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Ordinary people pay for lack of foresight
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It seems some Government of the Northwest Territories employees have lost sight of who, ultimately, benefits from the jobs they are supposed to do. The people.

There are two recent events that have us scratching our heads, wondering why there was such a lack of foresight that residents and businesses were left inconvenienced, having to pay extra costs and feeling frustrated. Both situations could have been avoided, either through better communication, better planning, or both.

The most egregious is the situation faced by retailers and other business operators who are now faced with higher shipping costs because no one in the GNWT took the initiative to spread the word that load restrictions would be a likely result of the spring melt on Highway 3, as is common on other NWT highways. It hasn't been an issue in the past because traffic was virtually non-existent on that highway during spring breakup, the time between the closing of the ice road across the Mackenzie River and the beginning of ferry service.

Given that the situation is common on other highways, where the roadbed softens during spring thaw, one would have thought that someone could have raised the alarm and given frequent users of the highway more notice. Transport trucks are restricted to 75 per cent of the maximum weight capacity to prevent damage to the roadbed.

The Department of Transportation's manager of communications, Earl Blacklock, found out about the weight restrictions on May 15, one day before they came into effect, and agreed the short notice was regrettable.

We're on the side of those who are upset about the lack of foresight - including the general manager of the Yellowknife Co-Op, the past president of the NWT Trucking Association and the owner of a crane company, who is losing between $6,000 and $10,000 a day when he could have relocated the piece of heavy equipment earlier had he known.

The second example of poor planning by the GNWT was the sudden closure of the Department of Transportation's motor vehicle licensing office in Yellowknife. A sign on the door and a notice on the department's website told people wishing to renew their driver's licence or renew their licence plate tags that the office was closed for two days to allow employees to attend training workshops.

The registrar of motor vehicles said it was unfortunate that a person who travelled from a remote community to Yellowknife to renew their vehicle's registration was unable to do so, but stated in an e-mail that "it is important for our front-line staff to have an opportunity to improve their existing skills and develop new ones through training and development."

Should those opportunities be at the expense of members of the motoring public they are tasked to serve?

We suggest that a majority of employees in both the private and public sector require training and upgrading on a regular basis. That can be done through on-the-job training, online courses, out-of-office retreats outside of business hours, and in countless other ways. We haven't heard of other establishments who feel the need to close their doors in order to accomplish training requirements.

It is indeed unfortunate that the lack of foresight in both these incidents have caused inconvenience, frustration and monetary loss because, at the end of the day, there is only one group of people left holding the bag. It is ordinary people who are paying for these mistakes. And that is unacceptable.

Far from the choker elite
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Like the vast majority of Kivalliq hockey fans known to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I've been inundated with e-mails and texts since the team's collapse in Game 7 of their opening series with the Boston Bruins.

And, I'm sure, like most of my fellow Kivalliq Leafs-loving brethren, most of said e-mails elicited little more than an odd groan or shake of the head from this devoted fan.

The truth is, for many of them, the feeling I had while glancing at the screen was one of been there, done that.

I'm not saying none of them were creative, as a few did tickle the funny bone.

The one that replaced the international choking sign with the Maple Leafs crest was original, as was the hockey gods rolling around an arena cloud, laughing hysterically, with a caption that reads, "I can't believe they fell for that."

Facts are facts, and there's no denying blowing a three-goal lead with a little more than 10 minutes to play in the third period is nothing short of mind-numbing.

But, for all you Leafs bashers across Nunavut who insist on calling it one of the all-time-worst chokes in sports history, I beg to differ.

In fact, it's not even close.

Let's not forget the Bruins are the same team that led the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 in games in the 2010 semifinal, only to watch the Flyers claw back to force a game 7.

Then, to top it off, the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead to Philly in the final game to lose the series.

Staying in Boston, how about the 1978 Red Sox?

They let a 14-game lead slip away and then lost a one-game tiebreaker to New York on a home run by Bucky Dent, who had hit a mere five homers all year.

And we won't even mention the ground ball hit to Bill Buckner in 1986.

In 1996, supposedly elite pro golfer Greg Norman shot a course record 63 on opening day in his quest to win a Master's title.

He led by six strokes on the final day before playing one of the worst rounds of golf ever seen at that level, losing his best chance to ever wear the green jacket.

Sticking with golf, Jean Van de Velde stood at the tee of the 18th hole at the 1999 British Open needing only a double bogey to win.

de Velde proceeded to hit the rough, a sand trap, a water hazard and, believe it or not, the grandstand on his way to a triple bogey.

He then lost the playoff hole to Paul Lawrie to seal his choker fate.

In 1927, Bill Tilden led the tennis semifinal at Wimbleton by going 6-2 and 6-2 in the first two sets.

