. In that case, it may be better to keep MLAs in place who are familiar with the project.

Either way, progress is still being made on the largest public infrastructure project undertaken in the NWT although the completion date is anyone's guess.

Loving the green
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 19, 2011

In just a few weeks, Inuvik's greenhouse will be a truly magical place, a paradise, an Eden if you will, full of greenery, blooms and fresh vegetables.

Its harvest will feed families, decorate homes and provide an escape for the gardeners, who have already started turning over the soil and even planting in their plots.

With the commercial greenhouse selling 'edibles and bedibles' to the wider community and workshops ready to teach those wanting to know a bit more, the greenhouse is for more than just the existing members.

But before it was a greenhouse, it was a hockey arena and part of the Grollier Hall residential school system. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's national event in Inuvik at the end of June, greenhouse board members plan to make the greenhouse available to residential school survivors.

Through set times or tours, the survivors can view the facility and see the way it has been transformed, as the building could otherwise hold horrible memories for them.

Hopefully the garden will give them a quiet place away from all the other events, where they can sit and contemplate, calm themselves or simply enjoy the beauty and healing powers that nature provides.

For all the beauty Inuvik may hold once the snow melts, there's something to be said for greenery and nature. Studies have shown that even landscape photos have a way to calm people, de-stress them.

If you're feeling the stress yourself, what with the big puddles, melting snow and mud, take yourself over to the greenhouse. Visit the commercial greenhouse upstairs and enjoy the blossoms already in bloom. After months and months (and months) of snow, it's a joy and a shock to see so much green in one place.

Enjoy it, and reap the benefits of having such a fantastic facility right in your own community.

The future is yours, grads

Congratulations to all the Aurora College Grads.

You've worked hard and it really is an accomplishment that you completed your studies. You had the strength, courage and energy to choose a step towards your future and you are now on your way.

In a sense, the real commencement was when you applied to Aurora College. That was when you started choosing where you would go next.

Chances are you learned lessons in school that were not included in your textbooks.

Keep learning every day and take advantage of all the opportunities that come along. You never know what adventures will come your way or where they will take you.

Power of the people
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dan Westman is proof positive that a well thought-out, calm and reasoned argument is usually more productive than ranting and raving, full guns-a-blazing.

Westman had good reason to be angry after his family's house was severely damaged in a fire Dec. 23, and adding to his misery was a $12,354 bill handed to him from the fire department.

The Westmans were charged the minimum $500 for the first two hours firefighters were on site, plus $1,200 for additional hours, and another $10,654 for overtime paid to the firefighters.

There is an argument to be made for passing on at least some the costs of fighting fires to the property owner. After all, most owners have insurance to cover the expense, but the city's handling of the invoice to the Westman family certainly brought its tact into question. The invoice stated the family had 30 days to pay the bill, otherwise it would be subject to 25 per cent interest.

City council and administration deserve credit for recognizing this is an area of city policy that needed revising, and are now looking at capping the firefighting fee on residential buildings to $4,500, although it remains unclear whether the city will remove its late payment interest warnings from invoices to fire victims. Residents don't pay interest on accounts receivable, the city says, even though notice to the contrary appeared on the Westmans' bill.

Regardless, it's clear Westman's well-executed public presentation, aided by his wife Paula Tremaine, had a big impact on the city's thinking on these matters. Chalk one up for the little guy - sometimes you can take on city hall and win.

Put down the pump
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Despite periodic fluctuations, gas prices are on the rise.

When stations started charging $1.389 per litre last week, Yellowknifers expressed dismay, saying it was unfair that gas companies were asking for more while old supplies - inventory in place prior to the ice crossings to the south being cut off - had not yet been exhausted.

As federal Industry Minister Tony Clement said in Toronto last Thursday, it's hard to understand why we're paying more money at the pump right now while gas is at $98 per barrel, than in 2008 when gas was more than $140 a barrel. While some of us will forever be suspicious of price gouging by industry and retailers, who are most definitely profit-driven, the global law of supply and demand will always play a role in rising gas prices.

But rather than complain about the price at the pumps, people need to deal with it.

