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Lessons learned in the flames
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The wildfire season is drawing to a close.

Despite dire predictions of another smokey summer, this year's burn covered an area one fifth the size of last year's burn.

There are several reasons for this, says a representative from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

First, it got colder and wetter in August. Second, a lot of fuel was consumed in last year's burn. Third, this year fire crews took a more aggressive stance on fires that showed long-term potential for burning.

The first two factors are impossible to control, but the last one is different.

An even more aggressive stance might be what it takes to keep fires like the one on Reid Lake under control. In this instance, had the weather not been as co-operative as it was, the outcome may have been disastrous. Flames came within 100 to 200 metres of cabin-owner Maureen Tonge's property on the north side of the lake. That doesn't leave a lot of leeway for less co-operative weather.

Certainly, firefighters and their supervisors have a lot of tough choices in front of them. Spending more resources to control fires that may go out on their own leaves less available to fight fires that may threaten communities.

But with flames flickering so close to property, more pro-activity may have been called for.

And so it is left to firefighters to wonder what might have happened if the weather had been different and what they might have done to prevent such a close call.

As wildfire crews get to back to their regular off-season routines -- a department spokesperson said last week there were no crews battling fires -- we hope that they and their supervisors will ponder at length lessons learned on the field.

Thankfully, this season surpassed expectations.

The goal now should be how to do the same should even greater threatening conditions reignite next summer.

Budding eateries need your support
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The restaurant business is competitive in most communities.

Factor in an isolated city like Yellowknife, with only so many people to feed, long distances to deliver supplies, the high cost of living and the difficulties mount.

Two restaurants opened their doors a few weeks ago - Kilt and Castle and Twin Pine Diner - two very different establishments with equally different owners. Twin Pine is the culmination of veteran chef and Chopped Canada contestant Robin Wasicuna. Kilt and Castle is owned by first-time restauranteur Bob Stewart. Both reported glitches and problems in their first

weeks of operation.

Stewart said he ran out of a premium beer, food and had staffing issues.

Wasicuna also had staffing issues, which forced him to close for a week to re-launch.

Despite the problems, there is an upside: People are getting out to try these eateries and reporting on the good and bad.

People reluctant to walk into a new establishment still rely on the opinions of others, whether through word of mouth and increasingly more from online. One bad experience, especially a first-time, can colour a person's permanent impression.

However, we ask that people keep an open mind. There are always a few bugs in the system when a business opens its doors. These eateries are a work in progress and need support. Restauranteurs are still members of this community and trying to establish a business that will eventually create jobs, pay taxes and eventually add to the cultural fabric.

Drop in and let them know what you liked and didn't like. Such comments should be appreciated and will hopefully help the business achieve success. It's all about the customers.

All bets off with Anawak
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Catchy hashtag aside while rolling out their candidate, the NDP have taken a huge risk in naming Jack Anawak as the party's choice in Nunavut for the Oct. 19 federal election.

Anawak was quick on his feet to make it known he voted NDP the first two times he cast a ballot in his life, but anyone who accepts that as proof he's a bona fide NDP believer simply hasn't been paying attention.

Anawak, despite what he may claim since accepting the NDP nomination, will forever be linked to the Liberal Party of Canada, and that encompasses his political past, present and, for all intents and purposes, his future.

Make no mistake about it, in accepting this nomination Anawak has not "come back home" to the NDP as he claims.

He has, in fact, left the Liberals and crossed the imaginary floor to the NDP for another shot at office.

The orange wave that has been doing its best to flood the political landscape and have Thomas Mulcair elected as our next prime minister has been built, for the most part and with a nod to the memory of Jack Layton, on young, forward-thinking candidates. I have been a supporter of Mr. Anawak in the past, and still contend he got a raw deal when voted out of cabinet in Nunavut in 2003.

