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Absent leadership
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Road closures, constant smoke, dark skies and stores running out of supplies have many asking who is in charge as the territory deals with the worst forest fire season in 40 years.

Hundreds of firefighters have battled to contain more than 300 fires and protect NWT communities from burning. As well, the Department of Transportation has kept the public informed about road closures and changing conditions.

All of them need to be commended for protecting Yellowknife and travellers from danger and keeping the public informed. People and property owners have shown their gratitude to the firefighters publicly by hanging a banner on Old Airport Road and many have praised the transportation department for posting daily, often hourly, reports on its website.

But there has been one person who has been curiously absent for most of the crisis: Premier Bob McLeod.

Early last week, while Yellowknife remained cut off by a 6,450-square kilometre forest fire on Highway 3 - one of the largest ever reported in North America - and residents began to question, if just a little, whether the city could endure, McLeod was in Toronto attending an infrastructure conference and unavailable for comment.

McLeod broke his silence Friday, lamely explaining that he kept quiet because he didn't "want to excite people when there is no imminent threat to their safety."

While it's true much of the news - particularly from the national media - has been blown out of proportion down south, McLeod should remember that Northerners, and their family and friends elsewhere in Canada, are consumers of this news too.

In times of crisis, even if the experts insist the danger isn't "imminent," people want assurances from their leaders not bureaucrats.

Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michael Miltenberger has attempted to take on that responsibility but the shear scale of this summer's forest fire season, the fact that it has affected several government departments and regions across the territory, demands the premier take charge.

Mayor Mark Heyck has been somewhat deferential to city administration and GNWT underlings but at least he attends the press conferences.

The criticism of consensus government is that the premier is beholden to MLAs rather than the voters.

McLeod's absence this summer does little to dispel that perception. One would think, being a politician, that McLeod would want to be where the action is, attending photo-ops at firebreaks and rallying the troops. It seems instead that he feels he has better things to do and more important places to be.

Yellowknifer has lauded McLeod before for his ability to get things done behind the scenes, such as securing a devolution deal when all other premiers before him have failed. But this isn't one of those situations that require artful negotiations in some backroom at the legislative assembly. It demands publicly demonstrated leadership.

On this count, McLeod has failed miserably.

Enough of senseless waste
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

First of all, let me say it's great to be back home in Rankin Inlet and getting ready to start my 17th year at the helm of Kivalliq News.

I'd like to thank my friend and fellow ink hack, Candace Thomson, for doing a fine job in my absence, and for being able to come back and find everything just where I left it, both at home and in the office.

Thanks, Candace!

Now, back to work.

For a part of the country that prides itself so much on how it manages wildlife and respects Mother Earth, the rising number of stories on sea life and animals being killed and left to rot in Northern Canada, including right here in Nunavut, is growing increasingly alarming and disgusting.

Some among us protest all types of mining and development activities they fear will damage the land or negatively affect wildlife.

Yet, others among us leave fish and other species to rot in unchecked personal fishing nets, drop commercial nets in restricted waters where commercial fishing is not allowed and leave thousands of pounds of fish to rot, and shoot more animals than they need and leave their carcasses lying on the land to rot.

I shook my head this past week when a man in Iqaluit -- who, in fairness, did have the courage to publish photos of dead sea life in unchecked nets on Frobisher Bay -- didn't want to say where he took the photos for fear of singling anyone out.

People with nets in areas where these true affronts to nature and life are taking place should be singled out until the responsible culprits are identified.

And then the authorities should throw the whole bloody book at them.

Not only are these callous people unfeeling about the natural resources they are wasting, or the animal-and-marine life they are taking, they couldn't care less about the damage their actions inflict on the reputation of Northern Canada and those of us who call it home.

It's pretty hard for a southerner to empathize with a Northern cause while viewing such abominable photographs on a computer or cellphone.

And, in today's gadgets-gone-crazy world, the damage is intense, far-reaching and almost immediate.

Too often our governments are expected to solve each-and-every problem we have in this modern age.

But this is an area where they have to earn their pay and bring an end to this wanton taking of life.

We should be demanding it!

