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Grandstanding on Kam Lake
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 6, 2015

When the territorial government rejected a city council bylaw that would have exempted some of the most heavily hit property taxpayers in Kam Lake from a portion of their unexpected tax burden, it became clear council had been grandstanding all along.

Council's attempt to have its taxes forgiven, after failing to realize and prevent the massive tax increase coming to Kam Lake, never had any chance of getting approved. And any attempt to do so was more an attempt to deflect from their failure than fix it.

The tax-forgiveness bylaw was, as the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs said, discriminatory. It would have created two classes of ratepayers: those who must pay their taxes in full, and those who gain a modest exemption.

The Kam Lake affair was mishandled from the beginning. Before the new property tax bills arrived, city administration made assurances to property owners they would not be unduly affected by property assessments which showed a steep rise in the value of their Kam Lake properties.

City administration could not have been more wrong or more misleading.

Property tax bill increases averaged 34 per cent - with some property owners facing 200 per cent tax bill hikes. Approximately 120 property owners in Kam Lake are now on the hook for about $140,000.

Granted, the proposed savings would not have been huge. Coun. Niels Konge, who, as a Kam Lake property owner, recused himself from voting on the proposed bylaw, would have shaved $1,454 from his $15,000 tax bill. The largest beneficiaries of the bill would have saved up to $3,000.

Coun. Adrian Bell proved prescient on the matter. Back in November, Bell questioned whether the proposed bylaw was even ethical.

He was right, it is not.

There are two things left for council to do. First, ensure it doesn't repeat the same ham-fisted approach to managing tax-time expectations of city property owners in the future. Second, council needs to apologize to affected property owners.

Members of city council have done everything but apologize for their mishandling of this property tax roll-out. Coun. Brob Brooks was the only councillor to go on the record and say he regretted the way council handled the affair when he said, "Kam Lake is a fabulous example of how we did it wrong ... I put myself to blame."

Let's hear council say the same.

If council does apologize for the way it handled the Kam Lake tax rollout, property owners should be ready to accept that apology. At the heart of it, Kam Lake property owners saw a big tax hike because their properties had effectively been under-taxed for a number of years.

Now they are shouldered with the full share of their property tax obligation, which other industrial property owners in the city have been carrying all along.

Not too early for fire safety
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 5, 2015

While mid-winter may seem too early to be talking about raging forest fires, it's a topic the Department of Environment and Natural Resources wants people to keep in mind.

Loyal Letcher, an ENR employee, has expressed concern that the 2015 fire season could be another bad one for the territory.

In fact, he said it could be worse as the territory enters a third year of drought.

Last year saw large fires dominating headlines throughout the summer, filling skies around the territory with smoke.

The fires started earlier, spread quickly and were quite intense.

Fire came very close to Kakisa, forcing evacuations. Flames also approached Jean Marie River.

Highways were closed to traffic as the fires burned nearby.

It was considered one of the worst fire seasons in decades. The Deh Cho region, as defined by the territory, had 52 fires as of late October that had burned 1,361.88 square kilometres.

It was a costly summer for the government, which spent more than $50 million battling the flames.

At meetings reviewing the fire season being held in communities, those with cabins in the forest are being asked to register the locations.

That way should a fire break out nearby, firefighters will know there is valuable property at risk.

But they were also told to take steps to safeguard their investments.

By firesmarting properties - removing trees and brush from around buildings - it can help protect them should flames approach.

Residents of communities should also firesmart their properties to help protect them should fires approach.

Letcher said he's concerned about the possibility of fires through the Liard River valley, which he said hasn't had a major fire for several decades.

Given that worry and the warning about another potentially serious fire season, people should heed his advice and register their cabins, firesmart their properties and have emergency plans in place should they need to evacuate.

While there's still plenty of snow on the ground and the temperature is well below zero, it's not too early to be prepared.

