What to expect when you're electing
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, October 16, 2015
What would the city, territory and country look like if everyone voted?
In a democracy such as Canada it's not only a right but some would argue a civic responsibility, yet, proportionally, so few do it.
There are seven locations throughout the city where residents can cast their ballots in the municipal election. Even if they aren't on the voters list, they can still vote, so long as they bring identification. Voting stations are at Sir John Franklin High School, St. Patrick High School, Northern United Place, William McDonald School, Range Lake North School, the Multiplex and N.J. Macpherson.
On Monday, Oct. 19, Yellowknifers will go to the polls to elect a city council, a school board and a federal representative in Ottawa.
In the last two municipal elections, fewer than half the eligible voters cast ballots - a 49 per cent turnout in both 2009 and 2012.
While all levels of government affect individuals in different ways, perhaps the most pervasive in everyday life is municipal government.
It's responsible for the sidewalks residents walk on and the streets they drive on and the infrastructure underneath through which water and sewage flows.
The city runs the places residents take their children swimming and skating and where they checkout books.
The city grants business licences and snow removal contracts and decides what sort of developments should go where through zoning laws. It sets up parking meters and sets direction for bylaw officers.
It is residents' strongest advocate to other levels of government, which have much deeper pockets.
The city envisions, creates and prioritizes parks and trails. It sets the direction for waste management in operating the landfill and co-ordinating recycling, garbage pickup and composting initiatives.
Council's handling of the city's budget dictates your property taxes.
Decisions made by the city council elected on Oct. 19 will decide which projects to prioritize, how much it will cost to go to various facilities, where food trucks will be located, what the trail on Twin Pine Hill will look like, whether or not to bid on the Canada Winter Games and much, much, much more.
These decisions matter to all residents.
Don't know who to vote for?
Fifteen candidates have put their names forward for council and two for mayor.
Yellowknifer's city elections page is accessible to everyone and can be found by clicking the banner at www.nnsl.com/yellowknifer. There, you'll find candidate profiles, opinions, video interviews and much more. The city's website has contact information for all candidates - it's not too late to reach out and see if their ideas match what matters to you.
On voting day, the city is dropping its public transit fee and workplaces must allow you time to go vote without docking your pay.
Taking the time to vote is equivalent to walking to the coffeeshop and back for some tea; making a phone call to a friend or watching a television show. Just get out and do it - this is a once-every-three-or-four-years-depending-on-the-level-of-government duty.
If you think your vote doesn't count, you don't have too look far to be swayed; in 2013 in Ndilo, now-chief Ernest Betsina was elected as such by literally one vote.
City polls, including school board, are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and federal polls are open between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Check the city website to see specifically where they are.
Some voters will have to visit two polling stations to vote in all elections as there are only three shared spaces; otherwise, the city and school boards are sharing space and the federal stations are on their own.
Educate yourself and then get out there and cast your ballot.
There should be no excuse.
Deh Cho residents still out in the cold
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, October 15, 2015
There are many social service needs in the Deh Cho and throughout the NWT that require government attention.
But with snow on the ground and cold weather coming on fast, nothing is more pressing than housing for those who have none.
Housing is not a new concern around here. In fact, it is perhaps as old as the communities themselves. However, the problem takes a different shape in the Deh Cho than it often does in Yellowknife or in southern provinces.
In the Deh Cho, people without homes rely on the goodwill of their friends and relatives to come in from the cold. They couch-surf from one house to another to avoid winter exposure. Sometimes, they set up shelters along winter roads if they have nowhere else to go.
Leaders throughout the Deh Cho have estimated dozens of residents are currently living without a home.
Despite that, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation applied no money from its Small Communities Homeless Fund toward Fort Providence, a community that has been trying to raise awareness about the problems its homeless people face.
Likewise, Fort Liard was not among the communities to receive funding. The only communities in the Deh Cho that received funding were Fort Simpson and Wrigley, according to information posted on the housing corporation's website.
To be fair, the government is unclear on whether either Fort Providence or Fort Liard applied for that funding.
But communities have been reaching out for help in other ways, as well. Nearly two months ago, Deh Gah Got'ie Koe Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge sent a letter to the government outlining the problems his community's homeless population face and suggesting a way forward.
Weeks after sending that letter, Bonnetrouge said the government's response was not satisfactory.