That being said, he is up against an incumbent who has taken the art of milking a photo opp for everything it's worth to previously unscalable heights and a feisty Liberal candidate who is, arguably, the most astute politician and plugged-into-current-issues candidate in the field. The fact the Liberals knew this was their best chance to dethrone Leona Aglukkaq in years, and chose Hunter Tootoo as the candidate most likely to get the job done, speaks volumes to anyone who is listening.

While I tip my hat to Mr. Anawak for his past successes and applaud his spirit in agreeing to step up one more time, he is past his best-before date as a politician.

And, if the ongoing attempts to entice more Nunavut youth to vote are successful, the odds are very high that the vast majority of them will view him as part of the old guard and cast their ballot elsewhere.

I must, in good conscience, mention the fourth Nunavut candidate in the Green Party's Spencer Rocchi. As far as the Green Party's chances in Nunavut; let's just say stranger things have happened, but not many, and leave it at that.

Aglukkaq is hoping Nunavut's old political warhorse has enough shine left on him to split the vote looking for change and return her to Ottawa as Nunavut's MP.

And it's always a good move to study the table very carefully before deciding to bet against Anawak.

But this time out, we should be looking at a very tight two-candidate race between Aglukkaq and Tootoo.

Just how much the Nutrition North debacle has injured Aglukkaq, and how much ill will lingers over her handling of a contentious situation in Rankin Inlet, remains to be seen.

She has the ear of the best political gamesmanship artist in Canada in our prime minister, and she remains popular in a number of Nunavut corners despite her missteps of the past 18 months or so.

As for Anawak, he is one candidate who I wouldn't mind seeing prove me wrong, but I can't place my bet on his side of the table.

Get your election issues straight
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, August 31, 2015

In preparation for the upcoming election season, think about which Northern issues will be the most important to you.

Is it the high cost of living? Whether or not the Sahtu should embrace fracking? How about education? The lack of an addictions treatment centre? The declining population and the amount the territory gets in transfer payments from the feds? Does the P3 model of funding projects such as Stanton Territorial Hospital renovations in Yellowknife and the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic Line rile you up? Or how about the high unemployment rate in the communities, regulation of the caribou hunt or the resolution of land claim negotiations?

Now, think about who is responsible for your pet issue. Some of these topics, such as the high cost of living and land claim negotiations, are problems that straddle both federal and territorial jurisdictions. Others squarely fall at the feet of one or the other.

For example, Conservative candidate Floyd Roland recently told Yellowknife media that the NWT doesn't necessarily need to allow hydraulic fracturing in order to have a sustainable economy. That's a nice thought and it might earn him brownie points with voters but the controversial oil extraction method is no longer a federal issue. Now that devolution has passed, responsibility over the territory's resources belongs to the territorial government. The issue of whether to frack and how to regulate it is actually a hot topic among MLAs, as it comes up regularly in legislative assembly.

Other topics, on the other hand, straddle jurisdictions. Take for example Premier Bob McLeod's recent letter to the four federal candidates.

He identified his own list of concerns he'd like Ottawa to address, including economic development, growing the territory's population, energy, infrastructure, climate change and opening a new funding partnership on public housing. The premier stated he would post the responses he receives by Sept. 19 on the GNWT website.

The interesting thing about McLeod's list though, is that almost every single one of the issues he identifies is primarily under his own jurisdiction.

This illustrates just how much the territorial government depends on federal support in order to work. For example, transportation construction and maintenance is planned and funded by the GNWT but contractors wouldn't be carving the $300-million Inuvik-Tuk Highway out of permafrost right now if it weren't for Ottawa's $200-million contribution.

Who knows how much negotiating went on between the GNWT and Ottawa in order to make this happen.

This leads to possibly the most important quality our next territorial leaders and federal representative will need to have -- a quality that must not be overlooked - the ability to effectively advocate for NWT's interests in Ottawa.

The issues, and who is responsible for them, are like a Venn diagram -- complicated, overlapping circles of responsibilities. Not only should voters take the time to familiarize themselves with how this diagram looks but our prospective leaders will need to be adept at using it to their best advantage.