I saw a photo of a neglected pet on social media this past week, and many of the comments posted toward its owner were almost blood-curdling.

Where is the outrage over the brutal destruction of the wildlife that provides so much to our Northern culture?

The nets in the Baffin were reportedly removed in short order when a few people posted angry messages after seeing the photos.

None of us like to be upset, but anger is what it takes to get through to these people. They do not respond to reason.

Hopefully, more people will voice their anger (loudly) going forward to help stop these heinous actions.

The perpetrators cannot survive in the spotlight, nor can politicians and others in positions of power who sit idly by, claiming, ironically enough, they have

bigger fish to fry!

Rising stars
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 11, 2014

Aboriginal athletes competing for Team NWT at this year's North American Indigenous Games showed they are indeed a force to be reckoned with.

If the powerhouse squads of the games thought the team from our sparsely-populated territory would be an easy win in their busy schedule, they quickly learned otherwise.

Our 237 athletes, hailing from communities in the High Arctic to the South Slave, pulled off a record performance coming away with 51 medals from the event held in Regina at the end of July.

Team NWT's performance was good enough for a sixth place finish overall, out of the 20 teams attending. Many of those teams had athlete counts nearly doubling the NWT's contingent.

Track and field, swimming, shooting, wrestling and canoe/kayaking accounted for the territory's medals but the U19 boys volleyball team came close to adding a 52nd medal when it faced Wisconsin in the bronze medal game.

Chef de mission Aaron Wells said the team had many other fourth- and fifth-place finishes, meaning it was in contention for a few more medals.

In all, the results demonstrate the abilities of our athletes and shows a vast improvement over past games – it won 19 medals in 2008.

With a record-breaking year under its belt, the Aboriginal Sports Circle of the Western Arctic has a real opportunity to encourage even more participation in future games. It also has a huge goal for future athletes to strive for, which can only motivate them to be the best they can be.

Congratulations to Team NWT. We look forward to seeing continued success.

River hospitality
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 11, 2014

Wrigley and Norman Wells are both looking at improving services to tourists travelling down the Mackenzie River.

The idea is to improve services, camping accommodations and provide more amenities, such as showers so travellers have some respite on the long journey.

While people continue to lobby for the construction of the Mackenzie Valley Highway, hailing it as an opportunity to boost territorial tourism, it is nice to see communities remembering the longest-standing transportation link through the NWT.

The Mackenzie River has historically been and continues to be a major thoroughfare for territorial residents and adventure seekers from the south. We encourage more communities along the Mackenzie to follow Wrigley and Norman Wells lead, knowing it has the potential to bring more visitors and boost local economies.

Improving services along that important transportation link will do a lot to boost tourism and attract more people to the river who know the long journey might be a little easier now.

Strange bedfellows against seismic testing
Nunavut News/North - Monday, August 11, 2014

News that Greenpeace has gotten into bed with the hamlet of Clyde River, the Nammautaq Hunters and Trappers Organization and Mayor Jerry Natanine is somewhat surprising given the history of the environmental protection organization and the hunters of Nunavut.

It was Greenpeace after all that objected loudly to the traditional seal hunt, a fact that many, including Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, are unwilling to forget easily.

Greenpeace is now helping to bankroll an appeal of the National Energy Board's decision by Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan, a Toronto law firm which has high-profile lawyer Clayton Ruby as one of its partners. Another partner, constitutional law specialist Nader Hasan, has filed the request to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, asking that a hearing, if granted, be held in Iqaluit. Legal challenges are always costly, more so when a prominent law firm is involved.

On the other side are the proponents of the project, TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company ASA, Petroleum GeoServices and Multi Klient Invest AS (MKI), who have approval from the National Energy Board to conduct a 2D offshore seismic survey program in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait over five years during the open water season in an effort to identify oil and gas deposits. MKI is owned by a multinational company with operations in 25 countries, is based in Norway and is publicly traded on the Oslo stock exchange. That information points to deep pockets and, despite MKI's statement last week that it is postponing any seismic testing until 2015, the energy board approval has given the green light for it to happen.