The true difficulty with homelessness, aside from space issues, was outlined by Minister Robert McLeod in the legislature recently: the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation can evict people for various reasons, such as not paying their rent, and if those people want back in they have to first settle up their balance with the housing corporation.
That in itself poses a sometimes insurmountable challenge to people without homes, who rely on the assistance of friends and in many cases may not have access to a steady income.
The government needs to listen to elected community leaders, who have a deeper understanding of the problems their communities face. New solutions need to be discussed for the Deh Cho if the government is serious about getting its people into homes.
Best cure for apathy is to get involved
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, October 15, 2015
Activists, journalists, and average citizens alike have condemned the low voter turnout in recent elections at all levels.
Only 60 per cent of eligible voters headed to the polls in the 2011 federal election and even fewer turned out for the municipal counterpart the last time around. But it doesn't have to be this way. It's easy to write off one vote as a single voice against the masses, but the point is that one voice is part of that mass deciding who is going to govern for the next few years at least.
Federal politics can be a daunting thing. While citizens are told to vote for the representative they think will best serve their riding, everyone knows the leaders of each party have more to do with governance than any one member of Parliament ever could. While some may find themselves in the happy situation of agreeing with a local candidate as well as the wider party he represents, others will have to make a choice between which set of ideals they hold most dear, as well as which talking head spouting perfectly-crafted and curated comments on television they trust the most.
For many, the process is enough to turn them off the whole system entirely. While we would argue that there is no excuse for not voting in a federal election -- even those who find themselves underwhelmed by all parties can spoil their ballot -- there is even less excuse at the municipal level.
It may not feel like municipalities do a lot, but that's like going to Trafalgar Square and saying you can't see England. They do so much it gets taken for granted. There is also the presumption that only ratepayers have a stake in local government because they are the ones funding it, but combined with transfer payments from the territorial government, communities are in charge of millions of dollars and they provide services that are utilized, and should be appreciated, by all.
And yet this is perhaps where there is the most political apathy. Council holds meetings every month that are attended by municipal employees required to be there and a few journalists. When there are others, they are there for specific issues. It's no secret that council meetings aren't the height of entertainment, but next week there is an opportunity for residents to have their voices heard with minimal effort expended. If the number of votes even comes close to the number of people who can find something to complain about in town, it will be a victory of the highest order.
On Oct. 19, two polling locations will be set up; voters from one side of town will vote for a new mayor and council at Ingamo Hall and those from the other side of town will vote at the Midnight Sun Complex. Everyone voting federally will do so at the complex.
Please take a few minutes out of your day and make your voice heard.
Curfew not the answer
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Aboriginal women and girls have the right to move freely in any NWT community at any hour without experiencing or fearing violence.
That said, aboriginal women and girls have long suffered assaults and intimidation and worse in the NWT and throughout the country to a degree unheard of among other broad sectors of the population.
Northern political leaders and law enforcement authorities ought to make this problem a priority and the solution should be sought through changing or thwarting the behaviours of the perpetrators while educating the general public about how to assist in this process.
Placing a de facto curfew on women is tantamount to incarcerating the victims.
However, that seems to be what Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus called for during the 10th annual Sisters in Spirit vigil, designed to honour the lives of more than 1,000 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada on Oct. 2.
"We have to tell them, get off the streets at a certain time," he told the crowd, referring to young girls he sees outside after 11 p.m. in some NWT communities.
Erasmus recounted a meeting he had with Rinelle Harper, the teen from the northern Manitoba reserve of God's Lake Narrows who survived a brutal attack in Winnipeg last November that left her swimming for her life in the icy Red River.
"That happened late at night. What was she doing out by herself?" asked Erasmus.
In a follow-up interview with Yellowknifer, Erasmus stood by his position, adding he is not blaming the women but that, "We all have to be more responsible. Sometimes the choice might be not to go out."
Such statements make it more difficult for aboriginal women and girls and their advocacy organizations to make change happen.
Aboriginal women leaders should not have to explain why women and girls should not have to lock themselves up nightly or travel in groups to avoid violence.
Instead, Northern leaders should listen before they speak and back up their calls for real solutions that look at the heart of the problem, such as aboriginal women's rights activist Sandra Lockhart's call for more education for the public and community leaders so they understand the scope of the problem of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
Grassroots movement shows promise
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 14, 2015
As far as moving forward with a genuinely interesting and novel approach to shaping the democratic process in Yellowknife goes, IserveU is already a success story.
