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Putting the X in democracy
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 27, 2012
It's David Brock's job to do battle against voter apathy.

Brock is the NWT's chief electoral officer and the odds are stacked against him considering the lowly 48 per cent turnout recorded in the 2011 territorial election. Yellowknife was particularly complacent in 2011, registering an abysmal 34.2 per cent of voters who exercised their democratic right.

In 2007, 67 per cent of NWT voters marked a ballot. Yellowknifer voters came in at 57 percent, nine percent higher than last election. That's a substantial difference.

Casting back to the 1999 territorial election, Yk voter turnout was 64 per cent and the territorial percentage was 70.

Something has gone astray.

Brock released 25 recommendations in his elections report for the legislative assembly earlier this month.

One of his suggestions was to move voting to Saturday. Would people be more motivated to stop by the polls during a day off? We doubt it. Voting during the week is not a problem for most people. Employers are obligated to give workers three hours to cast their ballot. Advanced polls are always an option as well.

The rest of Brock's suggestions were heavily weighted toward tweaking the efficiency and accountability of the process, none of which holds much promise of boosting voter turnout however important the changes might be.

In the election game, voter turnout in the 65 percent range is respectable, the higher the better. One hundred percent is not within the realm of reasonable expectation. But as critical as elections are to democracy and our way of life, they are like any other event that involves getting people out of their chairs and breaking daily routines. In the weeks before the election, sufficient money and effort has to be spent on advertising - newspaper, radio, television if possible. Twitter and Facebook should by now be essential tools. Poster campaigns and mail-outs work as well.

News organizations thrive on elections and should be fed a continuous flow of information about the importance of voting, who can vote, where to vote, when to vote, etc. Information and promotion are the same thing in an election campaign and there is no such thing as too much. It's all about creating maximum awareness and excitement.

Come 2015, Brock should pretend he is in the public relations business and make full use of all forms of media to raise the voter turnout rates.

Northern charity a source of pride
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In a 2012 report based on a 2010 survey, Statistics Canada defined NWT residents as among the least charitable donors in the country, falling behind all provinces and territories except Nunavut.

While this comparison of national numbers sketches one picture of generosity in the NWT, Yellowknifers have numerous charitable initiatives to be proud of, especially if the giving isn't documented on donors' tax returns.

This spring, 273 students at N.J. Macpherson School raised $17,000 for the Stanton Territorial Hospital Foundation by going door to door. The money is part of the more than $100,000 the foundation has raised to go toward a new $700,000 chemotherapy/IV suite at the hospital.

At Weledeh Catholic School, 40 senior students raised $4,000 through activities such as bake sales and coin drives to go toward new playground equipment.

Meanwhile, teams participating in the Yellowknife Relay for Life earlier this month raised close to $200,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, and on Saturday Const. Kathy Law and fellow cyclists helped raise close to $28,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation by participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer bike race in Calgary.

While the lowly position NWT holds on a national survey of charitable donations may inspire Yellowknifers, who earn the highest average income in the country, to dig a little deeper this year, residents should feel proud of their gifts and organizing efforts so far in 2012.

'Illegitimate' complaints over high prices
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The hoopla was on in Iqaluit this past week for Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq and the Tory government.

The new Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency headquarters was unveiled in a shiny new $9-million building, and $25 million over 10 years was announced for researching Inuit health problems such as suicide, tuberculosis, oral health and obesity.

With a number of the territory's 'players' out for the photo op, it held the promise of being a glitzy day for the Conservatives in Nunavut.

But stuck in the middle of the proceedings was the giant white elephant known as Nutrition North.

While Aglukkaq was busy with hoopla, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan was busy on Parliament Hill accusing Nunavummiut who are fed up with the high cost of food and necessities as being full of hooey!

The Tories - despite the uncharacteristic (for Nunavut) public protests in many communities - continue to defend the flawed program, with Duncan claiming the complaints of people who live in Nunavut are "illegitimate."

Illegitimate to whom? Illegitimate to the people paying half a week's salary on two bags of items? Illegitimate to retailers like the Stanton Group that continue to give the program an enthusiastic thumbs-up while laughing all the way to the bank?

As a man in Nunavut was lamenting the fact his babies were going around without diapers because they're simply too expensive for his family to buy, Duncan was crowing over the fact the evidence was in - according to Northern retailers - and the purchase of nutritious foods was up in the territory.

What Duncan would realize, if he actually knew anything about the economic climate of Nunavut, is that the ever-so-slight increase in nutritious foods being purchased is courtesy of the territory's affluent, who can afford fresh vegetables and diapers for their children. And therein rests the flaw with this program.