Real assessment missing from appeal court ruling
Nunavut/News North - Monday, August 31, 2015

People unfamiliar with the history, geography and traditional uses of the land in Nunavut have only to look at a map to gain a better understanding of the importance of the ocean to the Inuit.

There are good reasons for communities on north Baffin Island to be situated along the coastlines. Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Qikiqtarjuak, Arctic Bay and other Nunavut communities are situated on the water because that's where the Inuit inhabitants have for generations harvested wildlife.

We believe it is ludicrous, therefore, to suggest that there will be no disruption to the Inuit way of life by a consortium of exploration companies undertaking seismic testing, intended to discover oil or gas deposits, in the very waters that Inuit have depended upon for thousands of years, long before the world became dependent on fossil fuel for energy.

Any right-minded individual would agree there is potential for harm from the seismic testing. High-powered air-gun blasts bounced off the ocean bottom, to be measured by sensors, travel for kilometres and are heard by all manner of marine life. Some species may ignore the sounds, particularly if the blasts are short in duration, while other species will sense danger and leave the area.

Certainly there will be an impact on marine life, which in turn will affect people's ability to harvest seals, whales, fish and other creatures of the sea.

We understand the world's thirst for more sources of oil and gas. But what possible benefit is there for Inuit residents of the coastal communities?

The first step taken by mining companies wanting to do business in Nunavut is to meet with Inuit beneficiaries with an eye toward forming mutually beneficial agreements. Included in that process is a recognition of land ownership, respect for the environment, and adoption of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, the guiding principles.

Federal Court of Appeal Justice Eleanor Dawson, who ruled earlier this month against Clyde River in its attempt for a judiciary review of the National Energy Board's approval of seismic testing off the hamlet's coast, said she was satisfied with the energy board's consultation with Inuit communities and organizations, noting that consultation does not equal veto power.

She also suggested Inuit organizations can still express concerns as the project progresses.

We say that acknowledging consultations and allowing airing of further concerns falls far short of understanding legitimate fear for the future.

In the final analysis, court arguments and dialogue provides little comfort to the hunters who can no longer catch a whale in the ocean where they have hunted for generations, should seismic testing go ahead.

Paradise preserved
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, August 28, 2015

They've blasted paradise and put up a condominium.

This fusing of a Joni Mitchell classic with the reality atop Twin Pine Hill has made one thing adamantly clear: the push is on to preserve paradise.

Twin Pine Hill meets city streets from many angles. It touches School Draw Avenue, looks down upon Franklin and sits alongside 52 Avenue.

Residents were rattled earlier this summer by the blasting that knocked the crown off the vantage point that arguably boasts some of the most beautiful, panoramic views of Yellowknife Bay and Great Slave Lake.

While the demise of the hill as people know it was planned more than a decade ago, many have left their hearts on Twin Pine Hill and have begun advocating ferociously to ensure a trail system - promised alongside the plan for the original development - becomes a reality.

The city did it right with Pilots' Monument, which set the standard for the care and dedication required in not squandering the finite views of Great Slave Lake the city has access to.

Originally Twin Pine Hill was zoned to allow for a hotel and convention centre, which coincided with the promise of a trail. The planned development changed, and earlier this year council approved rezoning the land to allow for a 126-unit condominium development - the construction for which has already begun.

The trail plan remains though, as does the funding for it. Both the City of Yellowknife and Det'on Cho Corporation have dedicated $250,000 to build a trail - but any forward motion on that particular development is seemingly stalled.

In early July, after Yellowknifers began publicly lamenting Twin Pine Hill, News/North reported Coun. Adrian Bell saying, "Spending a quarter million on a trail system for a hotel and conference centre is one thing but basically private trails for the neighbours in the area is kind of a different situation entirely."

At the time, the paper reported the discussion was expected to come back to council. Last week, the city told Yellowknifer talks on the trail are now set for after the Oct. 19 municipal election. While most councillors have expressed their support for keeping the promise made long ago, the dissent illustrated in Bell's comments makes this a crucial discussion to have - sooner than later. Spokesperson Nalini Naidoo said the city is asking itself, 'Do we bring this forward now or after the election?' on many topics.

