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Northland's time running out
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 20, 2012
Without an agreement for the city to take over Northland's privately held streets and begin the task of replacing the crumbling water and sewer pipes beneath them, owners of the trailer park's 258 mobile homes face yet another perilous winter at risk of catastrophic failure, rising operations and maintenance costs, and a guarantee that whatever it would cost them to begin the repairs this year will be more expensive next year. The price tag has been estimated at around $20 million, although Northlanders hope to reduce that by cutting out some of the frills, such as paved roads.
City administrator Bob Long chided Northland's governing board during a committee meeting last week, saying the window to begin construction this year is closing fast.
The drumbeat of urgency has been beating faster with each passing year but it appears Condominium Corporation No. 8 would rather wait it out and hope for a better deal.
The condo corp. seems to think the $360 a month over 25 years from each residence won't survive a plebiscite vote among Northland homeowners - even though it's already been shaved down significantly from the original proposal of $455 a month.
There is also still this persistent idea among some trailer park residents that city council can be convinced to use taxpayers' money to lower the monthly rate, even though the city has repeatedly rejected that idea. It's naive to think council is going to roll over on this point, especially during an election year.
If the condo corp. wants to save Northland from ruin it best heed the pressures of time and do whatever it takes to convince homeowners to sign on now. Stick to all this wishful negotiating and it might just cost Northlanders their homes.
Penny-inspired price changes premature
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 20, 2012
There is no logical reason for consumers to expect any immediate result from federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's recent announcement that the lowly penny will no longer be produced.
It's going to be a long time before the copper-coloured coin actually disappears from cash registers in Yellowknife stores. There are, after all, millions of the coins in circulation nationwide. It's going to take years for ordinary consumers to feel the impact of the decision for the Royal Canadian Mint to stop making new coins at a cost of 1.6 cents apiece.
Even so, when the one-cent coin finally does disappear, it will primarily penalize those people who choose to pay in cash. An estimated 50 per cent of Canadians don't make their purchases in cash, choosing instead to use debit cards, credit cards or gift cards.
There is the potential, however, for some retailers to adjust their prices solely as a result of the announcement that the penny will no longer be produced.
Most will surely opt to increase prices, rounding the purchase cost up to the nearest nickel. Of course, the cost will only be rounded down in rare occasions.
Yet, there are enough pennies in circulation that adjusting prices now is premature, if needed at all.
When the time comes, the most logical approach is for retailers to round down a price that ends in 1 or 2, or round up a price that ends in 3 or 4, on a total purchase - and only if there are no pennies left in the till and only if the consumer wishes to pay in cash and has no pennies.
That said, logic doesn't always rule the day.
Will revised rent scale be beneficial?
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, April 19, 2012
It will take some time for public housing clients to determine for themselves if the changes are beneficial.
The bulk of the changes to the rent scale seem to be a step in the right direction.
The corporation says the changes are based on feedback from residents who argued the current rent system is complicated, unfair, unpredictable and provided a disincentive to work. The new system, the corporation says, is much simpler.
Looking at the provided literature it certainly seems to be. A straightforward chart lays out how much rent a household will pay, based on the occupants' gross monthly household income and the zone they live in. The income range for each rent amount is clearly laid out so tenants will be able to decide if taking a new or additional job will push them into the next rent level.
Of course not everyone will be happy. The changes will result in approximately 262 households receiving a rent increase of $100 or more. On the flip side, however, 675 households are expected to pay less rent.
You can't please everyone and if the system proves to be better, having some households pay a bit more may be a small price to pay.
One area, however, that there's bound to be a lot of furor over is the case of seniors. Seniors in public housing will be paying rent just like everyone else.
It's important to note that many seniors won't be paying a lot. With $1,000 in income exempt each month, most seniors will be paying the lowest rent rates, either $70, $75 or $80 depending on the zone they are in. Even a small amount, however, still adds up when stacked against a fixed income.
Although there might be an argument that seniors should help pay their way, the corporation can't expect to take away something that was free and not have some backlash.
So what we are left with is a policy change that on the surface, except if you are a senior, seems to be beneficial and just what the populous requested.
