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Rental officer has no teeth
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One of the shortcomings exposed in the dispute between the Union of Northern Workers and the female tenants residing in apartment units inside the union's 52 Street building is that NWT rental officer Hal Logsdon has very little power to enforce his orders.

Reading through the Residential Tenancy Act of the Northwest Territories, one might assume the opposite were true. The act states that decisions made by the rental officer are "binding on the parties." Individuals who defy his orders are subject to fines of up to $2,000, while corporations can be fined up to $25,000.

A $25,000 fine would get the attention of even the largest of landlords but four months after Logsdon ordered the UNW to remove a portion of the fence in question to give its tenants street access to their apartments, residents are still waiting for the union to comply.

A fuel spill at a neighbouring building has forced tenants to access their building from the dimly lit back alley since last year, creating safety concerns. All the while, they've had to spend the better part of a dark winter and early spring passing through an area they say is icy and where drug deals sometimes take place.

Logsdon says the enforcement role belongs to the courts, which is where his Jan. 17 order to remove the fence is languishing right now. The union appealed and now its tenants must endure the glacial pace of justice in NWT Supreme Court.

That a Supreme Court judge needs to be asked to ponder the validity of a rental officer's order to create a three-foot opening in a chain-link fence seems like a terrible waste of time and money. We can understand why there is an appeal process but as it stands now, the advantage is with large landlords with deep pockets to hire lawyers so they can fight complaints.

One of the tenants, Michele LeTourneau, took matters into her own lands last week by cutting a hole through the fence. However, the chain-link was replaced the next day as if nothing happened. Yet LeTourneau says the judge insisted in court last month that the order was still enforceable while under appeal.

If so, then a mechanism should be there for the order to be enforced. If that means the territorial government hands the rental officer the power to summon a sheriff after a month of non-compliance passes by, then so be it.

A little more introspection on the UNW's part might have informed the union leadership of its terrible behaviour in this matter. Too bad the rental office doesn't have the power to correct it.

Time to work on ethics
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One reason I've grown to be a big supporter of youth projects in Kivalliq schools during the past few years is the subtle differences I've seen with the generation of students in Grades 7 to 12.

Sure there's attitude, but anyone who can't remember attitude from their own generation in high school either has selective memory or led a very sheltered life.

There's a small, but growing, percentage of today's students who aren't interested in taking shortcuts.

And that determination often seeps through the inner sanctum of their school to take up residence in their daily lives.

These teenagers want things and, more importantly, sitting around waiting for someone to give it to them is not what they're all about.

Who cares if the motivation behind their progress and development is materialistically driven?

The bottom line is they want more as adults than they've had as kids and they're preparing themselves to earn it.

And, hey, once they get there, they may even start thinking about wanting to give their kids a better life and more opportunities than they had.

As they set about improving themselves academically, giving some of their spare time to positive extracurricular activities, and getting used to setting and achieving their goals, a transformation is taking place they may not even be aware of.

They're developing a solid work ethic.

And Nunavut is in bad need of a transfusion of new blood from a generation with a solid work ethic.

I've spent a good deal of my life trying hard to understand, be aware and sensitive of, and accept cultural differences.

And, even in the greatest nation on Earth, it's not always easy.

When it comes to the different cultural traits and characteristics of what makes each of us, well, us, sometimes I get it, sometimes I prefer another's point of view, sometimes I accept without truly understanding, and sometimes things simply go over my head.

It doesn't matter to me what culture someone's talking about - when it comes to equating a poor work ethic (or the unwillingness to work) to cultural characteristics or markers, my reaction can be summed up in two words - oh please.

A poor work ethic is one of those topics we're not supposed to talk about too much in the North.

That's another of those things that goes totally over my head.

But when you hear of a company like AgnicoEagle hiring wranglers (the proper term is babysitters) to get workers to work on time (there's an oxymoron for you), you know you're in need of fresh attitudes.

It isn't minimum wage this company is paying, and to hear an average of 22 people a day aren't bothering to show up is astounding.

It kind of gives you a strange feeling inside when you listen to one of our leaders talk about the need for way more jobs in Nunavut, doesn't it?

Hopefully, this is one performance model the next generation will take great delight in tossing to the tundra.

There's a growing number of them who seem to understand you can't have a great qamutiik if you can't be bothered to cut a board.

And we need their generation to be the best board cutters we've ever produced!

The cost of delivery
NWT News/North - Monday, April 23, 2012

There is little doubt that midwives provide a valuable service to pregnant women.

There has been ample testimony to support the physical and mental health benefits midwives provide to their clients. When the government cancelled midwifery services while a review was being conducted to determine potential models for providing services in the NWT, the economic viability of midwives to the territorial health care system had to be proven to bring the service back.

The consultant's report put forward three recommendations varying in cost and scope. The recommended model would see midwives established in five communities -- Hay River, Inuvik, Fort Simpson, Behchoko and Yellowknife.

