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Yellowknife workers lose out
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Northern living allowance for territorial government employees increased for workers in the town of Hay River on April 1 but is unchanged for their counterparts in Yellowknife, where costs are arguably higher.

Collective agreement negotiations between the Union of Northern Workers members and the GNWT aside, the living allowance is supposed to be based on what the GNWT calls a "basket of goods," which takes into account such cost-of-living factors as services, food, transportation, recreation, clothing, footwear and other goods.

The living allowance for the 2,295 employees in Yellowknife remains unchanged for 2013/2014 at $3,450 while it increased for the 272 GNWT workers in Hay River to $5,410 from $5,187.

Range Lake MLA Darryl Dolynny is one politician who is questioning the method the government uses to calculate the amounts, calling it "archaic and irrelevant.

"We need a new formula that introduces commodity-based variances and regional balance," he stated in an e-mail to Yellowknifer.

Dolynny correctly points out that the cost of many goods and services are less expensive in Hay River, such as the price of gasoline and the price of utilities used to heat and power homes. The price of electricity in Yellowknife is set to increase by seven per cent each year for the next three years, then five per cent in the fourth year for a total of 26 per cent.

Could the opening of the Deh Cho Bridge have something to do with this? The federal government reportedly is reviewing Yellowknife's status as an isolated outpost because the bridge provides a fixed link to southern Canada. The result could be a reduction in the Northern living allowance for federal government employees.

Although changes to the living allowance directly affect government employees, it will have a ripple effect in the private sector. Yellowknife is an expensive city in which to live, regardless of a person's employer.

More politicians need to make some noise about this issue and demand there be fairness in the equation.

Make every day Earth Day
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Earth Week is a misnomer.

In Yellowknife, an educational "week" of environmental-awareness programming kicked off on Earth Day, April 22. Today, nine days later, it is still going strong, with more Earth Week events scheduled to continue at various venues through until Saturday.

Earth Day, which has blossomed into Earth Week in many communities since the idea sprouted in the United States in 1970, now represents a global grassroots effort to inspire individuals, families, schools, churches, small businesses and other community groups to work together to live in harmony with the environment 365 days a year.

For most people, it's next to impossible to change the world when it comes to environmental sustainability. However, it's possible for anyone to help change practices in one's home, neighbourhood, school, workplace and community. Earth Week is a great opportunity to start.

Earth Week events in Yellowknife, organized by Ecology North and its volunteers, offer insight into the ways such environmental change can grow year-round. For example, residents can learn how to establish backyard composting systems during an upcoming workshop on Saturday. Previous events have introduced participants to home-based chicken coops and how to repair and maintain bicycles.

In addition to sharing skills, Earth Week helps bring people together with events such as tonight's tea talk at The Peace Building at 7 p.m., a green folk event at the Mackenzie Lounge on Friday evening and a coffee house on Saturday night.

When people come together with the common goal of making our community more sustainable, meaningful long-term change is possible.

Another kick in hockey butt
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 1, 2013

While most of the Kivalliq hockey talk this past week has focused on a possible Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs matchup - before the standings put the Leafs up against Boston -- in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, other elements have been at work to remind us just how removed from the NHL the average fan has become.

The Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and it's been a long nine years for fans of the Maple Laughs (yours truly included).

Leafs fans have endured one losing season after another, the debacle of the John Ferguson Jr. era as team general manager (GM), and hung our heads in shame as guardians of our passion, such as Cliff Fletcher, pronounce, "Draft, smaft," before selling our future on veteran players on the last legs of their career.

It's been a trying decade, indeed.

But Toronto is back in the playoffs and all is right with the hockey world again.

GM Dave Nonis, giddy with excitement, sent an open letter to Leafs fans to thank them, on behalf of the entire hockey club, for their continued loyalty and support.

He referred to Leafs fans as the most passionate and dedicated in all of hockey, and called them, "valued members of our team."

So, other than those kind words, how did the Maple Leafs thank their fans for the past nine years of futility, as well as continuously laying down their money to support a club that hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 196667?

Why, by raising ticket prices for the first round by an astounding 75 per cent.

While Leafs fans were chomping on that bit of news, concern was raised by the media (are ya shocked) over the risks involved with six outdoor games being played in the NHL this coming year.

