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You are the best defense against forest fires
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, May 25, 2015

A heatwave has descended upon the territory over the past two weeks with temperatures reaching 30 C in the Deh Cho, 28 C in Inuvik and 28 C in Norman Wells.

The sudden and early May heat has wrought the beginning of the dreaded forest fire season as indicated by the NWT fire map, which is already showing blazes in the Deh Cho and South Slave. All indications point to this summer's fire season matching, if not surpassing, last year's.

In the face of such bad news, who can blame any of us for wanting to pour an ice-cold beverage, hitch a ride on a floaty toy and tune out warnings of the hazy, smoky air forecast to come our way.

Before we forget our worries and give in to the dog days of summer, it's important to acknowledge the Department of Environment and Natural Resource's (ENR) 2014 fire season report, which is filled with all sorts of lessons learned from the worst wildfire season in the territory's record. The report analyzes the government's role in managing wildfires and, even more importantly, residents' roles.

"There is a public expectation ENR will be able to protect all property, at all times, which simply isn't possible in an extreme fire season," states the report.

"Under the NWT forest fire management policy, the protection of human life takes precedence over all other values."

That's right. Those who own and maintain structures across the territory can't depend on the government to swoop in and save their property in the face of encroaching fire this summer.

ENR throws down the gauntlet later in the report.

"Many communities and property owners need to accept more responsibility to help in protecting their infrastructure or property through protection plans and/or FireSmart efforts," it states.

An organization called Partners in Protection created FireSmart in the 1990s and the territorial government has adopted this program to educate people about fire protection. Its list of easy, do-it-yourself ways to reduce the risk of fire damage is posted on the GNWT's fire website.

Things like making sure rooftops are clear of branches, pine needles and other flammable objects, making sure chimneys are up to code, removing grass, branches, shrubs and pine needles from within 10 metres of dwellings, making sure there is a nearby water supply and storing firewood more than 10 metres from structures.

So why not take a moment to peruse the site, get educated and then feel good about being proactive before going out to enjoy this hot and sunny weather before it gets too smoky.

Still open for business despite denial for mine
Nunavut/News North - Monday, May 25, 2015

Mining companies who keep a close eye on the climate for economic activity in Nunavut shouldn't get the wrong impression from a negative result experienced earlier this month by the owners of the proposed Kiggavik uranium project outside Baker Lake.

The Nunavut Impact Review Board denied approval for Areva Resources Canada's project, which would see one underground and four open-pit mines approximately 80 km west of the hamlet.

The basis for the decision, released May 8, is that the proposal as presented has no definite start date or development schedule. The review board, therefore, had no way of predicting the mining operations' impact on the environment, wildlife or people in the area, which may change as years go by.

The proposed mining operation is in between caribou calving grounds for the Beverly and the Qamanirjuaq herds and is near the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, considered the largest and most remote wildlife refuge on the North American continent.

The Inuit owners of the land have retained their integrity by successfully opposing the open-ended plan and the potential pressure it would place on the caribou herds some time in the future.

The Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Organization was one of the opponents to the proposal as an intervener during a two-week hearing held in Baker Lake in March, going so far as calling for the hearing to be suspended on its first day because of uncertainty with the project start date and a lack of protection measures for wildlife in the immediate area.

Areva Resources Canada stated it could take up to 20 years for the site to be developed, depending on the market conditions for uranium, which is currently in a price slump.

Industry movers and shakers need to keep the status of the project in perspective to realize that the denial for Kiggavik does not mean Nunavut is closed for business.

In fact, the groundwork still has value. Areva has done a considerable amount of work and invested a great deal of money into the Kiggavik project. The 10,000-page Kiggavik Project Final Environmental Impact Statement required more than eight years of technical studies assessing the potential environmental, health and safety, and socio-economic effects of the project.

There is nothing to prevent the company from making an application to proceed again if market conditions improve.

If the price of uranium increases, Areva could see it makes economic sense to come up with a plan which sets a firm timeline and mitigates the mine operation's impact on caribou, fish and marine wildlife in consultation with Inuit hunters, fishers and trappers. The company could then negotiate Inuit impact and benefit agreements.