Great move to help jamboree
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Muskrat Jamboree is one of the most important events to take place in the town. But the organizing committee revealed to town council on Jan. 26 the sad news that it had failed to submit a lottery licence application for its annual mega bingo. After much discussion, the town couldn't make a day available for the jamboree due to already-approved licences. There would be no bingo for the 2015 festival.

While it's disappointing residents and jamboree-goers won't be able to dab their cards this year and win big money, the more concerning part is the loss of approximately $30,000 in revenue for the jamboree to operate. When you're budget to put on the event is close to $120,000, that kind of revenue hole is tough to fill.

In steps town council. The committee had requested the town donate facility use for the jamboree's king and queen contestants. Every year, contestants raise funds through chili sales, raffle draws, among other things, and the committee wanted to use a town facility for them to run their events. Council unanimously voted to allow contestants the use of the recreation complex for one night each.

For Coun. Derek Lindsay, the jamboree is the most important event the town has every year. With the loss of the bingo and revenue generated from the event, he felt it was important for the town to step in and help.

Couns. Terry Halifax, Joe Lavoie, Clarence Wood and deputy mayor Jim McDonald all agreed -- the town needed to help the king and queen contestants be able to raise more money to help the jamboree cover its expense bill. If they didn't, it could spell financial disaster for the 57-year event. No one wants that to happen. The jamboree brings the town and surrounding communities together. It builds friendship, creates friendly competition and strengthens the community.

So, they took it one step further. Mayor Floyd Roland suggested the town offer a Saturday night at the community hall for the jamboree to host a community event for all the contestants to be a part of. By doing this, he hoped it would help them raise some more money. Council didn't hesitate to vote yes, resoundingly.

This is what makes this town so special, council and community organizations working together for a common goal -- to make Inuvik an inviting and fun place to live.

The jamboree plays such an important role every year, and council did the right thing by stepping up to bat and doing more to help fill the void left by the loss of bingo. Lindsay said the move to help would shine on them all.

Kudos, council, for your efforts. It's shining down on you.

Political remedy prescribed
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Unsafe working conditions at the NWT's only territorial hospital are unacceptable and require immediate action. All MLAs should drive that point home when the legislative assembly comes back into session today.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley has already pledged to raise the issue when the assembly resumes. Others should follow suit.

While it happens to be the case that Stanton Territorial Hospital is in Yellowknife, this hospital serves constituents across the Northwest Territories. While they may not be as vulnerable as front line staff, there's no reason to think they're immune to the reportedly frequent occurrences of violence. Not to mention the "thousands of dollars" worth of damage reportedly done to the facility when one patient -- dissatisfied with his treatment -- flew into a rage, forcing medical staff behind locked doors last November. Those are territorial resources destroyed which may have been put to better use elsewhere.

Yellowknife MLAs should make that clear to their colleagues: This is a territorial issue that requires territorial support.

As for Health Minister Glen Abernethy, he should see this as an opportunity to display more decisive leadership than he has demonstrated so far.

These are serious problems that require immediate solutions. It has already been acknowledged security is a problem. Safety measures should already have been undertaken to address it.

It's a familiar refrain in the legislative assembly, the Department of Health and Social Services uses study after study to delay policy decisions for another day, then leave them to collect dust.

Bureaucrats may get blamed for that but it's Abernethy who'll have to pay the political price for the government's inaction.

Expired meter shouldn't mean prison
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

If somebody comes back to an expired parking meter to find a ticket, the last thing they should be worried about is jail.

Lawyer Jay Bran received a parking ticket last April and is now taking on the city bylaw after he discovered that he could go to jail if he chose to fight the ticket and lost or simply forgot to pay it. The parking meter penalties include six months in jail or a $2,000 fine or both.

Bran said sending someone to jail over an expired meter is an infringement on an individual's charter rights and is preparing a case to challenge the city in territorial court Feb. 18. While he admitted imposing jail is unlikely, he is still upset the bylaw gives the courts the power to do it.