Yellowknife is not a sprawling metropolis; it's a relatively densely-constructed city, and aided by a bike, scooter, skateboard or roller blades, many people can get from one end of the city to the other in 10 to 15 minutes. Walking, while more time consuming, is also an alternative.

The benefits are numerous: less expense, better for one's health, and fewer exhaust pipes sullying the air we breathe, to name a few.

Sure, things are different during the long winter months, but we're now into the glorious spring/summer period when we have other options for transportation. Take advantage of these options and save your money for when you have no choice but to drive.

A voice sealed in silence
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

With the air cleared, somewhat, on a damning story on Nunavut in a national publication this past month, have we learned from being cast in such a negative light?

While we're glad Premier Eva Aariak spoke out in this newspaper about the article, we still wonder why the voice of Education Minister Hunter Tootoo wasn't heard loud and clear across Nunavut, if not the entire country.

Tootoo was certainly never at a loss for stinging words when he had a bone to pick with a cabinet member during his days as a regular member of Nunavut's legislative assembly.

If being accused of harbouring some unofficial policy that produces illiterate high school graduates isn't enough to get an education minister's dander up, what is?

Even if our Department of Education is too afraid of the big, bad southern media to defend itself against such claims, one would still expect it to publicly support its teaching ranks with a loud, and sincere, vote of confidence.

We can understand Health Minister Tagak Curley's silence on the issue, after being quoted in the story saying suicide is no longer that big of a problem in Nunavut, but he only gets a free pass based on the outlandishness of the statement.

Even the silence from our regional Inuit associations, especially here in the Kivalliq, was somewhat baffling, considering the fact they're locked in negotiations on Inuit impact and benefit agreements with the mining industry.

How many illiterate Grade 12 students or business partners is a company expected to take on?

Premier Aariak was bang on with her contention far too much of the southern media's Nunavut coverage is negative.

But southern media doesn't exist to highlight the positive sides of Nunavut or, truth be told, even ensure it's portrayed in a fair and balanced manner.

It's in business to sell newspapers or gain ratings and, make no mistake about it, in the south, if it bleeds it leads.

Aariak was also bang on when she said Nunavut is a modern territory with strong roots to its past and culture.

But it's those very roots southern media often exploit for their own gain.

Whether it's staging photos of the signing of historic documents in iglus, attempting to film the killing of a polar bear with a spear, or posting images of a visiting dignitary eating seal meat: they create illusions to suit their own purpose on any given story.

A former mayor of Rankin Inlet once stopped a phone interview with a southern media outlet when he saw the line of questioning for what it was, sensationalism. And he was right.

Few remember why the governor general of the day was in Nunavut, or what she accomplished while here, only that she had a taste of seal meat.

She got a ton of publicity from the stunt and some great footage for her life's story, while we got... oh yes, a ban on seal products.

If we do adhere to a culture of silence in Nunavut, maybe it's time we learn to enact that culture when certain elements of southern culture grace us with their presence.

If not, surely we can find a voice to defend ourselves when they take the root of Northern culture and club us over the head with it before cashing in on the skins of sensationalism!

Better alternatives for NWT energy
NWT News/North - Monday, May 16, 2011

Although an extreme example, Norman Wells' declared state of emergency due to the recent shutoff of its natural gas supply highlights the need for NWT communities to begin developing alternative energy sources.

Even without the Norman Wells example, the NWT has had ample reason to begin moving away from diesel as our primary source of energy, namely the rising cost of oil. Oil prices have slipped a little recently, but the long-term trend surely remains for higher and higher.

Using biomass energy has been floated as an idea for years and in 2010 the GNWT released its biomass strategy as a guideline. Essentially the strategy looks at using wood pellets for community district energy projects.

From a financial perspective, wood pellets make sense as a source of energy. Jim Sparling, with Environment and Natural Resources, said at Yellowknife prices there is a near equivalent of 40 cents per litre of savings using wood pellets compared to home heating fuel.

As it stands, many homes and business in the NWT have already incorporated a form of district energy -- either using a wood pellet boiler or stove, or a residual heat collection system. However, Sparling said setting up a community-wide wood pellet system would be more efficient.

