The cost of mining
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 19, 2015
The six-member NWT Mining Industry Advisory Board held its first meeting recently with Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay. He said the board would be important for the "frank advice" it could offer on encouraging mining and mineral investment in the NWT.
The board is entirely composed of mineral industry players. There can be little doubt this board has the depth of knowledge to offer sound advice, and there may be no better time for that advice than now.
Yellowknifers recently saw Tyhee Gold pull up stakes on its Yellowknife Gold project north of the city, essentially closing the book on one of the GNWT's much-touted near term mining projects.
At the same time, TerraX Minerals Inc. has been valiantly raising exploration capital for its gold project, also north of the city, and last week announced a further $4.5 million in funding to keep the wheels turning.
Some projects perish while other projects flourish, at least as well as can be expected in today's difficult commodity market. Spokespersons for both companies cite difficulties in raising cash as the main barrier to moving forward faster, if at all.
So what is the advisory board going to advise on when it comes to attracting investment to the NWT?
On the face of it, it's very simple: when commodity prices are high enough to justify the extra cost of exploration and development in the North, then investors will put money into those exploration companies working in the North.
If the board has advice on how to make working in the North less expensive so investment is feasible even when commodity prices are down, let's hear it.
But if the board is going to hold up the bugbear of the GNWT's regulatory environment as a hindrance to investment, it should explain exactly what it means by that.
The North has seen too many examples of what goes wrong when the regulatory environment is lax. The Giant Mine cleanup -- now to cost taxpayers upwards of $1.5 billion -- is only the most blatant example of how terribly wrong things can go.
On a smaller scale, we can turn to the abandoned Snowfield property approximately 50 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife on Drybones Bay. NWT taxpayers are on the hook for more than $200,000 in clean-up costs at the site thanks to the exploration company's inability to finance site restoration.
The territory needs a strong regulatory environment that will prevent abuses such as this, not a more slack set of regulations to encourage investment while damning the environment.
The North does not need investment that cannot finance its own clean-up. Minister Ramsay, take that proposal to the board for frank advice.
If this board intends to raise concerns about the NWT's regulatory environment in relation to investment, be specific about those concerns. If they bear out public scrutiny, the public may well be the first to support a regulatory adjustment.
But a vague complaint about regulations hindering investment is neither welcome nor useful.
Tax hikes a bitter but necessary pill
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, June 18, 2015
The old saying goes that there are two things in life that are certain: death and taxes.
And sure enough, property owners know that every year around the same time, they will receive a bill in the mail.
As municipalities grow and provide more services, taxes increase accordingly. It should come as no surprise for residents who enjoy walking on municipal infrastructure, using municipal facilities or even just flushing their toilet.
All of those things are made possible because of taxes.
And yet, many residents in Fort Simpson still fall behind, whether by choice or circumstance.
This week, the village is deciding whether to raise residential taxes by three per cent or do away with part of a 20-year-old tax rebate that puts tens of thousands of dollars back into the pockets of people who pay their taxes on time.
The village already has a tax problem. Dozens of people have fallen behind on property taxes and utility bills. Dozens more are in danger of falling behind, according to village council.
The village must tread carefully when it makes its decision. Rolling back the current rebate could hurt the amount of money they currently bring in, as people who are up to date on their taxes lose incentive to pay on time. At the same time, increasing taxes - while often necessary - won't encourage anyone to pay their bills and will likely only cause already-unpaid sums to grow.
Incentives are fine if you balance them with education and a good community discussion. If the government was more public about the breadth of its services and what tax evaders might miss out on, that alone could be an incentive. For instance, council has discussed whether the village can shut off water to those who don't pay their taxes.
There's no real mechanism to force people to pay their fare share of the taxes they owe. That needs to be addressed above all, or else property owners will continue to take advantage of the village.
Nobody likes making tough decisions. But it's time to crack down on taxes.
The village needs to hold an open discussion with the community to figure out a solution that is fair for everyone.
What to do with bears
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 18, 2015
News the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, along with Inuvik RCMP officers, had to kill a young grizzly bear on the outskirts of Inuvik last week should trouble some people.