The public pressure on council should make this a priority. It was this council that approved the rezoning that has resulted in a new Twin Pine Hill, therefore it should be this council that sees the trail plan through to completion.

To defer it is to put down the reins of responsibility.

Small spill, big impact
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, August 27, 2015
It came to light recently that a barge owned and operated by the Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL) grounded in the Mackenzie River near Jean Marie River.

The grounding breached the hull near a popular local fishing spot, Rabbitskin River. Unfortunately, although reports of the incident conflict, a small amount of gasoline may have leaked into the river.

Low water levels have made travel treacherous for barges hauling supplies to Northern communities. However, accidents do happen.

If protocol had been followed - the incident reported to the proper authorities, along with the potential spill - that would likely have been the end of it.

A small amount of gasoline, while alarming, is unlikely to negatively impact the local habitat in any long-term way.

However, the extent of the spill could not be determined by Transport Canada and the Coast Guard because a report was not made within the required time frame.

Spill reports are supposed to be made immediately following an incident.

But after the grounding on July 27, nine days passed before a report was made.

Many business sectors across the country are under immense pressure to keep their operations free of accidents and spills. Although transportation companies are among those closely watched for environmental transgressions, this was not a catastrophic event by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, it could probably be classified as the opposite: a minor event.

But the lack of reporting is problematic.

Whether the company deemed a report necessary or not, it seems wise to err on the side of caution.

If a fuel tank is punctured in a water body, it should not matter how much gasoline spills - or if any fuel is released, for that matter. It is not just the major events that require reporting. By omitting even small spill reports a company can be cast in a bad light.

When it comes to NTCL, the company seems to have had a good track record so far when it comes to accidents and spills.

But while it takes companies a lifetime to build a reputation of environmental responsibility, that reputation can of course come crashing down with even a tiny misstep.

The people of Fort Simpson and the surrounding area deserve to know when accidents occur on their river.

But while it is not a requirement to report such events to the community, they should at least be able to rest easy knowing there are agencies overseeing the reporting and, if necessary, cleanup.

Silence is less than golden
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 27, 2015

When I was little and I did something wrong, I knew that not saying anything was probably my best shot at not getting in trouble.

Even when my parents found out about whatever I had done, I knew the more I talked, the more trouble I would be in.

Least said, soonest mended. It looks like the Conservative government has taken that motto to heart.

The military is in town and has been for some weeks. By and large, the Armed Forces members are relatively unobtrusive, despite their camp in the middle of town, and they are a pleasant boost to the local economy, in the form of the rental fee for the recreation centre if nothing else.

The military has organized a community day for Aug. 26, complete with a barbecue and a whole slew of fun activities for youngsters and adults alike to thank the community for hosting them.

The one thing Armed Forces communications people won't do, however, is talk on the record.

This is not limited to the military branch of the government, nor is it limited to the North.

On the surface, the number of people this actually affects on a day to day basis is restricted to journalists who hit brick walls when looking for information about something happening right in front of them. Spokespeople are happy to give background information, but nothing that can be attributed. Journalists' queries are often replied with "no comment." But this is something else.

This is ostensibly to maintain a perfectly neutral position in light of the federal election. Now, a neutral military in the face of an election is a very good thing. The opposite is a terrifying thought.

However, stories about something that is typically as well-publicized and widely reported as Operation Nanook is hardly asking soldiers and their handlers to take sides.

This silence -- this blanket silence on any and all subjects -- reeks of my strategy to avoid trouble when I was little.

It is hardly a secret that the current federal government has put gag orders on everyone from scientists to, most recently, its own supporters attending events. Telling federal departments, including the Department of National Defence, to be silent for the duration of the election is hardly a stretch.

The thing about silence, as my parents can certainly attest, is that it just invites more questions. My mother knew whenever I stopped talking that something was wrong and didn't let up on her questions until she knew what it was.

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