Acknowledging the city needs a way to enforce the fines, Bran thinks the threat of jail is too much of a hammer. He doesn't have an alternative but would prefer the city focus on the fine, adding that some Canadian jurisdictions refuse to renew a person's licence if they have unpaid tickets. In fact, sending someone to jail would cost taxpayers far more than the ticket itself.

A judge will decide whether Bran has a case or not but we agree jail is an absurd punishment over an expired parking meter. Not everyone has the legal expertise Bran has and we welcome his efforts to have this draconian punishment - so severe it is never used - taken off the books.

A more practical legal remedy could serve both the needs of the city and the law without infringing on rights.

Getting personal with racism
Editorial Comment by Darell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

I felt a burning sting while officiating at the Jon Lindell Memorial (JLM) Calm Air Cup in Arviat this past month that I hadn't felt in more than a decade, and one I had hoped I would never feel again.

I've travelled to Arviat to referee hockey for the past 14 years.

During that time I've made a few good friends, refereed some incredible hockey games, and never had any trouble other than the odd heat-of-the-moment rant from a player upset over a call that didn't go his way.

Twice I had to referee every game in an Arviat tournament with one other ref due to a lack of officials willing to travel at the time.

And once I had to ref the final three games of a tournament practically by myself when my ref partner, David Tulugak, had his skate blade broken.

He had it tacked back on and bravely soldiered through the final two games, but he wasn't exactly what you'd call mobile on the ice.

All that, and never an episode that made me feel less than a person.

That is until this past month.

While leaving the ice after a game and making our way to the official's room, two female fans along the same side of the rink started screaming accusations in our direction.

But they weren't the usual cat calls of one-sided referees or three blind mice.

These women were screaming that calls were deliberately being made -- or not being made -- to punish the teams with the most Inuit players on them.

One screamed directly at me that I was racist against Inuit because an offside wasn't called.

A friend who recently retired, and whose intellect I admire very much, remarked recently that white people want everyone to like them and are too sensitive about racism.

Well, I'm sorry good sir, but I beg to differ.

Only an idiot would spend decades as a referee and expect everyone to like him.

But, maybe there is some truth to racism being personal to white folks, but systemic to people of colour.

I admit it's personal to me because I don't have time for racism or the people who practice it -- of any colour.

It's personal to me to have my most special of all spaces -- the hockey arena -- invaded with that poison.

And it's personal having to deal with the anger that swelled up inside me after absorbing the accusation.

I kept walking because it came from a female. Had it been a man, things may have turned out differently.

It's personal being placed on the edge of violence, when you're not a violent man.

I could say racism has no place in our hockey arenas, but that would be redundant with racism having no place in our world at all, yet it thrives among those who can't pull themselves above it.

And it's personal when I'm made to feel, however briefly, that I may not want to return to Arviat again.

It's personal because racism cuts deep on both sides of the knife.

I will, of course, return to Arviat if invited to the tournament again next season.

To give in to racism, at any level, is to turn your back on your own humanity.

And that's just about as personal as it gets!

Squeaky wheels get the grease
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 2, 2015

Not many people turned out for Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger's latest round of budget dialogue meetings.

Over two months, the minister and a representative from his department hosted meetings in seven regional centres, seeking input on how the roughly-$1.6 billion budget should be spent.

According to the government's Budget Dialogue 2014 Results, 97 people turned out for the public meetings and 11 other individuals and organizations made written submissions. The tour itself cost the government an estimated $40,000 - working out to a little more than $400 per person engaged in the process.

While the best attended meeting was unsurprisingly the one held in Yellowknife, only 30 people attended that session. Twenty Inuvik residents turned out to speak with the minister, followed by 17 in Fort Smith, 11 in Norman Wells, eight in Hay River, six in Behchoko and five in Fort Simpson. Once the reporter for Northern News Services and Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche are taken out of the mix, that leaves just three residents at the Fort Simpson meeting - certainly not an ideal justification for making the trip.