Norman Wells is faced with a situation where infrastructure will have to be overhauled at a community-wide level. That does create an opportunity to pilot a community-wide district heating system, supplying the town with a cleaner and cheaper wood-pellet alternative to diesel.

The NWT has challenges to overcome to develop a forestry industry which would allow for local wood pellet manufacturing. Pellets are a byproduct of sawmill operations. Sparling said manufacturing lumber in the NWT is a challenge because the territory doesn't have the necessary infrastructure to cut construction-grade material. Even if it did, the industry would have to find a way to market itself to solely Northern customers because it would not be able to compete if it tried to ship to southern customers. Recyclables such as cardboard and paper can also be used for wood pellet manufacturing but not on a large enough scale to sustain community-wide systems.

So there has to be a will to overcome the hurdles. Two years ago, MLAs David Krutko and Bob Bromley travelled to Denmark, Sweden and Finland to learn about alternative energy initiatives in those countries. They came back singing the praises of biomass systems and spoke of the merits of establishing a wood pellet industry right here in the NWT.

What's happened since then? We need action.

The advantages of such a territorial biomass industry would be three-fold. One, it would provide the NWT with a source of energy from a renewable and local source. Second, it would spark another territorial industry providing much-needed jobs. Third, wood pellets will help the territory reduce its carbon emissions.

Biomass energy is an idea that should be explored further, however, a lot of work must be done to ensure its viability and sustainability. The NWT needs the infrastructure, namely roads, to transport the material at a reasonable cost and guidelines must be established to protect our forests.

Finding our way
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 16, 2011

A recent series of articles published in The Globe and Mail to coincide with the 11th anniversary of Nunavut's creation aired the territory's dirty laundry to a wide southern audience.

There was nothing new or shocking revealed. Yes, Nunavut has a high suicide rate. Yes, many people have mental health and substance abuse issues and there is no treatment centre in the territory. Yes, houses are overcrowded and in disrepair.

The article went on to question whether Nunavummiut are better off since 1999 and characterize Nunavut as a failed experiment.

We beg to disagree.

There's no doubt things have changed in 11 years, and much of it for the better. Nunavut's population grew 24 per cent between 1999 and 2010 and the territory's tax return -reported charitable donations doubled. In 1999, Statistics Canada didn't even measure Internet access in Nunavut, but by 2009-2010, 59 per cent of Nunavummiut households were online.

However, the persistent social issues that plague Nunavut were not solved overnight April 1, 1999, and will take longer than 11 years to solve. Some, like the housing crisis, got worse after 1999 as construction failed to keep pace with the territory's population growth.

But for every violent criminal and corrupt bureaucrat the territory has produced in the last 11 years, dozens of other Nunavummiut have been quietly going about their jobs and volunteer work, teaching children to be proud of who they are and working hard to make the territory a better place to live, day by day.

Young people who have come of age since the creation of Nunavut are making their mark on their communities, the territory and the nation in sports, arts, education and leadership. These are people like Rankin Inlet's Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to play in the NHL; Repulse Bay's Michael Putulik, who played and coached badminton, accompanied the 2010 Olympic torch from British Columbia to New Brunswick and now teaches at Tusarvik School; Cape Dorset's Annie Pootoogook, whose drawings of modern Inuit life have made a splash in the arts world; Clyde River's Benny Sanguya, who teaches other youth hip-hop dance as a route to increasing self esteem; and Kugluktuk's Helena Bolt, who co-ordinates her community's youth square dancing group and is one of the few of her generation to speak fluent Inuinnaqtun. These are only a few of the numerous promising young people who are helping to define our territory.

Nunavut is going to be a life-long, multi-generational endeavour following the principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit of service, learning, decision-making by consensus, resourcefulness, working together, and respecting the environment. Tradition, although sometimes shaken, still lies at the heart of who we are.

Dubbing the entire territory "a culture of silence" based on a few local politicians' reluctance to talk to a southern reporter is not a fair assessment. Nunavummiut talk about their concerns often and at length when provided with a forum and among their peers. The reluctance to talk to southern media often stems from a fear of being misunderstood that this series of articles, with its broad assumptions, has done nothing to alleviate.

Nunavut is a work in progress. Give us the time, the tools and the resources, and we'll get the job done as we have for centuries.

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