Make tourism lemonade out of fiscal lemons
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 19, 2016
The territory is in an economic doldrum at the moment thanks to commodity prices stuck at a level that does nothing to stimulate investment in mineral resource development.
But all is not grim as recent statistics show the NWT leads the nation in terms of employment.
As a government town, Yellowknife enjoys an enviable economic stability that cannot be denied but it is not just government that seems to be weathering the storm.
There are two mine projects on the go right now, Gahcho Kue and the A21 pipe at Diavik, while Ekati recently received approval for its Jay Pipe expansion.
The weak Canadian dollar can help keep these projects viable against the backdrop of a weakened diamond market as multinational companies typically budget the cost of construction using the U.S. dollar, around 25 cents higher than the Canadian loonie, which means some costs could potentially be 25 per cent lower.
This financial buffer for the mines has other benefits.
Calgary Herald recently reported that Banff National Park is on pace for a second record breaking year in terms of park visitors and revenue.
The low Canadian dollar is cited by a tourism official as not only contributing to an increase in American visitors but also as a factor encouraging Canadians to seek out Canadian travel rather than face an exchange rate penalty south of the border.
Now is the time to double-down on investment in tourism promotion to draw people North.
The North is now a bargain for Americans, and a stay-in-Canada vacation may be just what many Canadians are thinking as they turn their thoughts to summer travel and a weak dollar.
Can NWT Tourism and the Northern Frontier Visitors Association work together to help make this summer a record-breaking summer for visitors to Yellowknife and beyond?
If there was ever an opportunity to break records, this is it. A low-dollar, direct flights from Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Whitehorse, and a clear international interest in Northern life, culture and landscape set the stage for a brilliant opportunity to make tourism lemonade out of fiscal lemons.
NWT Tourism has had great success increasing the North's profile and drawing visitors here.
It is time for all levels of government and tourism businesses to ask what they can do to further bolster the North as a travel destination, and put money and resources in place to bring concepts to life.
Let French board determine admissions
Accessibility audit could open doors - Friday, February 19, 2016
As Education Minister Alfred Moses gets accustomed to his new job, he should ask himself whether the territory should be in the business of preserving different cultural groups within its borders.
If the answer is 'yes,' then it follows the Commission scolaire francophone should be able to admit those who are not legally entitled to attend French school but may still contribute to the preservation of French culture.
It's not really a novel idea. Prior to 2008, the French school board was able to make that determination itself.
Parents of Metis students without French speaking relatives, for instance, could apply to the French school district on the basis that their ancestors did speak the language and the board would allow their children into their classrooms.
Incoming school board president Simon Cloutier says that's no longer the case.
Eight years ago, former education minister Jackson Lafferty put the kibosh on the French school board admitting those not constitutionally entitled to a French education - that is, Canadian citizens whose first language is French -- and now Cloutier says the GNWT won't allow students to attend their schools unless they produce a family member who can speak it.
This development occurred during an acrimonious lawsuit over a lack of facilities in the French school system. The legal battle is now over. Moses has replaced Lafferty. Cloutier has succeeded Suzette Montreuil. While the courts have ruled it is permissible for the education minister to maintain control over admissions, these new leaders need not be bound to that arrangement. This an opportunity to start fresh.
After all, it is in the interest of the territory that the NWT's francophone population keeps growing. More French citizens means more per capita federal funding to pay for government programs and services.
Evidence suggests the city's francophone population is growing despite GNWT efforts to suppress the number of students entering the French school system.
According to Statistics Canada, there were approximately 650 francophones living in Yellowknife in 1996. Today, there are around 830. How many more might there be if their culture and language were allowed to grow further without government interference in the school system?
Thoughtful cuts needed
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 18, 2016
With the new sitting of the legislative assembly starting Feb. 18, now would normally be the ideal time to contact one's MLA.
In fact, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson has taken the initiative to sit down with municipal and First Nations leaders to lay out what he expects will be coming in the next sitting of the assembly.
Ahead of him? Weeks, if not months of tough talks about austerity measures and cuts in the wake of a weakened economy.
The proof of that is in repeated announcements from the GNWT about discussing fiscal policies and strategies with MLAs.
Those announcements accompanied reports of the government approaching $1 billion in debt within a matter of years as revenues shrink, expenditures grow and the federal government cuts transfer payments.
The GNWT has a borrowing limit of $1.3 billion. Hitting the $1 billion mark means hard discussions for MLAs to ensure that debt is managed.