While it's not the first time a bear has been destroyed because it's threatening to become a nuisance to residents, there is reason to question how this latest incident developed and what triggered it.
The bear, estimated at 113 kilograms and rather thin, was likely a two-year old that had just been given the proverbial boot by its mother. In an effort to establish its own territory and to find food, the bear literally would have followed its nose to Inuvik.
There it found some bounty in the garbage boxes along Wolverine Road and nearby Bompas Road. Unfortunately, residents in those areas don't have the same access to bear-proof dumpsters other people in town do.
The bear did what bears do, which is to eat whenever they find food.
To a young bear, Inuvik likely looked like a buffet.
Since the scavenger could get into the garbage, it did, and returned repeatedly.
Bears, like most people, have a lazy streak. If there's an easy way to do something, they'll find it. They also have excellent memories when it comes to finding food.
ENR and the RCMP did the right thing by trying to frighten the bear off at first. For a few hours, it looked as if they would be successful.
Unfortunately, the bear returned and wasn't going to be deterred this time.
Twice, it was driven away only to return again.
On the third occasion, the tough decision was made to destroy the animal because it wasn't showing much fear of people.
The bear suffered a gunshot wound to its abdomen. That meant ENR officers had to track it into the bush and finish it off because a wounded bear would have compounded the problem.
That shooting, as described by an ENR spokesperson, sounds unnecessarily brutal, and perhaps indicates a need to refine the techniques of dealing with wildlife.
However, the major point that remains to be answered is why, when much of the town has access to bear-proof dumpsters, residents on the fringes of town, closest to heavy bush, don't, and have to use their own bins.
It's not a certainty that this bear would have shambled off if it hadn't been able to raid residential garbage, but it's a likely scenario.
So perhaps it's time for the Town of Inuvik to reconsider its garbage policies.
Time to kill Senate
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 17, 2015
While the auditor general's report has shed light on the padding of senators' expense accounts, all that pales in comparison to the total cost of the Senate as a whole.
NWT Senator Nick Sibbeston was found to owe taxpayers $50,102, or about half of one per cent of what the senate costs Canadians each and every year.
Specifically, that's $102,717,842 for the year of 2014. If the federal government were to distribute that money equally among all 13 provinces and territories, the NWT's share would be $7,901,372.
That's more than enough to run the Yellowknife Airport for a year.
It's a little bit more than what the latest territorial budget put toward a three-year plan to add 169 public housing units in smaller communities.
Does the Senate offer the same bang for its buck?
It's supposed to be a place for sober second thought but voters already have a venue for second thoughts. Every time an election is called voters are invited to ask themselves if they made the right call in choosing their elected representatives. If not, the representative is sent packing.
Ironically, there's almost no opportunity for the same kind of sober second thought that might lead a senator to be fired.
Under the constitution, senators may only be removed if they fail to attend Senate for two consecutive sessions of Parliament, if they take an oath of allegiance to a foreign power or become a citizen of another country, go bankrupt, are convicted of a felony or lose their residences or properties in the jurisdiction where they were appointed. This fails to take into account a senator's performance, so whether they do their jobs well or not, they're basically guaranteed their seats so long as they show up, keep their noses clean and keep their homes.
But even assessing performance is a challenge. Since the vast majority of senators are political appointees, they don't have to make a mandate for themselves in the same way an MP would need a platform.
The Senate may have seemed like a good idea at the birth of the country in 1867 but 148 years later it's difficult to justify. The federal NDP has taken on senate abolishment as a federal election campaign issue - a tall order as long as the provinces are providing the Senate life support - but it's an idea that is clearly gaining momentum with voters.
In the meantime, it might be worth having the auditor general take a look at MPs' expense reports. As much dirt has been found in the Senate red chamber, there's bound to be more in the House of Commons.
Avens a sound investment
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Health Minister Glenn Abernethy ought to rethink his government's decision to turn down a request to support the $28-million long-term care facility expansion proposed by the Avens Community for Seniors.