The feds want the focus to remain solely on the price of a select few food items, but it's about far more than that. Nutrition North was devised with logic that can only come from the privileged: those far removed from having to provide for a family on a blue-collar wage or less.

Their cupboards are full and their freezers stocked, so they can afford to focus on what they deem to be proper foods while ignoring the fact families need more than fresh lettuce and tomatoes to survive.

In the south, they run TV commercials on poor souls who have to choose between food and power.

But in Nunavut, having to choose between feeding your kids, or buying diapers for your children, feminine supplies for your daughters, proper toiletries for your washroom or basic supplies to keep your home in a clean-and-healthy state is an illegitimate concern.

Nutrition North would be a wonderful program for an isolated territory full of rich people who only have to worry about preparing fresh, uber-nutritious meals.

But in Nunavut, where families need the same basics as the rest of the country, it is far too restrictive and narrow of focus to make a difference in our quality of life.

And that's no bag of illegitimate hooey.

Disturbing allegations
NWT News/North - Monday, June 25, 2012

A former NWT nurse has a disturbing story about his experience with how our government deals with sexual abuse in the territory.

Bryan Schultz, a registered nurse who worked in Paulatuk for more than a year before he was fired, told News/North he was unable to do any preventative work or take disclosures about incidents of sexual assault against minors because the Health Department was not equipped to deal with the problem.

Sexual assault in the NWT is a serious problem. The number of cases - both new and historic - before the courts due to sexual assault against both children and adults is alarming and policies must be in place to ensure our communities are kept safe.

Schultz said children as young as nine were telling him they had suffered sexual abuse.

One complaint he received and reported in 2010 resulted in a conviction, so there is credible evidence that he wasn't crying wolf.

Schultz said he felt the department was ill-equipped to deal the issue. He said he was told there was a lack of government resources to deal with the reports properly.

It is difficult to imagine a health issue with more negative effects, both physical and mental, than sexual abuse.

Dana Heide, associate deputy minister with the department of health, told News/North the GNWT takes allegations of sexual assault seriously. Legislation dictates that even suspicion of child abuse of any nature must be reported to social services or the RCMP. Nursing guidelines outline the same practises.

He also said nurses and teachers across the NWT understand, by virtue of their training, that it is best to get social services or the RCMP involved in such cases sooner rather than later.

Although he said what Schultz describes is not impossible, it would be rare or unlikely and it would be a case of employee negligence. He described it as being "generally a drop everything and do your job" situation.

At the very least Schultz's allegations require investigation and if negligence is proven officials need to be held accountable.

Considering the responsibilities and job descriptions of healthcare professionals in the health department, as described by the deputy minister, a lack of resources cannot be an excuse for inaction. Nor can it be allowed to lead to the muzzling, harassment, or termination of employees who don't accept leaving children and young women in dangerous circumstances without trying to help, or at least to raise the alarm.

The message must come from the top: Zero tolerance on sexual abuse. Budgetary and staffing concerns come second.

Lawsuits a waste of GNWT money
NWT News/North - Monday, June 25, 2012

The GNWT is reaping the costly rewards of past mistakes. Perhaps the two lawsuits the government is facing - one settled and one ongoing - as a result of its failures to recognize individual rights and consult with those affected by its decisions will teach our MLAs an important lesson: Listen, it's why you were elected.

As the government prepares to fork out more than a million dollars in the legal costs and more to expand French schools, it is also incurring additional legal fees as it fights the Metis' claim to Bathurst caribou. As the two-year hunting ban on the animals is set to expire, the Metis are contesting their exclusion from a quota hunt of 300 caribou.

Under the quota, the caribou will be shared equally between Yellowknives Dene and Tlicho. The GNWT stated if the Metis want to participate in the harvest, they can ask the other First Nations for a share of the pie. It is ridiculous to suggest the Metis go hat in hand to the Tlicho or Yellowknives Dene to ask for rights our government should be trying to protect.

To the Metis' credit, they aren't being greedy about it, their request isn't even for a third of the quota but between 50 and 75 animals. It's a problem that could be fixed by simply considering the rights of all involved and acting fairly.

When will the GNWT learn that it is unacceptable to throw away our tax dollars on lawsuits it won't win because it is clearly on the wrong side of the law and fairness?

Green Party's seal policy defies logic
Nunavut News/North - Monday, June 25, 2012

It's hard not to get frustrated in the face of unwavering support for incomprehensible, unjustifiable arguments.

When Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she's never been confronted by anyone with "such vehement anger" as she was when Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern and city councillors met her and her fellow party members, then it's no wonder why her party's nonsensical opposition to the seal hunt remains policy.