There are good reasons for the review board to rule against this mining project, several worthy of consideration by other industry players. Overall, Nunavut is very much open for business and its regulatory approval process has proven that it has the best interest of beneficiaries and the environment at heart.

Recipe for disaster
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, May 22, 2015

Going out for a nice meal is usually a pleasant experience.

What is far less enticing is the knowledge that at least six Yellowknife eateries have gone without health inspections for more than two years.

The fact that another two establishments have gone unchecked for three and four years respectively is even less likely to whet one's appetite.

As alarming as that sounds, that is what News/North learned following an investigation of the territorial government's health inspection regimen within the city.

According to a health inspector responsible for carrying out the inspections, the six eateries did not require the government's seal of approval because he is familiar with their operators and trusted them to be clean.

This logic is obviously flawed.

Even the most vigilant restaurant operators - that is, the managers and owners who oversee day-to-day operations and enforce the rules -- cannot be expected to keep an eye on things every day of the week. This is even more apparent if more than one establishment is being operated.

Consistency is difficult to maintain in any business. It would seem even more so in the food trade where staff turnover is typically very high.

In the absence of regular inspections the only expectation is complacency. A lack of paper towel in the dispenser one day may very quickly lead to a workplace culture of not washing hands when preparing meals or making sure a broken dishwasher gets fixed - particularly if the expectation is that the health inspector never visits.

Oversights with the GNWT's health inspection regimen come as a surprise given that the department's standards are actually quite high - "high risk" businesses such as restaurants are supposed to be checked three times a year. Online records show that the majority of food establishments have been checked just once in the past year.

Fortunately, Health Minister Glen Abernethy seems as repulsed by the newspaper's findings as likely everyone else who read the story was and is now calling for an audit of his department's handling of inspections.

He also promised all establishments that have slipped under the food inspector's radar the past few years will be checked by the end of the month.

He should also make it easier for the public to access information about the results of the inspections. Although the reports are available online on the health department's website, in some cases they have not been kept up to date. Meanwhile, those digging for dirt on a given restaurant must search through the inspector's reports themselves rather than being able to resort to a comprehensive grading system.

A colour-coded scheme, prominently displayed both in the restaurant and online, already commonly used by other jurisdictions, would also go a long way to simplifying the process and restoring public faith in the government's standards.

With just two seven-day sessions left until the next election and promises to push through a new Mental Health Act already on his plate, Abernethy will be quite busy over the next few months.

Let's hope he can deliver the goods before the check comes.

Youth can bring unique ideas to political stage
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, May 21, 2015

Few places are as ripe for a career in professional politics as the Northwest Territories.

Between the high ratio of politicians to citizens and the flow of free money from Ottawa, government in the North is a booming industry.

Students at youth parliament in Yellowknife had a glimpse into the life of a member of the legislative assembly this month.

They got to draft statements, debate motions in the chamber and talk to reporters afterward.

Typically, good students go to these sort of events, ones who speak well in class and are confident presenting in front of a crowd.

Those students are impressive. Some speak so professionally, even using the right buzzwords, that they could step into a government office today and nothing would seem off.

But politics needs more than the good students. It needs the black sheep, the rabble-rousers, the troublemakers.

One of the great benefits of a free democracy is being able to capture the whimsical, idealistic, creative, progressive spirit of young people.

School teaches youth to act a certain way, fall in line and give the "right" answers.

That works for a career in marketing, but being a good politician goes far beyond public relations skills.

It's not easy to go against the grain in school.

Some exceptional youth go so against the grain they are seen as troubled students and underachievers through their school years.

This is a tragedy, but everyone eventually realizes the real world is a whole new ball game.

In youth parliament this year, students spoke at length about current issues and goals of the territorial government.

But youth are beings of a new generation. They have a lot more to offer than the continuation of current programs and enforcement of the status quo.