Construction of Avens' planned 30-bed development stalled after the territorial government balked at the prospect of paying for operational costs, despite the fact such a facility would save taxpayers money in the long term, as pointed out by Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro in Yellowknifer last week.
According to figures from the Department of Health and Social Services, the 20 beds at Stanton Territorial Hospital's medicine unit cost the government $756 per day to fill and the hospital's 12 extended-care beds cost $1,050 per day.
At Avens, the GNWT pays $373 per day to fill each of the 28 beds in the dementia facility and $341 per day for each of the 29 beds in the senior home's long-term care facility. Patients pay $25 per day for the beds at both Avens facilities.
As an increasing number of residents remain in the capital through their senior years, including those coming from elsewhere in the territory to take advantage of better services in Yellowknife, and given that the capital's aging population will demand more services and extended care beds for the elderly in coming decades, now is the time to think ahead by adding costs for a portion of the Avens facility to the GNWT's capital plan.
Abernethy's stated preference to fund further analysis and pay for working groups as a strategy for inching the project along is getting old.
Music not a race issue
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, June 17, 2015
I'd like to thank all those who have taken the time, both in person and online, to discuss their tastes in music with me and offer their take on some of the points I've raised in the past.
Music plays a fairly significant role in the yearly routines of our communities.
And it's a topic I never get tired of discussing and, in some cases, debating rather passionately.
I don't like the term arguing when it comes to music, especially when talking about one's likes or dislikes.
There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to the type of music a person prefers.
People who know me can attest to the fact I listen to a wide range of music.
We're talking the musical equivalent of the Grand Canyon here.
But the truth is, the vast majority of it falls under the categories of rock and roll, rock and hard rock.
In short, I'm a rocker and will be until the day six of my friends carry me out.
I don't "get" classical or jazz, and I have no use for country except for the odd splash of Garth Brooks, Charlie Major or Dwight Yoakam.
And, truth be told with Yoakam, I like his style and storytelling enough to put up with the twangy way they're delivered once in awhile.
What's bothering me lately, however, is the number of people who get personal and make hateful accusations if you don't agree with their opinions or share their taste in music.
And it's so damn maddening because it's so damn symptomatic of the way too many try to steer discussions today.
I don't listen to the songs of Charley Pride because I get absolutely no enjoyment out of country music, especially old-school country.
It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact he's African-American.
Being a Beatles fanatic, I would not hesitate to place a little wager on the fact I know a lot more about Yoko Ono than the average music fan, as she comes with the territory when you're big time into the Beatles.
But I have about as much admiration for her avant-garde stylings as I have understanding of it, which is little and none.
My dislike of her wailing like a banshee over nerve-shredding feedback from a guitar has absolutely nothing to do with the fact Yoko Ono is Japanese.
Yet, I will cease objectively discussing her art when it's insinuated I don't like it for any reason other than the fact she is Japanese.
It's a way to imply I'm a racist without using the word, and an effective means of ending the conversation before I can make a point that may lend some credence to my contention she is not effective as an avant-garde or underground artist.
It is also, unfortunately, a strategy employed all too often today.
I find the arbitrary playing of the race card reprehensible in every application, because it demeans the efforts of those who built their actions and arguments on fact and conviction.
Whether discussing music, the merits of an art form, dividends paid at a local Co-op, or the recommendations put forth in trying to reconcile those affected by a national tragedy, it is a cheap tactic meant to elicit nothing but pain, guilt and anger.
And, as a means of furthering intellectual and productive dialogue, it strikes nothing but sour notes!
Truth, reconciliation and education
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, June 15, 2015
There was a nun at the Fort Providence residential school who used give something to children who were caught crying.
It was an empty sardine can, and according to NWT Senator and former residential student Nick Sibbeston in his testimonial to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it was to be used as a vessel for children to "collect their tears."
The Truth and Reconciliation report is made up of powerful anecdotes like the one above which illustrate what life was like for children in the residential school system.
