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Council rushes to pass budget
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 23, 2012
Well, there is little doubt about that now, even if we take away the accounting trick that adds $9.8 million in amortization - not actual spending - to next year's budget.
City councillors, six of whom are new, have three weeks to approve a budget that even the city's director of corporate services calls "unprecedented in Yellowknife." The public, meanwhile, has only this Monday's city council meeting to voice its perspective.
Minus the $9.8 million, the city projects overall expenditures in 2013 at $74.6 million. In 2003, the figure was $35 million. Much of the added spending to next year's budget can be attributed to the $20 million loan for capital projects the previous city council approved earlier this year.
Regardless of whether the size of this budget is justified, it would be understandable if the new city councillors wanted more time to review it. MLAs did just that after last year's territorial election, pushing the GNWT budget to May from its usual spot in February or early March.
Robert C. McLeod, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, would have been seen as unfair if he were to deny a request from council to extend its Jan. 1 deadline by a month to approve its budget.
Alas, council took a pass on a proposal made by councillor Adrian Bell to seek more time. Fellow rookie Coun. Dan Wong insists a number of councillors are not "newbies at financial management," and council should just "get 'er done."
Our experience over the past few years is that city politicians have been little better than a rubber stamp at budget time. Council managed to trim a mere $33,000 from this year's budget during deliberations at the end of 2011 but not a dime from the budget before that or the one before that either.
During the 2011 budget deliberations, Heyck chastised fellow councillors who complained they didn't have enough time to approve the document, saying they were hypocrites for suggesting it wasn't "council's budget" after voting in favour of projects all year that affect city spending.
Certainly an argument can be made that the 2013 budget doesn't belong to this council. Nonetheless, new and old alike, city council is pressing ahead with this one to meet the Jan. 1 deadline.
We suspect administration doesn't have any problems with that at all.
No one would have thought poorly of our new council for seeking an extension, giving them more time to thoroughly review this huge and very important budget, especially when several of them are doing it for the first time at a municipal level.
By not seeking more time, our new council now risks seeming too rash rather than too clever.
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, November 22, 2012
A recent incident in Fort Liard is a timely wake-up call for all communities in the Deh Cho.
On Nov. 10 a woman was attacked by at least two dogs, possibly more, while walking on one of the community's outlying roads. According to the RCMP, the woman suffered extensive injuries to her right forearm, legs and scalp.
Dog-related issues are nothing new to most Deh Cho communities. Almost every community has struggled with issues ranging from controlling dog populations to loose dogs to enforcing dog bylaws where they exist.
Stray dogs, particularly stray dogs forming into menacing packs, have been an object of concern. The worry, of course, is that a pack could attack and seriously injure a person.
That is why the attack in Fort Liard is particularly noteworthy. The dogs in question weren't stray dogs, but rather dogs reportedly walking off-leash with their owner.
As the RCMP investigation continues, more information may become available about what caused this attack and what could have been done to prevent it. In the meantime, community governments should be taking a close look at the state of their dog situations.
What the Fort Liard incident has shown so far is that dogs need to be addressed in a holistic fashion. It's not enough to crack down on just stray dogs, because clearly they aren't the only source of potential danger.
Much of the responsibility begins with owners. Responsible dog ownership is the first step in ensuring dogs and humans can live together harmoniously.
It's important for governments, whether they are hamlets, villages or First Nations, to have dog bylaws or rules about dog ownership in place and the means to enforce them.
The larger the community, the more extensive the rules can be.
The ultimate goals are to prevent dogs from being mistreated and to ensure, as much as possible, that dogs don't pose a danger to residents. These rules and bylaws may, in light of the Fort Liard incident, need to include clauses about larger dogs being walked on leash at all times.
It's important that the Fort Liard attack be looked at in perspective. Most dogs are wonderful pets and pose little if any danger.
Both dog owners and community governments, however, have a roll to play in ensuring that communities remain safe.
Hockey night in Inuvik
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, November 22, 2012
Sure the rest of Canada might be suffering because of withdrawal symptoms from the NHL lockout, but in Inuvik and other lucky towns in the North, hockey night is alive and well.
The energy at the Midnight Sun Complex was amazing on Nov. 20. The number of people who came out to cheer on both the NHL players and hometown minor hockey heroes was memorable.
Sure, the 375 tickets sold out very quickly, but the organizers made every attempt to open up the event for anyone who wanted to come.
No ticket? No problem. The community hall was open both before and after the game for a meet-and-greet with the players. There was a community feast and a pre-game show by the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers, which included spirited participation by the NHL players.
These world-class athletes weren't in the huge arenas they're accustomed to but it didn't stop them from putting on a great show and having some fun.
This might sound crazy, but it seems Inuvik is getting a little bit famous lately, and in a good way. Hockey-starved communities can look to our community for inspiration. The NHL visit helped, but hockey was alive and well here even before that. You could see it reflected in the sharpened skates of all the youth who shared the ice, either during the charity event or during demonstration games in between.
One of the players said it meant a lot to him to visit the Northern communities and he couldn't wait to share the experience with his friends and family back home.
The game itself offered some of the cleanest hockey ever. There were hardly any penalties called and there was no fighting. It was way better than watching a game on television with countless interruptions including a long drawn-out rant by Don Cherry.
As well, even though many fans are holding a grudge against the multi-million-dollar players and their billionaire bosses for destroying this hockey season with their labour dispute, these particular NHL stars have to be given credit for donating their time to a charitable cause – one that aids Inuvik Minor Hockey Association and First Nations children in sports and educational pursuits.
Hopefully, for some of the minor hockey players this was only their first taste of skating with professional players, but not their last exposure to a good cause.
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.