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Who's watching the money?
NWT News/North - Monday, November 19, 2012
If there's another store in the community, many people will compare prices before making a purchase.
Why wouldn't the GNWT routinely do the same thing?
Over the past few weeks News/North has been reporting on government contract spending habits. It turns out most of the money committed to contracts in 2010-11 was done without inviting multiple bidders. Close to $200 million of the $365 million spent on goods and services that year went to sole-source or negotiated contracts.
Granted, a substantial portion of the spending in 2010-11 was on the Deh Cho Bridge, which turned into a fiasco when the GNWT removed New Brunswick-based Atcon Construction as the primary contractor after delays, a work stoppage and contract disputes. Ruskin Construction, based in British Columbia, was subsequently awarded a $72.4-million sole-source contract, which made sense since the project was in progress and Ruskin was the experienced sub-contractor.
But there are many other instances that are much more questionable.
Diagnostic equipment for a health centre, numerous instances of consulting services and a program for managers were all contracted without seeking other options.
News/North selected one example and did some research. A website for a tourism promotion known as Come Make Your Mark cost $115,000. It was awarded to K2 Communications based in Yellowknife via a sole-source contract. A call to a competing company, Sailing on Sound, revealed that it would have been able to provide the service for an estimated $70,835.
Now, the quality of the website that was created is very good, award-winning actually, as pointed out by a government spokesperson. But could taxpayers have been spared close to $44,000 for something just as good?
The Auditor General of Canada did some digging on the NWT's contracting process in 2009. Sheila Fraser's office found that three government departments showed inadequate efforts to find alternative goods and service providers before awarding approximately $5.6 million in combined contracts.
So this problem is nothing new, but it actually grew in nature after she sounded the alarm.
Things did improve, by comparison, in 2011-12 with only 20 per cent of total contract spending going the sole-source route. That's still a figure worth probing.
Hughie Graham, president of the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce, called for the contracting process to be fair.
We need our MLAs to be extremely vigilant on this front.
They should be demanding accountability from the government on sole-source contracts, which aren't always justified.
News/North contacted both Hay River South MLA Jane Groenewegen and Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses but we were unable to get a comment from them.
Who else can we depend upon to scrutinize such transactions if not our MLAs?
These are significant sums of money. To dole out contracts without a competitive process that can hold up under scrutiny can only result in public suspicion of favours to friends of the government.
There should be no room for speculation over motives. NWT residents need to know they are getting the best bang for their buck in addition to quality products and top-notch service.
No time to wait
NWT News/North - Monday, November 19, 2012
While the announcement of new rules coming to Nunavut's regulatory boards was scant on detail, the federal government description of the changes as positive for the territory are true, especially in setting timelines.
The proposed legislation puts strict timelines in place for territorial and federal ministerial approval of recommendations or reports from the regulatory boards.
Hopefully, this will reduce the chance of these projects sitting idle on the desks of high-level federal ministers, as has happened in the past. It should also prevent projects from getting too caught up in the politics of resource development.
Environmental and social impact reviews are necessary to balance industry and economy with preserving culture and the land. They should not be presented as a barrier by the companies trying to bring business north.
This past week, Uravan backed out of its Kivalliq uranium claims over a Nunavut Impact Review Board decision that the exploration project required a full environmental review before it can start. While the concerns behind the decision may be completely valid, the prospect of entering the regulatory process so early can be a deal-breaker, especially for smaller companies with limited resources. It restricts their ability to raise money.
Uravan shows how regulations can kill a project. The proposed legislation should at least remove some of the frustration companies have come to expect when facing such rigorous regulatory hurdles.
Schell can't pass the buck
Nunavut News/North - Monday, November 19, 2012
When resigning from cabinet, South Baffin MLA Fred Schell reminded us of a fox denying he had eaten the ptarmigan despite the feathers all over his face.
He criticized Premier Eva Aariak about of the cost of his investigation and the way bureaucrats handled the situation.
Schell doesn't seem to understand he lost all credibility by abusing his power and lying under oath.