In the third set, Tilden led 5-1 and was up 30-0 in game seven before self-destructing and losing the entire match.

And, finally, there's the Miami Hurricanes football team that led the 1984 Orange Bowl 31-0 at halftime.

The University of Maryland Terrapins then rode six second-half touchdown passes from backup quarterback Frank Reich to a stunning 42-40 win.

So there you have it, Kivalliq Leafs fans.

There's been plenty of worse chokes in the world of sports than what we saw in Boston earlier this month.

That just might help sooth your nerves as you mumble incoherently for the 46th consecutive time - just wait until next year!

Tags for everyone
NWT News/North - Monday, May 20, 2013

A massive wastage of meat was discovered by patrolling Department of Environment and Natural Resources officers outside of Gameti late last month. The parts from at least 50 caribou at 12 different sites near the south shore of Hottah Lake were abandoned by hunters.

The animals are believed to be part of the Bluenose-East herd, a species being monitored to help recover the declining population. A moratorium on resident, outfitted and commercial hunting of barren-ground caribou was initiated by the GNWT in January 2010 and the herds' sizes have been growing steadily ever since. For the Bluenose-East herd, a limited aboriginal harvest started up again in December 2010 but the wildlife zone where this recent incident took place is open to an unlimited aboriginal harvest.

But after observing such a blatant disregard for the animal, the herd and the environment, it is necessary that no caribou, of any herd, be hunted without tags. While the aboriginal subsistence harvest is important and ingrained in tradition, this situation needs to be brought under control.

This slaughter undermines aboriginal hunters' claim of being stewards of the land, and the lessons that have been taught through the generations to use the whole animal and not leave anything behind. This issue also reinforces a feeling of discrimination on the resident hunters who have been forced to put down their rifles when it comes to caribou for years now.

It is a horrible sight to see, an appalling waste of meat, and a show of cruel disrespect for the animal.

The hunters that did this don't seem concerned they will be caught, or concerned for the wildlife. This type of unsustainable harvesting cannot be allowed to continue.

Enforcing the use of tags for all caribou so each animal is accounted for and nothing is wasted will hopefully ensure something like this doesn't happen again.

Hunting is a privilege that comes with responsibility, and if this responsibility is disrespected, serious consequences must ensue.

Northern oil spill response team needed
NWT News/North - Monday, May 20, 2013

A report issued by an oil response working group, including departments from the territorial, federal governments as well as the Inuvialuit Game Council, expresses the need for an oil-spill-response team for potential drilling project in the Beaufort Sea.

While industry needs plans in place for issues that might arise in accordance with the National Energy Board, a supplementary team made up of members of Beaufort Delta communities to help respond to disaster would benefit the area through training and jobs, as well as offer support to drilling companies. While there are currently no active offshore drilling projects, the proactive development of such a team would instill a sense of inclusion from residents in the event of any future activity in the area.

Tuktoyaktuk Mayor Merven Gruben is asking for a team similar to the Beaufort Sea Oil Spill Cooperative, which was in place in the 1970s to the 1990s when hydrocarbon exploration was booming. It is significant for Gruben to say this should be in place, and encourage the training of residents as well as situating specialized equipment - such as booms and skimmers -- in the Beaufort Delta. It shows an active interest from the area in regards to possible development in the region. People in the region want and deserve to benefit from future employment, training, and the knowledge they are participating in the protection of their environment.

Getting residents involved in industry projects down the road and giving them the ability to mitigate environmental threats will cultivate confidence in exploration, and create a community-based foundation for development in the region.

Food solutions gain momentum
Nunavut News/North - Monday, May 20, 2013

The ideas coming out of Nunavut's Food Security Symposium are providing momentum for change.

There is hunger down south, but in the North's geography and climate aggravate the issues. There are no economies of scale. Communities were established not due to regional industries and economic opportunities, but to organize nomadic peoples into more easily-governable communities that at the same time would establish Canada's claim to the Arctic. Compared to the prosperity of the provinces, Nunavut is a misfit jurisdiction - the basic human needs of food and shelter enjoyed by the rest of Canadians are fulfilled inadequately at best for much of the population.

Government and resource extraction jobs pay very well but they aren't available to everyone. A large chunk of the population is struggling. According to the Nunavut Anti-Poverty Secretariat's report Understanding Poverty in Nunavut, half of Nunavut's population of 34,028 people accesses income support for at least a portion of every year, and nearly 70 per cent of Nunavummiut children live in households deemed food insecure. While the report does not define the age range of "children," according to Statistics Canada, 10,430 of the territory's residents are under 14 years old.