Officials with the housing corporation should remain open to the possibility of revisions because even the best laid plans can have unforeseen negative consequences.
Weighing heating options when there are none
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, April 19, 2012
"I thought it was already a sales pitch for what had already been decided, rather than a public forum for input," said resident Toby Newendorf. "The whole thing seems to be scary – double your gas rates for two or three years, and then almost double them long-term. That's not really a good set of alternatives for people here."
Newendorf caused a stir during the public question period at the meeting by suggesting the town look into switching to a refrigerator-sized nuclear battery that would last for roughly 30 years before needing to be refilled and would cost about one-tenth of what residents are currently paying for natural gas.
Regardless of the logistics and feasibility of such a plan, Newendorf's suggestion got people talking – and thinking – about different alternatives to natural gas.
Questions about the so-called alternative energy sources (wind, water and hydro) were posed, but the impression given was that these have not really been looked at as serious options.
A feasibility study conducted by the Aurora Research Institute years ago states that annual wind speed in Inuvik is not fast enough to put in a wind farm – but another location could be possible. Solar panels have seen some success in the area, such as the town office that runs its air conditioning unit in the summer with solar panels, but there is no way to store this power through the winter and even if there was, that would only offset the town's electricity needs and wouldn't fix the heating problem.
Not to mention how much any of these systems would cost and who would pay for it.
There are a number of ways to heat a home or a building. As one woman put it on her way out the door, "Anyone chopping wood in this town is going to make a killing next winter."
Last week's meeting, which many expected or hoped would be a brainstorming session on what the options were, turned in to exactly what Newendorf said – a sales pitch.
Perhaps people should have seen that coming. After all, most of the members of the panel worked for either Inuvik Gas, ATCO Midstream Ltd. or the Ikhil Joint Venture – of course any solution coming from them will be a gas-based solution.
The point to be taken away from all this is not so much which alternative is best for the town of Inuvik, but that there are alternatives.
This is not to say that natural gas will not turn out to be the way of the future for Inuvik. As Mayor Denny Rodgers stated in the town newsletter distributed before the meeting, "We have lots of natural gas, we just need to get it to the town."
But how? And who pays for it?
There are lots of outstanding questions and it's time to start coming up with some answers. There is a good chance that this town will be out of natural gas before breakup of 2013. Either way, it sure would be nice for residents to know how they will heat their homes next winter and how much that might cost, so they have enough time to prepare.
Plus, doubling the cost of heating – and all the trickle-down costs that would add to products and services here – would be a lot easier to swallow if you knew that it was the best solution out of a number of options.
It seems as though, right now, private industry, the town, the territory and the people are unsure about who it is that should be coming up with those options. When really, the only real way to have this mess sorted out and a new system on its way by this time next year is if everyone works together.
Wary of Tuk highway
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Bring up the Deh Cho Bridge or changes to supplementary health care benefits, and our local politicians not seated on the cabinet side of the legislative assembly are jumping to their feet every chance they can get.
When the issue is something along the lines of: should the NWT Housing Corporation be evicting tenants who refuse to pay rent, however, Yellowknife MLAs remain largely mute.
On the proposed all-season Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway, local MLAs finally seem willing to tip over some sacred cows. Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny isn't the only MLA critical of the project but he is the most vocal. He implored the government not to give in to "emotional feelings" and "political lobbying" in his member's statement on Feb. 15 and took to Twitter earlier this month, chiding the GNWT to "see the warning signs before we spend $300 mil."
The warning signs he refers to are revised cost estimates that put the highway at up to $300 million to complete from the original $200 million announced last year. This means the original 75-25 split proposed by Ottawa - which is pitching in $150 million - might actually wind up being more like 50-50, and leave the GNWT with such a huge bill that there will be little room left on its $800 million borrowing limit for other desperately needed infrastructure projects.
Many MLAs, including all regular members from Yellowknife, gave the project a rough ride in the legislative assembly after Transportation Minister David Ramsay announced $2.5 million for environmental assessment work Feb. 14.
First and foremost on their minds is why spend such an enormous amount of money - even with federal help -- to service a moribund oil and gas industry and link a community of 3,500 (Inuvik) to a community of less than 1,000 (Tuktoyaktuk).