Hockey Night In Canada's Elliotte Friedman was good enough to point out the final two games scheduled for March 1 and 2, featuring Pittsburgh at Chicago and Ottawa vs. Vancouver, are just six and seven days respectively after the Sochi Olympics.

That, apparently, is a little too risky for the top players involved.


Today's hockey players are supposed to be the most physically fit in history, with many boasting a mere six per cent body fat in their chiselled physiques.

Is that merely eye candy for the masses, being able to skate out onto the ice looking like, as one female fan put it, "they were all dipped in a bucket of yummy?"

The pace of the Olympics hockey schedule is a walk in the park compared to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And, surely, a week is more than enough time to adjust to any time differences and the notorious jet lag.

Heck, that's even enough time to have their hair properly styled for the pre-game skate, should one of their travel days be unusually windy. Once again, average hockey fans are being played like a cheap violin.

They sit at home wondering what it would be like to see an NHL playoff game, if they could ever afford to skip a couple of mortgage payments to attend one. And, they scratch their heads over the risk involved in playing two hockey games at least a week apart.

Today's world is run by money and lawyers and it's about time the world's greatest hockey league reflected that.

Bring on the Corporate Hockey League (sigh).

Admit the problem
NWT News/North - Monday, April 29, 2013

The pages of last week's News/North were steeped in stories involving alcohol and its associated social problems. A chief took issue with the Hamlet of Fort Resolution hosting a dance where alcohol was served; a new report came out pointing a finger at alcohol as a leading cause of mental health related hospitalizations in the territory; and an MLA publicly apologized for missing meetings due to excessive drinking and has committed to getting help.

A common foundation in the stories is the admittance that alcohol can lead to trouble, and that too much of it creates unmanageable situations.

The facts are clear. The 2010 NWT Addictions Report stated 43 per cent of residents surveyed said they consume five or more drinks on one occasion and 64 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds reported consuming five or more drinks on one occasion. About 23 per cent of drinkers acknowledged that their drinking was harmful to aspects in their life such as social life, marriage, friendships or physical health. The most recent report put out by the Department of Health and Social Services states alcohol heavily contributes to hospitalizations due to physical and mental health problems.

Alcohol abuse made up 89 per cent of substance abuse hospitalizations. Also, excessive and long-term abuse of alcohol is a leading cause of liver damage, physical injury from falls, stomach issues and mental health issues among adults, the report states.

Every hospitalization costs the department money and many of these hospitalizations are preventable. Addiction to alcohol is a disease that needs the person to first realize there is a problem and to take the proper steps to deal with the problem. A supportive environment facilitates the healing journey.

This was a reason why Chief Louis Balsillie of Deninu Ku'e First Nation objected to a wet dance that was hosted by the Hamlet of Fort Resolution last month during its spring carnival. It was the first wet dance held by the council in more than 10 years and went off without any major incidents. However, Balsillie insisted the community, where there are residents attempting to stop drinking, is not ready for events offering the temptation to drink.

It is almost impossible for those combating alcoholism to cut themselves off from the world around them, where alcohol is present in restaurants, bars, friends' houses, and organized celebrations. While it was important for Balsillie to voice his concerns, the council gave the community a chance to prove it could handle a dance where beer was served.

How someone who has suffered from alcohol abuse behaves around the substance says a lot about where they are on their healing journey. Likewise, when someone slips, they can ignore the issue, or they can face it head on.

Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche has shouldered the burden of his struggle with alcohol and publicly apologized for an episode of excessive drinking in Inuvik earlier this month that made him miss a day-and-a-half of committee meetings. Menicoche has faced his problem, acknowledged it and has not hid it from the people who voted him in, nor the rest of the territory.

It is commendable that he has acted so quickly, not hiding from the issue, and he did not pretend there was nothing wrong with what took place in Inuvik. He has also taken it a step further and announced he will take responsibility for his actions and is actively researching treatment. For a territory plagued with alcohol abuse, watching a person so publicly take the proactive steps to conquer this issue is something that will hopefully sink in and give others the nudge to do the same.

Two decades of growth
Nunavut News/North - Monday, April 29, 2013

It has been 20 years since the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement was signed. In that time, the territory has been established and, according to the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, the population of the region has grown by almost 10,000.