The basis of the argument to the court of appeal is that seismic testing is harmful to marine life, that the heavy sounds and vibrations caused by seismic testing can cause permanent damage to marine animals, including permanent hearing loss, disruption of feeding, and disruption of migration routes, and that the energy board's decision to approve the application did not take into account Inuit traditional knowledge. Further, the decision undermines Inuit rights under the land claims agreement, and breaches the energy board's constitutional duty to consult and accommodate Inuit. Hasan was straightforward in his assessment of the National Energy Board, suggesting it was once again a rubber stamp for the energy industry and saying he wouldn't shed a tear for Big Oil if the appeal is successful.

For his part, Mayor Jerry Natanine made the correct assessment that hunters, trappers and the hamlet share a common goal with Greenpeace, to protect the ecology of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

Reversing the energy board's decision by winning at the Federal Court of Appeal is likely to take considerable effort and money. Lawyer Hasan has 30 days from July 28 to file Clyde River's evidence, after which the energy board has 30 days to respond. A 20-day cross-examination period is next, followed by a written argument, then an oral hearing.

No matter how one looks at the effort required to prevent seismic testing, it is a formidable challenge that will require all resources available, including the financial backing of Greenpeace.

Opening the books benefits the people
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 8, 2014
First Nations leaders across Canada are now on par with all other elected officials in that they're legally required to make their financial information public - a move that has spurred some criticism, including that from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, neither chiefs in Dettah or Ndilo - the closest Dene communities to Yellowknife - had posted the required information, which includes audited financial statements and a schedule of remuneration and expenses of chief and council. All First Nations leaders are now required to share this information annually, to be posted on the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada website, through the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Dene National chief Bill Erasmus questioned the feds' motives for the legislation, saying the First Nation is already accountable to its people, while Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, told Yellowknifer the act is meant to promote greater accountability of elected officials to community members.

It sounds as though both parties support the end goal of increased transparency.

While it's understandable this legislation may bear the notion of federal undermining of First Nations' right to self-governance, it's clear the status quo is not working, at least not in Ndilo and Dettah where band members have accused their leaders of corruption and complained about a lack of transparency.

Having this information out in the open would not only help clear the air for band members but the chiefs and councillors as well who say they're being unfairly maligned.

The new law creates easy-to-access information for community members who have questions about their leaders' financial activities - and as Canadian citizens, they have the right to seek and receive those answers.

Increased transparency of chiefs and councils is never a bad thing, so long as the information is used to benefit the people who elected them.

Reports don't equal action
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 8, 2014

A cynic today might say that the constant commissioning of reports by government is not a means by which to get things done but merely a stalling tactic to avoid doing anything.

The cynic will suggest while trying to make it appear like they're taking action, they are in fact just trying to buy time and hope that no one notices.

How else then does one explain the inaction following the release of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which has gathered dust at the Yellowknife fire hall for the better part of two years.

The 2012 report, commissioned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, details ways for Yellowknifers to protect their properties from forest fires should they make their way into city limits, identifies areas of the city that could be more susceptible to a spreading wildfire and explores potential legislative options. With recent events in mind, that would seem like pretty pertinent stuff this summer.

Yet handed off to the city, nothing was said to the public nor nothing done. Mayor Mark Heyck saw the report for the first time just a few weeks ago.

While the city has enacted its own fire safety measures, this report is just the latest example of government-commissioned reports that have resulted in nothing more than a few extra bucks in the pocket of whomever wrote them.

Look no further than the multiple reports commissioned on whether 911 emergency phone services should be implemented in the city. Five of them were written between 1992 and 2009, with the last one costing a little under $50,000. And the result of these reports? Nothing. Yellowknife is in the same position for 911 services as it was in 1992 - except for the private sector initiative shown by Ice Wireless, which took it upon itself to supply its customers with the service.

These endless reports aren't worth the paper they're printed on unless something is done with them.

What would have happened, what would residents have thought, had forest fires actually entered the city and recommendations have been made on how to better protect them but nothing was done about it?

A government-commissioned report, by itself, is not a bad thing. Indeed, reports can have a lot of value and a useful source of information when important decisions need to be made.