He conveniently overlooks the fact that the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on investigation, alongside the tens of thousands that went into his own pocket as a minister stripped of his portfolios, wouldn't have been necessary if he'd not flaunted his power and refused to step down when it was brought to his attention. That would have been the honourable thing to do.
Schell's fellow MLAs might bear some of the weight for not demanding his removal right away, but for him to blame the people who caught him red-handed is laughable.
Throw Yellowknife hunters a bone
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 16, 2012
A resident hunter is by definition a non-aboriginal hunter. They enjoy far fewer hunting privileges than aboriginal hunters in the territory. This is fine and fair, considering many Dene still depend on hunting to provide food for the table. But surely the lack of barrenground caribou and wood bison to hunt has diminished the attractiveness of the NWT as a destination for outdoorsy types who count the wilderness at our doorstep as a plus when making the decision to move here.
It also weighs heavily on existing residents who have been unable to hunt caribou going on four years now, and are left wondering when the ballot draw for bison tags will resume following the anthrax outbreak this past summer that wiped out a third of the Mackenzie herd.
One needs to look no further than the complementary graphs inside this year's NWT hunting regulations to find evidence of the declining enthusiasm among resident hunters. One bar shows the number of caribou harvested by resident hunters, peaking at nearly 2,000 animals in the winter of 1992-93 and falling to almost none by 2010-11. The other shows the number of licensed resident hunters during this same period, with a high of more than 2,000 10 years ago to little more than 1,000 in 2010.
Last week, Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger offered residents a glimmer of hope, reporting a slight rise in the Bathurst caribou population - the herd that migrates closest to Yellowknife - to 35,000 animals from 32,000 in 2009. He also offered the possibility of allotting resident hunter tags for the neighbouring Bluenose East herd, which winters in an area between Great Bear Lake and the North Arm of Great Slave Lake, but not until next year after another survey of the herd is complete. Bad weather prevented the herd from being surveyed this year but a count from 2010 indicated a record herd of around 100,000 animals.
Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley was understandably frustrated by Miltenberger's belated pronouncement concerning Bluenose tags for residents. If the 2010 survey showed a "record" number of caribou, why wasn't even just a limited resident hunt considered sooner? Since 2009, only a few far-flung corners of the NWT have remained open to resident hunters to harvest barrenground caribou. Aboriginal hunters are limited to only 300 Bathurst caribou but face no actual restrictions hunting the Bluenose herd, only "voluntary" harvest limits, which Miltenberger said could come to an end next year.
Miltenberger was right to impose restrictions when it became clear the Bathurst caribou, along with several other herds, were in trouble. But fair or not, he has developed a reputation as being unsympathetic to issues as they relate to Yellowknifers.
His attempt to amalgamate democratically-elected school boards into appointed super boards a few years ago is case in point. His inability to push through changes to the NWT Wildlife Act last year occurred under a barrage of criticism from resident hunters, most of them from Yellowknife, who felt their concerns about the legislation weren't being properly addressed.
This seems an opportune time for the minister to throw these hunters a bone. Instead, we are being treated once again to Miltenberger the technocrat, insisting there is nothing that can be done to get the caribou management boards to change the timetable for a review of the restrictions on the Bluenose herd - the only other herd readily accessible to resident hunters in the North Slave.
Resident hunters in Yellowknife will question whether it's a lack of political will from Miltenberger that results in no improvements for them. He doesn't seem to be in a hurry to counter that perception.
Each one an ambassador
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, November 15, 2012
The title of ambassador isn't one that most people think of on a daily basis.
The title brings up images of highly-paid individuals living in fancy consulates, travelling by chauffeured cars and meeting at parties with leaders of other countries.
Raymond Michaud, however, was conscious of being an ambassador this summer. He wasn't an ambassador for Canada to another country, but rather an ambassador for the Deh Cho region to tourists.
Working at Blackstone Territorial Park, Michaud, from Fort Simpson, made it part of his job to present the Deh Cho in the best possible light to visitors. Michaud went above and beyond the call of duty to make every visitors' stop at Blackstone as memorable as possible.
