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Feds playing fast and loose with regulations
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 21, 2012
As Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said in the legislative assembly Oct. 25, Giant Mine "is probably the most polluted site in Canada," especially considering another severe blight, the Sydney, N.S., tar ponds, has been cleaned up.
The federal government and the Giant Mine Remediation Team have been making progress toward a $449-million clean-up plan, which would see 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide in 14 underground chambers frozen in perpetuity. Bromley said the underground poison is "enough to kill all life on Earth." This work has been ongoing for many years, and will continue for more to come.
However, now on the front-burner is the 700 tonnes of arsenic trioxide contained in the roaster complex above ground at the former mine site. The Government of Canada now says the perilous condition of the roaster complex, and associated buildings, constitutes an emergency situation that requires immediate action. As a result, the government is seeking contractors and is awaiting detailed deconstruction plans, according to Adrian Paradis, acting manager of the Giant Mine Remediation Team.
Public hearings were held in September but the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board has yet to issue its report. We suggest it is foolhardy for the federal government to push forward quickly with plans to demolish the above-ground structures in the absence of the report, even though Paradis has identified safeguards to be taken by the remediation team, including efforts to contain dangerous arsenic dust.
It seems the federal government, by seeking out contractors, is playing fast and loose with its own regulations, and using inflammatory language in describing the state of the roaster building, to justify its intentions and hastened timeline.
"They haven't even completed the (environmental) review and they're already proposing exceptions to it," Bromley said of the government's actions.
Public safety, of course, should be the primary consideration. There will be no second chance if deconstruction of the roaster building, and the buildings attached to it, goes awry and potentially lethal arsenic dust escapes at such a level that residents in the city will be affected.
The sudden urgency to dismantle the roaster seems similar to a situation in 2009 when the NWT Power Corporation threatened legal action against the NWT Land and Water Board unless the power corp. was allowed to immediately replace the Bluefish Dam, 20 km from Yellowknife. The NWT utility was warning of the "imminent" collapse of the 60-year-old timber dam if work didn't commence right away. The water board yielded to the power corp's intimidation. Yet replacement work did not get underway until 2011 due to mild weather disrupting winter roads. Environmental board scrutiny was brushed aside for nothing, as it turned out.
On the Giant Mine clean-up file, Ottawa needs to follow its own advice and wait for the review board's report and recommendations before proceeding.
Fans turning against the players
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The worm is turning in the ongoing lockout between the NHL and NHLPA, which is now perilously close to cancelling the entire season.
For as far back as I can remember since arriving in the Kivalliq in 1998, regional hockey lovers always held the players a lot nearer and dearer to their hearts than NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his gang of evil owners.
But that no longer appears to be the case.
Increasing numbers of people are speaking out against the players while talking puck with other hockey lovers, wondering out loud if any of them still care one iota for the fans or the thousands of people having their incomes devastated by the lockout.
Some, who still side vehemently with the players, claim too many fans are simply jealous over the amount of money the modern NHLer earns.
But I don't perceive that to be the case at all.
The average fan doesn't begrudge the players a dime of what they make.
What they have grown to dislike, however, is the growing sense of entitlement among the players, and just how many of them don't seem to realize how good they have it.
Who cares if you can't sign a contract longer than five years in duration when you're making millions of dollars a year?
The players have become so enamoured with themselves and their luxurious lifestyles that they're starting to believe the average hockey fan is not that swift on the uptake.
The whole reason behind those silly long-term contracts was to front-load them in order to circumvent the salary cap, so spare us the silly rhetoric about players wanting 10-year contracts in the name of team continuity.
In three separate online polls this past week that attracted more than 3,000 fans, the result was more than 85 per cent of the respondents didn't believe the players cared about the fans anymore.
That's a big number!
I have yet to hear or read any true fan suggest the players should just capitulate to every owner demand.
Yet most of the demands the owners have put forward only have a dramatic impact on star players, and it's hard to feel sorry for a guy having to get by on $6 million instead of $7 million a year.
The players also keep saying there's no real proof 18 of the league's teams are losing money, yet they offer nothing but weak insinuations of owners hiding money.
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr is also fond of saying the players "lost" the last round of CBA negotiations because of the implementation of the salary cap.
But the reality is they've made great gains in salary since then, and the average NHLer has fared better than he would have in an open market.
Again, only the star players would have benefitted more from the status quo and they're not exactly eating Kraft Dinner these days.
The players also worry if they give into the owners' demands, they'll want even more next time.
So, accept the 50-50 revenue split and the league's offer to 'make whole' the majority of their contracts for the next two years and sign a 10-year CBA.
That way the game stays on the ice, big bucks stay in their pockets and, just maybe, the fans put them back on their hero-worship pedestals.
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.