Nunavummiut have also made strides in their dealings with companies seeking to tap Nunavut's resource-rich land. The beneficiary corporation, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., received its first royalty cheque in 2011 - $2.3 million from Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd.'s Meadowbank gold project - and the outlook for the industry is good. The Nunavut Impact Review Board has successfully reviewed a $4-billion to $6-billion project, in the Baffinland iron ore mine, and came out with a robust package of recommendations to maintain as much environmental integrity as possible, which was acceptable to both sides - though the project is going back to the review stage due to its scaling back. As well, through impact and benefit agreements, job training and Inuit employment targets are part of doing business in Nunavut.

The preservation and promotion of Inuit languages has been a major focus for the territory, though more work must be done to elevate it to the station French enjoys in Quebec. If Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun are to become sustainable into the future they must gain equal footing with English as the language of business throughout government.

Although gains have been made to reach the employment goal under Article 23 of the Nunavut Land Claims Act -- 85 per cent Inuit employment within the territorial and federal governments -- Inuit must not give up the fight. Towards a Representative Public Service, a report released in September 2012, stated only 50 per cent of government employees are Inuit, a 35 per cent shortfall that is taking money away from Inuit families. Of the 50 per cent who are employed, many are not filling the upper echelon of public service positions. Only 17 and 25 per cent of senior and middle managers, respectively, are Inuit. This speaks to the need to improve training and education.

The territory's first steps have been made and now is time to build on the momentum. Congratulations, Nunavummiut, on 20 years of growth.

Ahead of the rest
Nunavut News/North - Monday, April 29, 2013

In returning the $0.25 bag levy to the communities from which they were garnered, the North West Company has set an example for green corporate citizenship.

Governments around Canada, including that of the NWT, have introduced mandatory bag taxes that grocers had to adhere to. The proceeds from the NWT's go to a territorial green projects fund.

In Nunavut, with no such territorial legislation, the North West Company and Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. have introduced their own levies. The North West Company has taken the best route in reinvesting that money in green projects by giving it back to schools and hamlet governments for green projects developed in communities by community members.

A government-run program of the same nature would inevitably be fraught with bureaucratic red tape.

Good on North West Company for being proactive on this issue, and for developing an easy program that is giving back to communities and which has reduced the amount of plastic bags issued to customers by 67 per cent.

Too many big buses
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 26, 2013

The problem with public transit in Yellowknife is that the city doesn't have the critical mass to make it worthwhile for a majority of commuters.

Without critical mass it can't offer convenience. Without convenience it can't attract ridership. That is the most unacknowledged dilemma facing the city. Still, city council piles more and more cash into a bigger and increasingly expensive transit system utilized by only one per cent of daily work commuters, according to the city's 2010 Smart Growth Development Plan.

About 50 people attended a pair of public transit meetings last week or met with members of the Ecology North's transportation issues committee, which proves at least some people use the bus and care about it. But it's with the vast majority of commuters, who never or rarely use the bus, the city needs to engage.

When the choice is between waiting in the cold for several minutes, followed by a half-hour bus ride and then doing it all over again at the end of the day, or, hopping out one's door and into a heated car for the seven-minute commute for shopping or to work, it's easy to see why Yellowknife's transit system is such a loser.

Public transit is more attractive in larger cities where the commutes are longer, gas bills are bigger, and there are fewer places to park. Typically, with more people riding the buses, there are also more transit options. Our bus system has two weekday routes and doesn't run much past 7 p.m., severely limiting its effectiveness as a transportation alternative, including in the fight against drunk-driving.

Instead of exploring the possibility of using smaller buses during off-peak hours, the city is testing low-floor buses with 42 seats that can barely navigate through Old Town. These buses are easier to access for the elderly and parents with strollers but they really don't seem appropriate for a city our size and with our Northern climate. Which brings us back to the original problem: how many seniors and parents with young children are going to stand outside in the cold waiting for a bus that comes only every half-hour? GPS trackers people could access with smartphones and other electronic devices would help but the city has a long way to go before it convinces Yellowknifers the public transit system is reliable and convenient.