The estimated annual pricetag of what is being called the community model is $1.5 million, excluding infrastructure costs, which are undefined. A host of benefits are listed as a result of the proposed model, but most significantly, from a bottom-line perspective, is the reduced cost for medical travel. Theoretically, pregnant women would have to travel less for medical treatment and many low-risk births would not have to take place in a hospital in Yellowknife or Edmonton. As a result, the government could save a substantial sum on medical travel reimbursements.

Unfortunately, the report does not quantify the cost savings because they are impossible to predict for a number of reasons. For example, mothers might choose to double up on midwife and physician care, and in the case of an unexpected emergency, patients will still need to be medevaced to an appropriate hospital.

In the report, the communities considered eligible for midwifery services had to have a minimum of 25 births per year to be cost effective and "ensure the continuing competency of midwives."

Unfortunately, that places midwives in the communities that already have such services and not those with the greatest need and where travel costs would be the highest.

As the GNWT looks to reduce spending, it is going to be difficult for it to support a recommendation that might appear as more a practical option rather than a necessity, despite the obvious benefits to health.

Having midwives in communities such as Ulukhaktok or Fort Good Hope would likely save more money and result in better improvements in health than stationing them in Hay River or Yellowknife. To get around the need for a certain volume of clients, the consultants should have considered a mobile midwifery program, similar to its regional model but with the healthcare provider doing the travelling instead of the mothers. With such a model, the cost of midwives travelling for check-ups and staying in communities for a few weeks prior to a mother's due date could have been compared to the cost of having mothers-to-be get on a plane for a far away hospital.

While the cost factors are murky, it costs little to nothing to voice one's preferences to an MLA. If you're in favour of midwifery being re-established in the NWT, or firmly opposed to it, let our territorial politicians hear your opinion loud and clear so they can deliver in the legislature.

A culture protected
Nunavut News/North - Monday, April 23, 2012

It's easy to concentrate on flaws in government-Inuit relations - and that's often necessary for accountability - but now and then it is good to count one's blessings.

Last week's feature story on mining's threat to Saami culture in Sweden under the watch of an unsympathetic government ("Mines threaten reindeer herders," Nunavut News/North, April 16) paints a bleak picture - a people pushed around by a complicit government tends to side with industry over its indigenous population; a population of reindeer that may be unable to cross between winter and summer lands due to a blockade of mining development. Worst of all, it looks like nothing's going to change.

Though there have been atrocious, and some may say criminal, acts committed by the Canadian government in its history of dealing with aboriginal peoples - residential schools, High Arctic relocation, among others - the positions it has taken in negotiating land claims and balancing Inuit interests with major development in recent history have been, largely, in good faith.

While the Swedish Minerals Act does encourage consultation between industry and the indigenous population, the Saami say it has no teeth - the consultations take place, but the Saami point of view bears no influence on what ultimately happens.

The Nunavut Land Claims Act guarantees Inuit meaningful consultation in major developments, and, though it sometimes takes considerable effort to stand up against business interests, this guarantee has mostly been honoured. In addition to mine approval going through lengthy and comprehensive Nunavut Impact Review Board assessments, last year there was a victory which was outside the scope of the Nunavut land claim.

A National Energy Board-approved plan for RPS Energy to conduct seismic testing outside of the Nunavut Settlement Area last summer, along Davis Strait and off the shore of Baffin Island, was met with heavy opposition from community members, specifically in Pond Inlet, Clyde River and Iqaluit. They were concerned with how the seismic testing might affect aquatic wildlife. These Nunavummiut felt their voices weren't heard. Though the board was satisfied with the project's environmental assessment, and the project took place beyond Nunavut's borders, the testing was delayed to 2012 to allow for more community consultation.

Before that, in August 2010, the Nunavut Court of Justice granted an injunction temporarily stopping seismic testing in High Arctic waters at the request of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which argued Inuit were not meaningfully consulted. The decision put an indefinite hold on the proposed seismic program in Lancaster Sound, Jones Sound and North Baffin Bay.

Inuit rights are recognized and protected by the judicial system when push comes to shove. Though it's necessary to make sure these rights aren't eroded and environmental vigilance does not fade, at least the people themselves have the power to successfully challenge big-money interests and are not ignored.

These rights have been secured thanks not just to the federal government, but to the passionate Inuit behind the creation of Nunavut and the settlement of land claims. That passion must stay alive now more than ever in light of the recent federal initiative to streamline the regulatory process.

Northland's time running out
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 20, 2012

In light of what appears to be yet another year of inaction dawning on residents of Northland Trailer Park, we find ourselves asking what the board's push for lower local improvement fees will ultimately cost homeowners.

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?
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, April 19, 2012

Changes that affect the necessities of life such as housing are generally met with trepidation and sometimes hostility. With that in mind the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's changes to the public housing program's rent scale are bound to create a lot of debate.

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
Editorial Comment
Laura Busch
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, April 19, 2012

The crowd leaving the Midnight Sun Complex after last Tuesday's public meeting on the Inuvik natural gas supply issue was a disgruntled one, to say the least.

"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.

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