Sylvia Pascua-Matte, a Grade 10 student from Fort Simpson who attended youth parliament, said not many students signed up for the program.

She thinks more should.

She's right. Youth should eat up any chance they get to see the inner workings of government, no matter how staged and sanitized the event is.

Soon it will be their turn for real, and they'll get to call the shots.

Victoria Day holiday perfect for activities
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, May 21, 2015

Thank goodness for some peculiarly warm weather to give us something to talk about.

The Victoria Day long weekend was blessed with some spectacular weather, culminating in temperatures of at least 27 C on May 18, Victoria Day Monday.

That will likely establish a new record for the date, and it was certainly the talk of the town, with average temperatures expected to be between 7 C and 10 C.

Many people were obviously thrilled by the weather, if a little perplexed.

One person in particular I talked to on Monday simply couldn't believe how warm it was.

"I just don't know what's going on with the weather any more," he said. "We didn't have much of a winter, and now this."

We can ponder the reason why all we wish, but it's fairly obvious the climate is changing here in the Mackenzie Delta.

Considering that, it might be time to revisit what we can do with an early long weekend such as Victoria Day.

It's one of those long weekends that, so far as events go, was a bit of a dud here in town. Generally, it's a holiday that pales beside some of the others.

It's more than understandable that Aboriginal Day is the preeminent holiday here and Canada Day is a big day as well.

Victoria Day is more subdued, thanks in part to weather that has traditionally been a little suspect.

However, with the seasons changing rapidly, there's an opportunity to be grasped for community groups and government organizations to alter their thinking a touch.

A drive out to Gwich'in Park on May 16 showed it was at least half full of campers at a time when it's not officially open.

There were a number of cars lined up at the entrance to Jak Park as well, making me suspect that some people might have dodged the gate and packed camping gear up to the campground.

Parks here don't officially open until June 1, which has customarily been the time when the weather could begin to be reliably suitable for camping.

With the weather this year, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment missed a glorious chance to take advantage of the weather, which had been predicted in the long-term forecast.

Likewise, the Arctic Market typically opens toward the end of June but with the lack of events happening around town, there would have been an opportunity there to open it early.

Adding to the potential is the fact that with the river crossings along the Dempster closed at the moment, there is a bit of a captive market here in town, which means people are also looking for things to do.

Perhaps it's time to escape tradition, and put a little more flexibility into holiday weekend planning.

Minister steps into the octagon
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The recent postponed mixed martial arts event lost a tough fight to a system that, while set up to keep politics out, failed at just that.

The NWT Liquor Licensing Board refused to license a beer garden for the Northern Invasion event - to be run by and benefiting the NWT SPCA - which forced organizer John Stanley to call it off rather than risk losing money.

The board cited various reasons for its decision in a report, including a late submission, advertising liquor sales on its posters, as well as deeming it a "high-risk event from the perspective of liquor enforcement and policing."

The board is overseen by the Department of Finance, and its minister Michael Miltenberger stood by the decision, even defending it to the public.

Comparing the quasi-judicial board to a judge, he said the board should not have to answer questions on its decisions, so he fielded them instead.

While the minister is not able to change the decision - a protection built into the legislation to keep political pressures out - it is becoming difficult to separate the board from the minister after his latest comments.

The fact is, this apolitical issue was politicized the minute Miltenberger became its spokesperson.

This was highlighted - in an unmistakably fluorescent hue - when he took to the airwaves, comparing the animal rights and protection organization's intention to garner funds from a seemingly violent sport, to Alcoholics Anonymous raising money through beer garden sales in order to help people quit drinking.

While the off-the-cuff analogy misses the mark, its sentiment is clear.

This event is not favoured by the politician heading the department that oversees liquor licence approval. From Miltenberger's perspective, these events are violent and not an ethically sound environment for fundraising by the SPCA.

Whether or not he is able to directly affect the board's decision, this opinion, provided on a public platform, is political.

While the board argued previous events have seen fights among patrons, putting the public in danger, Stanley insists that is not the case.