It doesn't add up when one thinks of all the other infrastructure needs of the territory, particularly long neglected repairs for existing roads such as Highway 7 that may actually benefit large portions of the NWT with increased tourism traffic from the Alaska Highway through the Deh Cho and North Slave and South Slave. The influx of visitors will only increase if we actually turn these perilous routes into serviceable roads that tourists would be willing to drive on with their expensive RVs but strictly avoid now because of their poor condition.
Isolation remains a fact for many communities of the Northwest Territories, and unfortunately we won't be able to connect them all via all-season roads any time soon. It would be nice to have a highway poking out to the Beaufort Sea but is it something Northerners really need?
Thankfully Yellowknife MLAs are challenging this project when in previous years they might have stayed silent lest they be cast once again as the big bad bullies from the capital city.
Perhaps, ironically enough, this was prompted by cost overruns on the Deh Cho Bridge. Whatever the reason, we can only hope our MLAs don't waver and get suckered in by "free money" from Ottawa that will add to our debt at the expense of projects for which there is an actual need.
Forget the dinner, but a little respect wouldn't hurt
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, April 18, 2012
I can't hazard a guess at how many games I've been on the ice as a player or official during my half century of involvement with hockey.
But, with the last puck dropped in Rankin Inlet for tournaments and league play this season, for the first time in my life I face a summer of reflection and indecision as to whether I've reached the end of the line.
I can look any person in the eye involved with the game and say I can still cut the mustard, at a high level, as far as actually reffing, but that's not what I'm wrestling with.
The game has changed greatly during the past decade, and a lot of that change has been for the better.
One area, however, that's not so great, is the amount of abuse officials now take from the players, fans and, especially, the parents.
I often chuckle when I hear people say players have no respect for each other anymore.
If you want to know how it feels to be a true Rodney Dangerfield of hockey, try officiating for a few years.
It's no laughing matter.
The profanity and insults a ref now hears at the peewee level rivals that of the junior leagues of the '70s.
I wish I had a camera on the face of an official here in Rankin when he assessed a minor penalty and the peewee player told him to (ahem) "take" off and referred to him as the child of unwed parents.
A peewee player! Funny stuff, eh?
Complicating matters in a hotbed of hockey such as Rankin is that many people don't understand the constant intensity a small group of officials face when tournament season rolls around.
For each separate age group, it's a big weekend tournament and that's that.
But, for the officials, it's an intense six weeks of pressure with, during an average year, senior men's playoffs through the week and then weekend after weekend of the Polar Bear Plate, Avataq Cup, bantam or midget territorial, Powerful Peewees and the Jon Lindell Memorial in Arviat thrown in for those of us who travel.
Don't believe the playoffs or these tournaments are that intense? Then, by all means, come out next year and give it a try because we could surely use the help.
In the south, an official may have an exchange with a player, fan or coach and then not see that person for another month or more.
In Rankin (and many other Northern communities), you're back at the arena with that person within a week, if not the very next day.
My golden rule -- which I've never broken -- is that it stays on the ice.
You leave the community behind when you enter an arena, and leave what happens on the ice behind when you exit.
But it gets harder every year because many of the comments have become so personal.
Early in the NHL playoffs, bad calls on an offside goal and a phantom glove pass directly impacted a game's outcome.
And these are the best officials in the world.
That's something to keep in mind the next time you're ready to give it to a local ref because you don't agree with the call.
Refs aren't looking for anyone to give them a dinner, but a bit of respect would keep more of us on the ice doing our best for the game we love.
Changing fates of energy
NWT News/North - Monday, April 16, 2012
There were scores of community hearings across the NWT and stacks of reports that would take weeks of non-stop reading to complete, although much of it would be incomprehensible due to terms used by industry and environmental regulators.
All of this preceded federal approval, which came in December 2010. The oil and gas companies proposing to build the pipeline, which would carry natural gas from three large reservoirs near Inuvik 1,200 km to Alberta, have until the end of next year to decide whether or not to proceed with the project and must start construction by 2015.