Florence Horassi remembers a nun giving her a clothespin to plug her nose so she could eat her lunch -- rotten fish -- without throwing up while living at a school in Fort Providence. Wayne Reindeer recalls running away from Grollier Hall to his family home in Inuvik and hiding under his house for two days, his siblings smuggling him food. His father "dragged (him) back, kicking and screaming all the way" after administrators came to inquire about where he was. Nellie Cournoyea remembers how aboriginal families along the Mackenzie River provided her shelter as she fled south from Stringer Hall in Inuvik. Alphonsine McNeely told the commission about the time a nun washed her mouth with soap for speaking her language with a classmate.
Every Canadian should spend some time with the final report.
It is an impressive culmination of eight year's work that tells the comprehensive history of 130 residential schools that ran 150 years with very little in terms of government oversight or funding but one overarching mandate. A mandate so destructive it has left many Canadians struggling with the sobering accusation that through this system our government committed cultural genocide.
"The deputy minister of Indian Affairs predicted in 1920 that in a century, thanks to the work of these schools, aboriginal people would cease to exist as an identifiable cultural group in Canada," states the introduction to the final report, marking possibly the first time in history a bureaucrat has ever written with enthusiasm about the demise of his own department.
Setting aside the individual instances of sexual and physical abuse, the infamous electric chair, nutrition experiments, forced child labour and other indignities, our government's deliberate attempt to eradicate First Nations, Inuit and Metis cultures is the biggest shame of the residential school system. Now, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has finished its work, the rest of the country has to do its part.
Canadians have to take the time to understand how our government was able to commit such an injustice so they can safeguard against it ever happening again. To do this, the federal government must make sure residential school history becomes part of the curriculum of every school in Canada. It's the one recommendation of the 94 released last week that stands out as an absolute must do.
The territorial government has shown leadership in this regard by implementing residential school history into curriculum and Alberta announced last week it would follow suit.
We are heading in the right direction but until every single Canadian student is taught what the residential school system was, how it happened and the ways its legacy continues to affect people today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2007 apology to former residential school students on behalf of the federal government will ring as hollow as that Fort Providence nun's empty sardine can.
Invest in alternative energy now or pay the price later
Nunavut/News North - Monday, June 15, 2015
The technology that harnesses tidal energy - creating electricity out of the cyclical movement of the ocean - is in its infancy and hydro electricity is a costly venture, especially up north.
But the government's position that effectively shut the door on these alternative power-supply options is short-sighted and to the detriment of the territory.
Whether tidal, hydro, solar or wind-powered generation, the fact is Nunavut must explore technology that alleviates the reliance on costly diesel energy - particularly now when that cost has dropped, freeing up cash to sink into these projects. Yes, these ventures will require more than what is left by the lowered diesel price but in the long run, it means aging diesel generators and fluctuating fuel prices will no longer be the determinant of Nunavut's energy costs.
Sounds pretty freeing, doesn't it?
It's too bad the territory doesn't have a voice in Ottawa that could really use some positive press on the home front and has an interest in sustainable development projects. Oh wait, Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq will be seeking re-election this fall, after what could be gently called a tough couple of years with Nutrition North proving a failure within the territory and an audit of CanNor - for which she is the minister responsible - coming back as less than glowing. She also happens to be the Minister of the Environment.
How many calls has the territorial government made to seek some southern support for alternative energy projects?
While the opportunity to make an investment in the future of Nunavut is ripe, the government is arguing that there needs to be "a solid business case and rationale," according to Finance Minister Keith Peterson.
It appears the uncertainty and cost of renewable energy projects has the GN putting on the brakes, yet it will continue to fork out dollar after dollar for non-renewables, the price of which fluctuates completely out of the control of the government.
What's so certain about that?
While it may not be as simple as canvassing Parliament Hill for a few dollars toward an energy project, if the technology is rejected outright there's no doubt Nunavut will remain tied to non-renewables.
The fact is, the GN will have to spend money to save money.
Peterson said, "As a government, we simply can't afford mega projects in Nunavut."
We would argue, as a government, they simply can't afford this inhibited perspective.