The party is opposed to the Newfoundland commercial seal hunt, mainly, and its press releases usually carry about one sentence saying the party is not opposed to indigenous harvests, but the wording of their statements belie that sentiment.

On its website, the party states "The seal hunt is viewed by many people in Canada, and abroad, as an inhumane activity that is ecologically unsound and unsustainable ... Its enormity threatens Canada's overseas reputation for little local value." The keywords here are "viewed" and "reputation," and the key words missing are "facts" and "statistics."

In Nunavut, about 30,000 ringed seals are harvested each year out of a population numbering upwards of 1.5 million. In Newfoundland, the annual total harvest limit for harp seals - which comprise almost all of the annual commercial harvest - was 400,000 last year, out of a population of nearly eight million according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The animals are not in danger of disappearing.

Calling the hunt "inhumane" is ridiculous. These animals are killed while living in their natural habitat, as cleanly as possible. In Nunavut, most of the animal is used - pelts for sale and use, organs and meat for food. In Newfoundland the pelts are kept and the meat is popularly eaten as well.

Compare this to the cattle industry. In 2010, 3.7 million cattle who'd been raised in fenced enclosures were slaughtered, just for food, in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

What seems more humane?

Now the cattle statistics will pull the heart-strings of vegans, but we don't see the European Union or Russia banning the import of hamburger - cows just aren't cute enough - nor is the Green Party standing up against this industry, which feeds much of North America's population. Sure, the population is controlled, but the population of seals isn't in any danger either.

The fact is humans - and some animals - eat meat, and hunting not only a way for us to obtain nutrition, but it's a form of population control that's been around nearly as long as life itself.

To strip people of a way of life, and to completely ruin the market for warm, beautiful fur, and tell Inuit families their tradition - which keeps their kids warm and food on the table - is inhumane and barbaric, is appalling and any anger it incites is justified.

If the Green Party membership is largely against the seal hunt, as May says, then they are ill-informed and it is her duty as leader to inform them. It's a policy that doesn't make sense, and this way of thought just continues to put barriers between Inuit and southerners.

Conserving energy and dollars
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 22, 2012

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley's passion for green - the environment - is conflicting with the GNWT finance minister's passion for green - money.

Bromley, a biologist when he's not a politician, has staked out his territory as the resident environmentalist in the legislative assembly. Earlier this month he called upon the GNWT to include more financing to research renewable energy projects. Funds initially set aside for that purpose in the 2012-2013 budget amounted to $3.5 million, down from $7.2 million last year. Energy planning was only to get $1.6 million compared to $6.5 million last year.

Due to Bromley's efforts, an additional $1.7 million has been added for renewable energy initiatives.

Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger is under pressure to tighten the government's belt as the GNWT is staring at $656 million in projected debt by next March. As Environment minister, Miltenberger is certainly not oblivious to environmental concerns. For example, he has been high profile in calling for a trans-boundary water agreement with Alberta to protect water flowing into the NWT.

While no politician wants to be viewed as "anti-environment," Yellowknife Centre Robert Hawkins took the daring step of challenging Bromley's demand for more money. Hawkins pointed out that the previous government spent $60 million over four years on climate change initiatives and, outside of wood pellet boilers, had little to show for it.

He's largely right.

Wood pellet boilers have served Yellowknife well, having been installed at Sir John Franklin High School, the North Slave Correctional Centre, the Yellowknife Community Arena, Bison Estates apartments and the legislative assembly, among others. The boilers have saved up to 60 per cent on heating costs compared to petroleum-based fuels. This calculation shows it's a winning idea.

However, other "green" projects have either proved a failure or an analysis of their efficiency still isn't conclusive.

In February, 258 solar panels spanning the length of a football field started generating power at the Fort Simpson airport. It's the largest project of its kind in the NWT, and it came with a $760,000 price tag, most of it funded by the GNWT. The solar panels are expected to produce enough power to offset the equivalent of 2.5 days of diesel power per year. It sure doesn't seem like much.

Expanding the NWT's existing Taltson hydro system would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and the GNWT abandoned years of studies last year when the diamond mines expressed no interest in taking part.

Back in Fort Simpson, on a smaller hydro scale, the GNWT installed an experimental underwater turbine in the Mackenzie River in July 2010 at a cost of close to $250,000. The turbine only lasted 12 days before it became inoperable due to damage caused by logs and debris in the water following a storm.

The government's attempts at wind power have met with similar misfortune at the hands of Mother Nature. Turbines in several NWT and Nunavut communities have seized up or broken down over the past decade, proving unable to function well in the extreme cold of the North. The greatest hope on that front now lies with Diavik Diamond Mine, which is installing four wind turbine towers near its mine site. Let's learn from its success or failure.