The city's energy plan, for example, which can be traced back to a 2005 report from the city's community energy planning committee, called on city hall to reduce its power use and be more energy efficient. Nine years later, the city has implemented many of the report's recommendations, including the installation of a wood pellet boiler at the Fieldhouse and replacing street lights with greener LED bulbs. This has led to a savings for taxpayers of about $500,000 a year.

Governments need to make this sort of example the norm if it hopes to douse public cynicism toward incessant report-making. So far, the examples are far and few in between.

Summer of fire
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 7, 2014
When Deh Cho residents look back at this summer it will almost certainly be remembered as the summer of the fires.

This forest fire season has been one to remember and shows no signs of letting up any time soon. Both Kakisa and Jean Marie River residents will be able to think back to how forest fires caused the voluntary evacuation of their communities.

People in Jean Marie River will probably never forget the sight of a forest fire approaching the other side of the Mackenzie River and flames sprouting from the top of the forest as it turned into a crown fire. The sound of the fire heard clearly from the other side of the river is also something that will stick in people's minds.

In Fort Providence there hasn't been an evacuation, but residents have seen apocalyptic-style clouds rise from the nearby fires. There are also the stranded motorists.

With Highway 3 opened and closed like a yo-yo as a result of forest fires and smoke along the highway, Fort Providence has had people stuck in it and the nearby campground for as long as three days at a time. Many residents have taken it upon themselves to help those motorists by providing them with free food including sandwiches and soup. Once they are able to continue their journey those travellers will remember not just the forest fires that delayed them, but also the kindness of the people of Fort Providence.

For people with a more imaginative bent, the forest fires and the smoke they have created have also created fantastical scenes.

At the time of writing this, Fort Simpson was into its second consecutive day of looking and smelling like it is on the edge of a giant campfire. The smoke has greatly reduced visibility, and trees and houses at the edge of the visible area seem to meld into the smoke.

It looks a lot like the entire movie The Mist based on a novella of the same name by none other than Stephen King. In the movie a town is terrorized by creatures from another dimension who emerge from a thick mist. Needless to say, few people survive.

It's enough to make any horror and science fiction movie fan wonder what, besides forest fires, is ready to come out of the smoke.

Some summers are marked by hot temperatures, others are notable because rain marred any chance for enjoyment while others are plagued by uncommon numbers of insects. The summer of 2014 will forever be remembered as the summer of the forest fires, although hopefully the region's luck will hold and close calls will be the extent of the stories told to grandchildren.

A testament to top responders
Editorial Comment by Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 7, 2014
The sight of 10 Inuvik firefighters giving up their long civic holiday weekend will hopefully catch the eye of town residents and make them think a bit.

A training session, led by professionals Rich Graeber and Warren McEwan of Draeger Safety Canada, was going well during the field sessions on Sunday Aug. 3 at the department's training facility on Navy Road.

That followed a classroom session on Saturday, Aug. 2, that left both men impressed.

“I've never seen a class take so many notes,” said Graeber. “They're enthusiastic, and they're fast learners.”

That enthusiasm continued on the Sunday when both trainers once again praised the participants for their "energy and enthusiasm" as they learned how to handle a flashover scenario, which is one of the most potentially lethal situations they could experience.

That's been a trait of the fire department under the steady influence of Chief Jim Sawkins, who has years of military and public experience under his belt.

Inuvik has been lucky to share his talents, and so have the firefighters who have prospered under his direction and have embraced a drive to become as professional and competent as they can be.

Sawkins is always the first to praise his people, as he did by pointing out that not many people would give up a long weekend for a training session in what's generally thought of as a volunteer position with the department.

In the two-plus years that Sawkins has been chief, he's ensured the department has access to top-notch training, and he's put a plan in place that's seen some top-of-the-line equipment come in to the department as well.

He's also had a hand setting up and improving a training facility for the department that's proving to be more than useful.

There are plans to turn it into a regional training centre, and that can only benefit everyone living in the Delta region.

If McEwan and Graeber left town this week feeling impressed, they had good reason.

“I've seen full-time departments in other regions that aren't as good as what we found here,” Graeber said. “We're pleasantly surprised, and Inuvik should be paying attention to what the department is doing.”

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