However, another critical fate has befallen the Mackenzie Gas Project in the intervening years: natural gas prices have plummeted.
In the most common measure, natural gas was worth just over $15 per unit in late 2005 and $13 in 2008. Some analysts had suggested that it would take a minimum price of only $6 per unit to make the Mackenzie Valley pipeline viable.
But last week, natural gas fell below a lowly $2 per unit for the first time in more than a decade. Two factors took a bite out of the commodity: the recession caused a furious downturn later in 2008 and new technology allowed natural gas to be extracted from shale rock, which has opened up enormous supplies globally, but particularly in North America.
All this may lead to the conclusion that the future looks bleak for the pipeline. However, because oil supplies continue to dwindle around the world and the price of a barrel of oil is expected to continue to climb in the future, at some point natural gas will look so attractive that conversion on a large scale will undoubtedly be considered.
For those who are hoping the pipeline will proceed - including the Aboriginal Pipeline Group - for the 7,000 construction jobs and 150 or so permanent jobs, the various contracts and the ongoing benefits the project will bring, the economics of ever cheaper natural gas could eventually be its saving grace. If and when natural gas is widely adopted as the obvious alternative to oil, then the prices start to once again make a steady climb.
Traditional knowledge study good starting point
NWT News/North - Monday, April 16, 2012
De Beers Canada is advancing its proposed Gahcho Kue diamond mine 360 km north of Fort Resolution, but it isn't doing so without hearing from those who may be affected.
On March 28, De Beers and Chief Louis Balsillie of Fort Resolution's Deninu Kue First Nation signed a $175,000 traditional knowledge study. That agreement will result in a review of historical documents and interviews regarding traditional and current use of the lands in the Gahcho Kue project area. Balsillie said his band members continue to hunt and trap in that region of the Barren Lands.
The chief is hopeful the traditional knowledge study will lead to a impact benefits agreement for the Deninu Kue.
These types of meetings, negotiations and agreements are necessary for the co-existence of industry and aboriginal people. While there may be some tensions in reaching these milestones, they are mild in comparison to the lawsuits that will inevitably result if industry turns a blind eye to First Nations and Metis peoples' ties to the land.
Ditch the party line, Patterson
Nunavut News/North - Monday, April 16, 2012
The best way to combat misinformation is by presenting the facts, plain and simple, to the people of Canada.
Senator Dennis Patterson, representing Nunavut, told the Senate earlier this month that he was concerned Canadian conservation organizations were getting foreign dollars to spread misinformation.
There are bigger issues on Nunavut's table than environmental activists. We need action on infrastructure, health funding and social issues.
Patterson should be trumpeting these issues while he sits in such an esteemed position, but instead, with this latest stance, he comes off as a Tory mouthpiece.
His arguments echo those made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as well as Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver earlier this year.
Yes, organizations like Tides Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation frame things in ways that align with their causes, but they also wear their biases on their sleeves - everyone knows where they lean, and most independent thinkers will take their information campaigns with a grain of salt.
Green-minded Canadians have lost faith in the government for its stance on climate change and environmental science communications and, therefore, policy. Scientists, both university professors and ex-government workers, have been making headlines this year speaking out about Conservatives "muzzling" scientists working for the federal government.
Environment Canada's David Tarasick was barred from speaking to media about finding one of the largest ozone holes ever discovered, in the Arctic, almost a month after he'd published his research in the prestigious science journal Nature last year.
On the west coast, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller was prevented from talking to media about a virus that might be killing wild sockeye salmon last year.
In February, 30-year veteran science reporter Margaret Munro, with Postmedia, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that government scientists have traditionally been very free to speak with media, but that changed dramatically for the worse when the Tories were voted into power.
On one hand, environmental organizations tout science that supports their view.
On the other, what publicly-funded scientists can speak publicly about is being dictated by politics when these should be the people Canadians can trust for accurate information.
If Patterson is truly committed to public debate and environmental preservation, as he told the Senate, he must ditch the party line and tackle the issue from all angles - even if these angles aren't favoured by the party that appointed him.
He should leave the rhetoric to House of Commons debates and use his position to bring meaningful change to Nunavut.