Where it falls down -- and here only time will tell if it can get back up -- is in the details of how the online political apparatus IserveU has developed will actually shape political outcomes in council chambers.
City councillors must often make difficult decisions based on the considered research of city staff and what special interest groups, other loosely-defined citizens groups and individual constituents voice at council meetings.
Furthermore, councillors often make these decisions on-the-fly after much debate and amendments made to the original bylaw or motion.
The realities of public administration do not seem to readily accommodate IserveU's group-think approach to determining political or fiscal outcomes. The group has modified its position somewhat to now state voters on the IserveU website will likely only be a factor on issues of great public interest, such as whether the city should host the Canada Winter Games. But that's only if enough of them participate and one wonders how much interest there will be if only three or fewer IserveU candidates are elected.
That said, IserveU has managed to field three credible candidates, any one of whom clearly stand ready to serve with or without the backing of IserveU.
Time will tell as to the impact IserveU will have on Yellowknife politics. Until then, and whatever the outcome of the election, IserveU has not only earned the interest of Yellowknifers with its unique if controversial approach, it has earned the respect of Yellowknifers with the quality of candidates the organization has attracted.
The day the music died
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, October 14, 2015
There are precious few personalities who have been deceased for almost 35 years with the ability to almost completely obliterate all talk of a federal election just 10 scant days from heading to the polls.
But John Winston (Ono) Lennon was no ordinary personality.
Lennon, in many ways, remains a polarizing figure even in death.
Love or despise him, those with as much as a passing interest in popular or rock-and-roll music has an opinion on the former Beatle.
As I wrote this piece on Friday, Oct. 9, the world was marking what would have been Lennon's 75th birthday.
And the various manners in which media outlets around the globe choose to mark the occasion said as much about the complexity of Lennon's life as anything.
Many mainstream outlets, with their if-it-bleeds-it-leads mentality, chose to focus on the final day leading to Lennon's assassination at the hands of a madman outside his Dakota apartment on Dec. 8, 1980, in New York City.
As a huge (some say fanatical) Beatles/Lennon fan, I found that approach to be nothing less than despicable.
To reduce one of the greatest musical talents (he was a musical genius) the world has ever known to little more than the target of an assassin's bullets -- a tragic figure lost to a delusional maniac -- is akin to noting Ludvig van Beethoven was a pianist who did a little composing after going deaf.
It's heartbreaking that so many in today's society prefer to dwell on the demented rather than the gifted.
Although Lennon will always be remembered mostly for co-founding -- along with Paul McCartney -- the most successful band in the history of music, popular or otherwise, he was a complex and often misunderstood figure who many in the establishment of the day found threatening.
The one complete musical flop of his career, Some Time in New York City, was released during the height of his radical left-wing-activist period (the new left) in 1972.
At the time, Lennon was hanging with political activists Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman (of the Chicago 7), and performed at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally.
Sinclair was serving a 10-year sentence for selling a couple of marijuana joints to undercover police officers.
Lennon also polarized the free world when he innocuously stated the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus, prompting death threats and record burning in some areas, particularly in the American Southern states of Alabama and South Carolina.
But what should be most remembered about John Lennon is the man's music.
From the musical tapestry of his youth that is In My Life, through his contribution to the Beatles masterpiece, A Day in the Life, to the childish, yet somehow overwhelming lyrics of Imagine and the no-holds-barred anthem, Working Class Hero, Lennon changed the world's musical landscape forever.
With studio advances looming so near in the future at the time of his death, coupled with the contentment of his finally coming of age as a husband and father, there can be no telling what additional musical masterpieces Lennon would have bestowed upon the world had he lived.
If there is a day in the life of John Lennon that should never be immortalized, it is the day the music died on that dark December night when he was taken from us!
Drawing imaginary lines
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, October 12, 2015
One of the fundamental concepts for anybody who chooses to study politics is sovereignty.
Every country on the globe enjoys it. It means national leaders have the right to organize their own government and use their own resources within their own borders however they see fit.
In the case of Canada, the federal government shares governing powers with its provinces and territories and over the years, provinces and territories have fought - and won - a degree of sovereignty over things such lands, resources, water and power generation.