If people want to be engaged in the GNWT's budget process - even if they just want to complain - they need to start coming out to these meetings.

Once the minister steps into a community hall, residents had his undivided attention. There is no good excuse not to take advantage of that.

In a jurisdiction as diverse as the Northwest Territories, without a road system to connect all the regions, these consultation tours are extremely important - but residents have to meet the government halfway.

Nonetheless, spending $40,000 to get input from 100 residents is a small price to pay.

Especially when the GNWT's recent junket spending - totalling more than $1 million in the past two weeks alone for promotional trips to Japan, China and now Ottawa - is taken into account.

While face time has a different importance in Asian cultures than it is here in the west - as Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay pointed out in defending the government's $300,000 trip - it is even more important the territorial government puts in some face time in the communities.

This year's budget is shaping up to be an important one. If Ottawa does indeed approve an additional $1 billion for the territory's debt ceiling -- which Miltenberger now hopes will happen before the federal budget is announced in April -- there will be an unprecedented amount of money to spend.

Perhaps some of the issues that continue to nag the territory - living conditions, food availability, medical travel, transportation, elders care, affordable energy, quality education, etc., etc., etc. - can finally see some extra funding.

In this territory, the needs are great and the resources few.

There will not be many more opportunities like this to throw some real money at some of these problems.

However, without an engaged public, politicians and bureaucrats are left alone to make these decisions - and to take the fall if things don't improve.

That's the sort of Catch-22 situation that no one wants to be in.

Port Qikiqtarjuaq needed now
Nunavut/News North - Monday, February 2, 2015

There are a few more pieces of the Nunavut fishery puzzle required to make the most of some recent good news announcements.

The territorial and federal governments have teamed up with $7.1 million for new research. Over the next two years, $3.63 million is to be spent on inshore fisheries science, essentially studying stocks of char, turbot and clams in designated areas. Another $2.98 million is going into researching offshore fisheries stocks - crab, shrimp and halibut. A further $600,000 or so is going to demonstrate the viability of an inland halibut fishery in Grise Fiord and Qikiqtarjuaq.

Last fall, while doing an exploratory fishery off the coast of Qikiqtarjuaq, the Arctic Fishery Alliance boat Kiviuq I found an abundance of shrimp. This followed on the heels of the discovery of large numbers of shrimp at Grise Fiord. The shrimp not only represent an abundant food source for coastal hamlets, they also sell for a good price to processing plants in Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador.

There is also the likelihood the Kiviuq I would have found shrimp ripe for harvesting at Arctic Bay and Resolute Bay. Unfortunately, the exploratory fishery was cut short. The Kiviuq I, low on fuel, had to sail off to Greenland after being refused access to Government of Nunavut diesel from tanks at Arctic Bay and a tanker offshore.

Meanwhile, as detailed in a two-part series that concluded last week in Nunavut News/North, there is an abundance of Inuit beneficiaries being trained for meaningful, full-time employment in the fishing and shipping industries.

The Nunavut Fisheries and Marine Training Consortium involves 14 partners, including federal and territorial government departments, Inuit-owned development corporations, representatives of Inuit beneficiaries and regional fisheries groups formed by hunters and trappers organizations in the hamlets.

Think of the new research funding, existing fishing enterprises, the recent discovery of new stock and active training efforts as a roadmap to prosperity. The problem is this roadmap shows no gas stations, no truck stops and no place to load or unload cargo.

Too often the Arctic Fishery Alliance is selling its catch and buying fuel at the closest geographical location - Greenland -- in Danish krone. There is only one small craft harbour in Nunavut, at Pangnirtung, but it is off the beaten path and has limited capabilities.

A deep water port and processing facility is desperately needed in Qikiqtarjuaq, the most logical location for the fisheries industry.

There has been talk about it for years, just as it has been on the radar of government departments. It has strong support by industry players and the hamlet.

So many other pieces of the puzzle are falling in place. A port could help complete the picture.

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