It's easy to see how people working in the tourism industry become a type of ambassador. After all, they have a lot of contact with tourists and as a result become part of the basis on which travellers form their opinion of any given place.
The role of the ambassador, however, can be spread much wider. In a small way everyone who comes in contact with a tourist in the Deh Cho, even if it is just in passing on a sidewalk, is an ambassador for the region.
When put in those terms it sounds like too much responsibility for everyone to have, but in reality it can take just seconds to make a difference. One of the things that visitors to the Deh Cho often talk about is how friendly everyone seems.
They are quite right, the Deh Cho is a very friendly place. That impression, however, can only be fully conveyed if people take the time to engage tourists, even just with a passing smile or a quick hello.
One might ask why it matters at all. It matters because tourism is one area of potential economic growth in the region.
The Deh Cho has a multitude of things to offer, from amazing, unspoiled scenery to untamed waterways to great fishing to on-the-land experiences. One of the region's greatest resources, however, is its people. They are the ones who hold the cultural and historical knowledge of the region that many visitors are looking for.
By consciously thinking of themselves as ambassadors, all residents of the Deh Cho can promote the region they love and call home and hopefully foster some additional economic prosperity along the way.
Why we remember
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, November 15, 2012
On Sunday the East 3 gym was packed. It was standing room only as hundreds of people from the community came out to honour Remembrance Day.
Growing up, Remembrance Day seemed like nothing more than a tradition. The world wars seemed so far off for a kid growing up in Canada.
But as time passes and we start losing veterans of those two wars, it becomes even more important to remember them and honour their sacrifices.
I once brought a Second World War veteran into an after-school program to talk to the students. Ranging in ages from 5 to 12, no one expected their attention for more than 15 minutes.
They sat and listened to the veteran for at least an hour, before peppering him with questions, ever patient of the veteran's hearing loss.
It brought the experience a little closer to home for some of them and reinforced why it's important to take the time and remember.
Without exposing the younger ones to explosions and gunfire, it made the experience real. Here is someone they can talk to and learn from.
It shows that sharing and documenting stories is important. It links younger generations to the generations that paved the way for them. It shows them the people they learn about in school are everyday people who make a difference.
By teaching youth about the past, there's hope for a better future, and it's something that can continue way beyond a week at school culminating in the ceremonies on Nov. 11.
It's important to show them that war is something real and is more than a level in the most recent first-person shooter video game.
And it's not just veterans of the two world wars. Remembrance Day has become one day where everyone can take a step back and appreciate everything the current and former Canadian Forces members do for this country.
Inuvik is a perfect example of coming together in remembrance. From the Inuvik Army Cadets to the members of the Royal Canadian Legion, the town was out in force to pay their respects.
Everyone in attendance gave the ceremonies the honour and respect that was deserved and that shows it's still, and always will be, one of the most important days of the year.
Herald fixed link to the south
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 14, 2012
It will be a landmark moment when the Deh Cho Bridge is officially opened.
Who will cut the ribbon is being kept under wraps but it's probably safe to assume that Premier Bob McLeod and Transportation Minister Dave Ramsay, once an outspoken critic of the link, will be present, along with representatives of community partners like the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation, the Fort Providence Metis Council and the Hamlet of Fort Providence.
No representative from the Government of Canada, which contributed not one cent to the $202 million project, ought to be on hand for the ceremony.
The bridge has been a long time coming. The idea of a fixed link across the river was first advanced more than 30 years ago. Critics have said there isn't enough traffic volume to justify a bridge, despite the inconvenience of having to wait for the ice to clear on the river, including the huge chunks that flow out of the big lake, so that the Merv Hardie ferry could resume service. A similar delay sometimes occurs in the winter, when vehicles cannot cross until the ice bridge is constructed.
That all changed on Sept. 28, 2007, when an agreement was signed with the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation to design, construct, finance and operate a 1.045-km cable stay bridge on Highway 3.
Despite the fact the original agreement was abandoned, with the territorial Department of Transportation taking over the project, construction that began in 2008 is finally near completion.