Yellowknifer, which must be noted is one of the main sponsors for the event, talked to several people who attended previous MMA fights who all said security in the past has been adequate and fighting among patrons has been minimal.

Unable to point to specific incidents of violence, it would appear neither Miltenberger or the board are basing their contention of fan violence on fact.

Clearly, the minister and the board are on the same page when it comes to MMA; while fighters go toe-to-toe, this sounds a lot like a tag-team takedown to everyone else.

Food Rescue helps helpers
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sometimes the most obvious solutions can stare people dead in the eye without them noticing them there and it takes someone with real vision to take advantage.

That's what former Yellowknifers Ruby and Laurin Trudel, the founders of Food Rescue, did in a nutshell when they created an organization that gathers up food destined for the dumpster and takes it to the Salvation Army, the YWCA, the Centre for Northern Families and the Safe Harbour Day Centre among other places.

Now they have the recognition to show for it.

"Thanks to their vision, action and dedication, 1.6 million pounds of food and other items have been diverted from the landfill for processing and redistribution," reads the descriptor to the Governor General Caring Award given to each co-founder recently.

Feeding the hungry is a wonderful thing to do. Reducing waste may not tug at the heartstrings in quite the same way but that's important too. What the food rescue program does goes beyond that.

The city's most vulnerable face powerful obstacles. Those organizations that take in the offerings from Food Rescue are working to do what they can but the day that no one suffers from addiction, homelessness, domestic violence and mental illness is still a long way away.

Until then, it looks like Food Rescue will continue to make sure those seeking to lend a hand have one less thing to worry about.

Better to be in the game!
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Anyone who thought Areva Resources Canada's Kiggavik uranium project near Baker Lake was going to get a thumb's-up from the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB) was dreaming.

But it had little to do with the lobbying efforts of special-interest groups, the what-did-you-expect-it-to-do resolution against the project by the Kivalliq Wildlife Board or Areva's environmental impact statement.

And Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit's release claiming a clear majority of Inuit in the Kivalliq expressed opposition to the project is downright misleading.

That is, unless you subscribe to Stephen Harper's take on democracy, where one shepherd tells every flock what's best for them.

Areva took due diligence and community consultation to a whole new level in addressing every concern that arose.

And it was heavily engaged with Kivalliq communities to establish training programs to ensure as many Inuit as possible would be employed on the project, had it proceeded.

Areva was snubbed by NIRB due to the fact it was not prepared to give the company a carte blanche approval on a project which may not see movement for decades, due to the instability of the uranium market at this point in time.

And it was the right call -- for now!

But should the day come the global market supports the project, Kiggavik will return and, hopefully, the final result will be favourable for the project and the hundreds of high-paying jobs it will provide for Inuit families.

The world is opening-up quickly and Nunavut is fast-approaching a crossroads in exploration and development, and the huge economic spin-offs that come with them.

If the territory decides to stubbornly sit on the sidelines -- especially with the opening of previously non-existent shipping lanes and access to previously non-obtainable areas of exploration -- it will inherit all the risks associated with the expansion with little say into, and no benefit from, the proceedings.

Tensions are rising over Arctic sovereignty because of the belief in the incalculable riches in fossil fuels that await the nation(s) that eventually gain access, and the billions more there for the taking should the Northwest Passage become the Suez Canal North.

Far better to be actively involved with the process to ensure proper monitoring of every project within a harpoon's throw of our territory, and to get our share of the insane profits that will go to somebody.

The world's population will reach 7.2 billion this year, with the majority demanding the lights go on when they flick a switch.

And therein sits the paradox.

It's all well and good to clutch the electronic device of your choice and fill cyber space with ramblings on alternative energy sources (which still don't exist), and take an anti-everything stance covering it all from the Alberta oil sands to fracking, Northern exploration, the continued use of fossil fuels, tanker shipping and, of course, nuclear energy.

Then you turn your thermostat up and expect your living environment to be warm.

We can be players, or we can be spectators, as the needs of 7.2 billion people continue to be met, but, one thing you can depend on, the game will continue with or without us.

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