The previous city council approved a $1.25-million-a-year contract over five years with service provider First Canada less than two months before the municipal election last fall. The current council is therefore struck with this arrangement. However, that doesn't mean council should not be considering ways to make public transit more effective and efficient.

No doubt buses are important to some commuters, and the city should be seeking ways to lower vehicle traffic. Cycling, for instance, may be an attractive and easier to encourage alternative - at least during the summer months. But cyclists also only polled at one per cent of work commuter traffic in the Smart Growth Plan.

What the city must stop doing is wasting money trying to draw people in with these large, lumbering buses few people want to use. No amount of environmentalist arm-twisting is going to fill them.

Different type of role model
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, April 25, 2013

Almost everyone has done something in their life that they wish they hadn't.

These misguided episodes can happen at any point during our lives and often result in some embarrassing moments and good-natured ribbing by friends and family members. In more extreme cases, there can be repercussions at work.

Thankfully, however, memories fade in time and often the fallout from the incident isn't too large. The situations often become things we can look back and laugh about.

The scenario is completely different, however, for people in public positions. As a result of their position they are under greater public scrutiny and are held to higher standards. That doesn't mean, however, that they are immune to the problems, frailties and misjudgments that rest of us have or make.

Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche is a recent example of this.

Undoubtedly Menicoche wishes that he hadn't consumed too much alcohol in Inuvik and as a result, missed chairing meetings for two days. If that was all he'd done, the story would likely continue to hound him throughout his public career and last far longer than it would with a regular member of the public.

This story is more serious, however, than just a misguided tale of someone who drank more than they should have and missed work.

Menicoche has admitted that he's struggling with alcohol abuse. Having made the decision to drink alcohol, Menicoche recognizes that his drinking has evolved to a point where he ends up drinking excessively without planning to, Inuvik being an example.

It's a courageous move for Menicoche to admit this publicly. Many people in the Deh Cho struggle with alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Many never reach the point where they can admit that their drinking is a problem, let alone go public with that fact.

Menicoche may wish he'd made a better choice in Inuvik, but there may still be a positive outcome in the end.

Menicoche's example shows that anyone can struggle with alcohol.

Hopefully as it unfolds, Menicoche's example will also show that people can seek treatment and then continue to do their jobs and hold positions that require respect and trust.

Menicoche's struggles, now made public, may allow him to become a positive example. Only time will tell.

Don't fear the reporter
Editorial Comment by T. Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, April 25, 2013

I had some interesting reactions to the April 18 editorial, where I spoke in length about people, especially public servants, being muzzled by their employers.

One person who wrote in largely agreed with my take on the issue, but reminded me, quite correctly, that many people are afraid of the media.

A second person who wrote in made a related point. This man spent some time describing how journalists are responsible for the problem because they persistently misquote people or "take statements out of context" just to ratchet up sensationalism in the news. While I absolutely appreciate the writer taking the time to outline his points, I disagree with his argument.

In my experience, which stretches back 20 years or so, instances of reporters deliberately engaging in pumping up a story in this manner don't happen. It's not ethical, and honestly, most reporters don't like having people angry with them.

As for the "out of context" argument, my experience suggests that's a term generally invoked out of two scenarios. The first is that the person, whether puffed up because they're talking to the media or out of nervousness, blurts out the truth but phrases it in an unflattering light. Perhaps they didn't mean to say what they said in the way that they said it. In these circumstances, I've seen the reporter blamed for quoting these words far more often than the speaker taking responsibility for what they said.

The second scenario is that whoever is speaking may simply not know what they're talking about. In some cases, that will be obvious to the reporter. In others, it might not be.

Despite all the fact-checking and talking to multiple sources and editing and what-not, a reporter is still totally dependent on what they're being told by whoever they're talking to. That's the way the job works. Therefore, there's a heavy onus on the person being interviewed to be capable of articulating their knowledge and opinion in a sensible and sensitive manner.

People, especially in the public service, need to be trained in how to deal with the media, and by extension the public, instead of muzzled.

People should not be afraid of speaking with reporters, but it is important that they take a second and think about what they are about to say on the record before they comment.

Of course, we journalists are only human ourselves, and humans with hard deadlines at that. Though we strive not to make mistakes, mistakes happen.

Journalists want to get it right and we need your help to do so.

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