Regardless of the history, the end of the month will mark a turning point for Yellowknife, Behchoko and Fort Providence. No longer will people have to worry about whether the ferry is running or if the ice bridge is operational. Permanent access not only eases peoples' minds about travelling, it also will be of benefit to business, tourism and even Internet service delivery with a new fibre-optic cable spanning the river.
The bridge's technical and financial difficulties will forever remain part of its history. Nonetheless, the Deh Cho Bridge is an impressive structure that will bring certainty to travellers from the North Slave region and to the off-season transport of goods coming to our city.
Hollywood North of 60
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The fact that people are arguing about which Northern celebrity should be the face of NWT tourism can't be a bad thing for the territory. Ten years ago we had few, if any, options.
We should be using all the celebrities available to us to promote the territory, whether they're born and raised in the territory like "Buffalo" Joe McBryan or cast as a Northerner in a popular TV show like Arctic Air star Adam Beach.
Alex Debogorski, Yellowknife resident and boisterous star of the reality television show Ice Road Truckers, caused a stir last week when he complained in his Yellowknifer column that NWT Tourism was slapping Northerners in the face by selecting Beach to be the poster boy of the organization's tourism campaign.
In 2010, McBryan, owner of Buffalo Airways, upon which reality TV show Ice Pilots NWT is based, criticized the territorial government for not taking advantage of promotional opportunities created by his show. NWT Tourism, a not-for-profit group responsible for marketing tourism in the NWT, seems to get it. That's why it's hitched its star to Adam Beach and Arctic Air.
It certainly couldn't hurt trying to enlist McBryan, Debogorski, and other rising stars North of 60, if it can reasonably be done. The more the merrier, and thank heavens we can say that.
They're coming for your burger
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Sooner or later some government somewhere will decide that, as well as it's worked with cigarette smokers, the golden goose is almost cooked and it's time to bring in a ton of cash from somewhere else.
It's equally just as certain those foul souls with an affinity for fast and/or sugary foods will be next in the taxman's crosshairs.
Heck, there's no reason to even change the now triedandtrue method of cashing in on a bad habit.
Start slow, with health professionals sounding the alarm, then have one suggest it's time to start taxing those who carry a few or not so few extra pounds around.
Some would even call it poetic justice, given obesity and its related illnesses have always been the true numberone drain on the Canadian healthcare system.
And there's never been a tax to balance the obesity scales, let alone tip revenues massively in favour of money coming in compared to the cost of health care going out like with smokers.
Throw in the fact, according to the government's own rhetoric, the vast majority of smokers die well before their time, and billions of dollars more are saved on health care, Canada Pension and Old Age Security.
Then, when you look at the fact governments have somehow managed to keep themselves exempt from lawsuits launched against big tobacco companies - despite being their full partner in crime and raking-in more blood money from tobacco than the companies themselves - you have to admit it's good work if you can get it.
With Ontario being one of the top paternal provinces in Canada, it came as no surprise when the Ontario Medical Association was the first out of the gate with the recommendation to its government to start taxing the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of fatty and sugary foods.
And since, according to yet more government rhetoric, putting gross pictures on cigarette packages led to so many smokers quitting, the good doctors want to follow suit and have photos of diseased, bleeding feet shown on a bag of french fries.
That will have every golden arch gone in no time.
Canada's last truly charismatic leader, Pierre Trudeau, once said, "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."
But, today, the bedroom might be the best place for the government.
Maybe it would hit the hay and take a break.
These days, Canada has a toxic mixture of paternal-taxation-politically correct-restriction fever gone mad.
If you're crazy enough to wish someone a Merry Christmas while holding a hamburger and wearing a Montreal Canadiens jacket written only in English, you could be in serious trouble.
Fast food lovers have one advantage, they already know silence is only golden to the government when it fires the first tax salvo at people it plans to ostracize into submission.
They have the chance to protest long and loud after the first shot crosses their bow.
Of course, should they try that particular tactic, they may also want to remember another quote from the duo of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones.
"You have the right to free speech - as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it!"