Of course, there are limitations to sovereignty, as illustrated in two News/North stories, today's "Southern reservoir full but Mackenzie runs dry," and "ENR minister calls for Nunavut government to halt caribou hunt after population drop," published Oct. 5. While the post-devolution Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) has inherited jurisdiction over NWT's waters, rivers themselves don't recognize territorial boundaries. This means the territorial government may set a bar for clean water but it doesn't necessarily guarantee the water that flows in will match this standard.
Same with caribou - ENR can ban sport hunting on certain herds but if that herd crosses over to Nunavut, they are in Nunavut's jurisdiction where a number of sport-hunting tags are still available.
This limitation had lead to the rise of a novel tool - the transboundary agreement. Just one year ago, ENR minister Michael Miltenberger entered into a bilateral agreement with Alberta that sets a standard for water that flows into the NWT's ecosystem and if water doesn't meet this standard, territorial government leaders aren't the last to know about it.
"We will no longer read about upstream developments and events in the newspaper," announced Miltenberger to media when the agreement was signed.
Agreements like these between provinces and territories allow individual areas to guard their own sovereignty over resources while acknowledging what happens in one jurisdiction doesn't necessarily stay in that jurisdiction.
There are limitations to this too. In the case of the Bennett dam in B.C. affecting water levels in the NWT, News/North reports in this edition that the NWT is not in a position to enter into an agreement with B.C. because this water flows through Alberta first.
While it's not very well publicized, there has been a board in place to monitor the entire Mackenzie River Basin since 1997. It consists of representatives from B.C., Alberta, NWT, Saskatchewan, the Yukon and the federal government, and it is funded through Environment Canada. It exists for its members to make non-binding recommendations, which means there is some co-operation and knowledge-sharing between these governments on the basin.
Just two weeks ago, Miltenberger appeared in News/North imploring the Nunavut Government to stop issuing hunting tags to caribou herds crossing the border after ENR found numbers are continuing to plummet.
It's encouraging to see Miltenberger is also working to enter into a bilateral agreement with the Government of Nunavut to share information and co-manage these herds.
It's essential the territorial government continues to work at co-operative efforts like these because in a way, the NWT's sovereignty over resources like water and caribou is only as strong as the agreements they strike with others.
No shortage of issues to confront candidates
Nunavut/News North - Monday, October 12, 2015
This is a pivotal time for Nunavummiut concerned about the future of the territory, its people and its potential.
At no other time can ordinary people get the attention of those who want to represent them in Ottawa than in the days leading up to the federal election.
Before making the trip to the ballot box on Oct. 19, take the time to press all four candidates about issues that require attention by the federal government, immediately and in years to come.
There is no shortage of major issues starving for attention.
The auditor general slammed the government over the Nutrition North program, making numerous recommendations to ensure that subsidies can be tracked to the consumer. Other than information added to receipts given to customers, not much has happened to improve food insecurity, an issue which impacts everyone. Besides expanding the program to communities not already subsidized, what do the candidates propose to make groceries more affordable and accessible?
Nunavut's dire shortage of adequate housing is another topic of utmost importance. Funding is urgently needed to construct more houses in communities where up to 20 family members live in one three-bedroom house. What can each of the political parties offer towards a meaningful solution to the housing shortage?
Despite federal funding to increase Internet connectivity, Nunavut still falls far behind what is available to computer users in the south, and even in the neighbouring territory of the NWT. Options toward a long-term solution all suggest that fibre optic is the most advantageous response to some Nunavut communities. What do the candidates seeking your vote have to say about ways to improve connectivity, which would result in better education, health-care delivery, commerce and access to wider markets?
There was much talk about funding for more small craft harbours just as the writ was dropped, with Pond Inlet and Iqaluit on the list for infrastructure projects. Now is the time for candidates to commit to these much-needed projects, should they be elected.
Many other issues need urgent attention. Justice Murray Sinclair's recommendations resulting from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work require attention by the next federal government.
Ottawa also has a role to play in the implementation of the recommendations by the chief coroner's inquest into the high rate of suicide in the territory.
The three main political parties each have strong candidates in Nunavut.
It is not enough to just vote in this election. Of more importance is to hear promises from the candidates on the issues that are most important to the individual voter. Those who are elected can then be held accountable to their promises.
Become informed, then cast your ballot on Oct. 19.