The difficulties in putting food on the table in Nunavut are legion. With no roads linking Nunavut communities to each other or the south, as well as an ocean and climate that provide a very small shipping season, food is mostly flown in. Although shipping of certain foods is subsidized by the federal government through Nutrition North, it's still consistently more expensive to buy food in the North than in the south.

Since Nunavut is part of Canada, the food brought up is part of the sophisticated Western supply chain. Grocery stores have aisles dedicated to mass-produced, cheap junk food such as chips and candy, which are relatively inexpensive. These foods, though carefully crafted to satisfy taste buds on the cheap, are detrimental to the health of those who eat them regularly. As of 2006, a little less than a quarter of Inuit adults were obese, according to Statistics Canada, and more than a quarter of children ages six to 14 were obese. Being "well-fed" does not mean being nourished - chips and pop offer nothing but salt and sugar, which will pack on pounds while providing little to no nourishment.

Food insecurity gave rise to protests across the territory, placing much blame on Nutrition North, but there are many factors at play in this issue. Leaders have begun to take action. The Nunavut Food Security Symposium brought together Nunavummiut business leaders, political leaders and others to discuss possible solutions in January. People discussed how to commercialize country food - a key component in local food production - and considered a territorial sales tax designed to help hunters.

A sales tax of, say, two per cent on goods - other than food - could help the territory to develop community infrastructure so hunters can store, prepare, share and sell their harvests. Another big step has been Quttiqtuq MLA Ron Elliott's Donation of Food Act, which was passed by the legislative assembly earlier this year. Food donors no longer have to worry about liability when donating food to organizations such as food banks. This is vital to ensuring these community-run organizations, which provide a much-needed safety net, can have the resources they need.

These are small steps and are welcome, but bigger steps are needed soon. Without first tackling people's basic needs of food and shelter, efforts to grow Nunavut into a prosperous territory - complete with devolution and a bigger tax base - will remain hamstrung. More than that, the territory's regular people will not have the quality of life they deserve.

Real need for expansion of university education
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 17, 2013

You could hear it in their voices. Graduates from Yellowknife's North Slave Campus of Aurora College really want to further their education by completing a degree program in the NWT.

Unfortunately, for some, their only option right now is to pursue their further learning with online studies, or by relocating to the south to attend a post-secondary institution in another city.

Valedictorian Anne Mackenzie is originally from Behchoko but now lives in Yellowknife. She just completed the social work diploma program but wants to obtain a bachelor degree in social work. That is something she can't do in the NWT capital. In the process of preparing her address to graduates, she heard many heartwarming stories from Aurora College students.

At the convocation on May 4 were graduates with either a master of nursing, a bachelor of science, a social work diploma, a personal support work certificate, a business administration certificate or diploma, or an early childhood development certificate.

The personal support work certificate, a 10-month program, was custom tailored by the college after the Tlicho Community Services Agency and Tlicho Government asked it to create a program to train staff for an elders home that is being expanded in Behchoko.

We applaud the college for rising to the occasion and creating the program, which resulted in the highest number of graduates from the North Slave Campus, with 84 students accomplishing their goals.

However, more needs to be done to expand the range of post-secondary offerings by Aurora College.

It is interesting to note that one of the requirements of the NWT Chamber of Commerce scholarship program is that recipients of the two $2,500 awards must plan to return to the NWT after their studies are completed. That is one way to get post-secondary graduates to work in the North.

We suggest it makes more sense to offer those people who want to further their studies beyond high school the ability to take a wider range of university and college courses in the NWT because those students who don't get a chamber scholarship and go south to study may never come back.

Of course, the responsibility for expansion of post-secondary education lies with the territorial government and Aurora College administrators. It is a big-money issue, particularly when one considers a standalone campus in Yellowknife is most desirable.

Territorial politicians have paid the issue some lip service in the past. The fourth session of the legislative assembly is set to reconvene on May 29. Appropriately, the 17th assembly's caucus priorities are stated as, "Believing in people and building on the strengths of Northerners."

We challenge MLAs and cabinet ministers to make expansion of post-secondary offerings in Yellowknife a priority.

Public relations disaster at Giant Mine
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 17, 2013

The federal government is wildly inconsistent when it comes to public communications on Giant Mine.

Yellowknifer criticized the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development last month after it spent two weeks dithering over its response to accusations from Alternatives North that it deliberately withheld the full cost of cleaning up Giant Mine - $903 million to date - during public hearings into remediation plans last fall.

After first refusing to comment, the department issued a guest column to Yellowknifer from Zoe Raemer, its associate regional director, that ignored the $903-million figure and instead embarked on a confusing discussion on the cost of "implementing" its remediation plan, about $449 million. The department didn't acknowledge until much later that there was a difference between the cost of implementing its remediation plan and the total cost.