There are other initiatives that have been shown to work. The City of Yellowknife was accused of establishing onerous standards when it began enforcing an EnerGuide 80 building code in 2011, which pertains to strict standards for insulation, windows and mechanical systems for energy efficiency in a home. Those standards are now routinely met and could be adopted in more NWT communities.

The GNWT has already embraced a rebate program for energy-efficient appliances, which is admirable. Perhaps it could expand on this idea.

The point is, while trying to save the environment, we should stick with what works rather than chasing expensive rainbows, especially at a time when money is tight.

Important to watch government at work
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fort Simpson will be a very busy place next week as the Dehcho First Nations' annual assembly gets underway.

As the host community, Fort Simpson can expect to see delegations from all of the Deh Cho communities arrive along with additional people who have come just to watch or partake in the associated activities. For close to a week, Fort Simpson will be the focal point of the Deh Cho.

Although people have job commitments and there are long distances to travel, as many people as possible should try to attend the assembly, even if it is just for half a day or even a few hours. Being at the assembly is an opportunity to watch the Deh Cho government at work.

If you've never been to one of the assemblies, it can be an informative experience.

The first thing of note is the agenda. It is interesting to see what items are being considered of the utmost importance for the Deh Cho. Items on this year's draft agenda include the Dehcho Process, the Dehcho Land Use Plan, Edehzhie, Devolution and the Wildlife Act.

Not only is it interesting to see what is on the agenda, it is also interesting to hear the various leaders' stances on any given item and how the Dehcho First Nations as a group decides to proceed. Listening to the presentations on each of the items is also informative because, let's be frank, very few people remain up to date on all of the major issues facing Dehcho First Nations.

The Dehcho Process is a prime example. In any given Deh Cho community there are likely very few people, apart from the chief and possibly a few band councillors, who could give a precise synopsis about what the Dehcho Process entails, what stage it is at and what ramifications it will have when finished.

This is of significant note because if it is finished and implemented, the Dehcho Process will result in some sweeping changes in the region. The assembly is an opportune time for Deh Cho residents to learn about where the process is going.

Being at the assembly is also informative because it gives spectators a glimpse of the inner workings of Dehcho First Nations and how the leaders interact with one another. Most importantly, the assembly sets the tone for the next year in the region.

While the process isn't always gripping, it is important for Deh Cho residents to experience the annual assembly. This is their government at work and people need to stay informed about what it is doing and how.

Pipeline 'stuck at a red light'
Editorial Comment
Laura Busch
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 21, 2012

More than 500 industry and political leaders gathered for the Inuvik Petroleum Show this week to discuss issues of oil and gas development in the North.

The elephant in the room throughout the conference was the feasibility of the long-heralded Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP).

In April, it was announced that the Inuvik offices for the MGP were being scaled down and offices in Fort Simpson and Norman Wells were being shut down altogether. The reason: partners in the project had decided to reduce spending because of slumping natural gas prices.

At the time, Imperial Oil spokesperson Jon Harding told News/North that this reduction in spending was "in line with anticipated project activity."

Support from the government, and natural gas prices, are not where they need to be for the project to move the pipeline forward right now, said Heather Marreck, development executive of the MGP for Imperial Oil, during a panel on the Mackenzie Gas project Tuesday.

It seems as though private industry and political leaders are playing a silent game of chicken in regards to the entire matter.

Industry, looking at the bottom line and what makes economic sense, is saying the project will not move forward right now, period. Meanwhile, the people of the Beaufort Delta need jobs, or at the very least the promise of jobs, and that is what their politicians and local organizations seem unable to stop promising them.

Industry will not say outright that funding for the pipeline is off the table and who knows, soon prices may turn around and the project might be viable again.

However, this tension was never discussed during the petroleum show. From the tone of the conference the MGP is not a matter of if, but when.

When Inuvik residents switched over to natural gas in 1999, the idea that there may not be a pipeline and more cheap natural gas by the end of the 15-year franchise agreement for the Ikhil Joint Venture seemed absurd. Here we are, 13 years later with a well running dry and a pipeline still at least a decade away, if it's going to happen at all.

MGP partners may be able to scale back funding now that the project has lost its economic appeal, but residents have already bought in. Energy costs in the community are set to double this fall a short-term solution to the town's gas crisis and years of stalling on the sides of industry, government and regulatory boards has made the MGP unfeasible. Yes, industry has lost a chance to make money, but Inuvik has lost a chance to plug in to the pipeline, which, along with the jobs the project might offer, would be of huge benefit to the community.

As the project lost momentum, getting more and more entangled in red tape over a decade of negotiations and political volleying, the ordinary people of Inuvik and the territory have missed out on a huge opportunity. How fair is that?

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