On the other hand, last week it couldn't get the news release out fast enough that there had been a minor spill of mine muck into Baker Creek.

Such inconsistencies leads one to wonder how many people have a hand in deciding what is being said publicly, and how many of them are in Yellowknife or in far away Ottawa.

The issue was highlighted again on May 8 during a consultation meeting in Ndilo when an audience member asked what sort of disaster plan the department has should arsenic trioxide escape into the water supply. A good question, and one that deserves a detailed response.

Unfortunately, the Giant Mine remediation team member answering questions at the meeting couldn't provide one. Nor could she point to a publicly available source for residents to examine for themselves. This is truly bad form, and exemplifies how every time the feds try to move an inch forward in its communications efforts on Giant Mine, it's driven a foot back by its lack of preparedness.

This is why people are very nervous as the clean-up team gets set this summer to dismantle old mine workings that are stuffed full of arsenic.

Taking responsibility for devolution
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Devolution. It's something that's been in the news a lot lately and a word that seems to be on the lips of all politicians and leaders.

The question, however, is how much does the regular citizen of the NWT know about devolution and the changes it will bring to the territory. According to Alternatives North, a social justice coalition, most people probably don't know as much as they should.

The organization held a public meeting in Fort Simpson on May 8 as part of an effort to promote thoughtful discussion about devolution and to help people come up with questions they should be asking their MLAs. Alternatives North doesn't think MLAs will debate devolution unless they think their constituents care, which is really the next question.

Do NWT residents care about devolution?

It's impossible to say how much the average person living in Nahanni Butte or Fort Simpson cares about devolution, but even if they don't necessarily care, people do have a responsibility to be informed.

Through devolution, the territorial government will take over responsibility for managing public land, water and resources in the NWT that the federal government currently holds. Devolution, according to the GNWT, will give residents a greater say in how those public lands, water and resources are managed, in how the environment is protected and in how the economy is developed. Devolution will change the territory and the people living in it need to know what those changes will bring.

Some people, however, are taking the stance that devolution is inevitable and will happen whether or not residents like it. The danger with that complacency is that it gives people the false sense that they have no responsibility with regards to devolution.

If people don't take reasonable steps to inform themselves, ask questions and raise concerns, then they are as good as agreeing with devolution. If in a few years down the road, there are aspects of devolution that are not working well for the territory, it will only be those residents who raised concerns and tried to make changes that will have the right to really complain. Conversely, if things go well, those same people can say they actively supported devolution.

Devolution is about to bring a lot of changes to the territory. Residents don't have to care about every little detail, but as responsible citizens they should have an overall understanding of what is coming and how it will affect them, their community and their family. That knowledge can be gained by attending community meetings about devolution, visiting the GNWT's devolution website or by questioning MLAs.

Congratulations to graduates
Editorial Comment by T. Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 16, 2013

It was very interesting to attend my first Aurora Campus convocation last week for a few reasons.

First, I didn't expect the graduation ceremony to be such a significant event. In my experience graduation ceremonies are not the social and cultural occasion they are here. So it was a novelty to see the numbers that turned out to view the ceremony.

It was even more remarkable to see the number of senior GNWT bureaucrats attending the ceremony with the blessings of their political masters. All kidding aside about who was minding the shop and doing the work on Friday afternoon, it was another mark of how significant a social milestone it was to have a convocation ceremony here.

I was mulling that over during and after the event, trying to sort out why such a fuss was being made.

Sixteen people graduated during the convocation, which college student wellness counsellor David Bob said is about average, not an unusual or remarkable number for a graduating class.

Instead, it's a reflection of how important education is in this area. To some extent, it's a reflection that access to higher education is still a bit of a novelty here.

I've become a little more familiar with the education system here in the NWT since my arrival and how it differs from my experiences growing up. Even in rural areas of southern Ontario, where graduation rates in high school and beyond have been a cause of concern periodically through the years, it's taken for granted that the vast majority of people will graduate in a timely fashion. A large percentage of them will move on to higher education, either in community college or university. So most people have become blase about the process. Familiarity, after all, breeds indifference.

Not so here. In the North, there's a much better recognition of how much work it takes to earn a diploma or a degree, and how much sacrifice is involved at times. It's also a recognition of a calculated gamble that higher education will pay off with a better life, which is something that people to the south are now beginning to question. A glut of graduates with degrees and diplomas will do that.

Most of the people graduating May 10 were mature students, who have other careers and families. Yet they still made the time to chase a dream to better themselves. As keynote speaker Robert Alexie told them "success begins with education and a plan."

As someone who can honestly be called an "overeducated bum" (two degrees and a college diploma qualify me for that description), I wish them all the best and I too salute their efforts. I also hope to see many more such convocations in years to come.

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