Considering that debt includes cost overruns from the Deh Cho Bridge as well as millions of dollars in subsidies for power consumers due to low water levels at the Snare hydro dam, the question needs to be asked: How can the current sitting government avoid the pitfalls of the past?
Thompson is against austerity measures. He counts himself as one of those MLAs who see austerity as ultimately hurting the economy - and he is correct.
If the territory decides to cut jobs, it will drive away skilled workers as well as their families.
The impact to the economy could end up being more than the government saves.
However, in a resource-based economy, new revenue sources are few and far between. Cuts have to be made somewhere in order to ensure government debt does not spiral out of control.
Thompson again has the right idea here: he believes the government needs to consult with public service employees, who often have a better idea of where efficiencies can be found than top bureaucrats do.
As someone who used to work within the public service, Thompson has first-hand knowledge of that.
The government has also said it plans to invest in targeted infrastructure projects. How much of that reaches the Deh Cho and Nahendeh remains to be seen, although the territorial government has a long, established track record of focusing its funds toward Yellowknife.
If there is one goal Thompson should work toward during this sitting, it is opening the government's eyes to the economic potential of the Nahendeh. If some of those infrastructure funds were to come south, the Deh Cho and Nahendeh electoral districts are key places to invest. Tourism, traditional art and other economic diversifiers thrive here.
It is time for the government to realize smaller communities are truly some of its greatest assets.
Good reasons to play sports
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 18, 2016
This month is all about sports. Coverage is spilling from the dedicated sports page in this newspaper and taking over the general news sections, similar to how they insinuate themselves into people's lives far beyond time spent actually practising.
This week alone there is a basketball tournament, traditional games summit, and one of the biggest annual hockey tournaments in the region, to name a few of the activities going on. Players in these events range from elementary school age to grown men and everything in between.
Speaking to the older contingent of athletes, the benefits of life-long participation in sport are clear. They talk about bringing communities together and the camaraderie of playing with a team, but also about their continued desire to strive for bigger and better things and ultimately win.
These are traits and desires that serve people well in their lives off the court or ice as well, and something of value which participation in sports can impart on younger players.
All these good things don't even include the opportunity to travel that sports brings Northerners. While teams raise ridiculous amounts of money to make it happen, that effort is still cheaper as a whole than paying for individual return tickets to Yellowknife and even further afield several times a year.
Children from all over the Beaufort Delta will be travelling to Greenland in a few weeks for the Arctic Winter Games, a place few would likely see on their own. You could argue that such trips are only for top athletes and not accessible to the majority of enthusiasts. While that may be true, school teams are hardly as selective and they do still travel within the territory and sometimes out of it.
But being involved in sports brings far more to athletes than even travel. We're always hearing about wellness and the need for programs to promote healthy living. Sports does that. We're also always hearing about the need to bridge the gap between youth and elders and bring families together.
If the attendance at the Northern and Dene Games Summit and annual five-on-five basketball tournament the previous week is any indication, sports does that too.
There is always an outcry that sports get all the attention and funding dollars to the detriment of arts and culture programs, and in Northern communities, that is a largely undeniable if also regrettable fact. What is also undeniable is the positive influence sports have on athletes young and old, as well as on the wider communities where they live.
Tow hill survives red tape
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Against what likely felt like daunting odds at times, a handle tow for snowboarders and skiers officially opened earlier this month at Bristol Pit - no particular thanks to the territorial government.
It was a five-year process spearheaded by the NWT Snowboard Association, which saw a need in this city and then faced the at-times-heavy headwinds to make it happen.
Louise Matthews, president of the association, told Yellowknifer last week the long process began when the board recognized that where there was a hill in the city, there would be children wanting to slide down it. This led a brainstorming session during which the board realized in order to substantially support those interested in skiing and snowboarding, a mechanical lift was needed.
While the association was the driving force that resulted in the tow line, it was a true community effort with many businesses becoming involved to donate items, work and expertise.
Although it was an arduous process - sourcing where to purchase the lift, ensuring it met the right regulations and correctly installing it - the real snags came in dealing with the territorial government, according to Matthews. She attributed the years-long process in part to the endless dealings with the GNWT, which seemed to have an endless to-do list the snowboard association was expected to cross off.
"We thought we would be close to completion and then something else would come up," she told Yellowknifer.
The red tape actually had Matthews at one point thinking she had taken on more than the association could handle, she said.
Last summer, Yellowknifer reported on a similar situation with the Yellowknife Motocross Association's planned racetrack which was so tied down with unnecessary GNWT red tape it's at least three years from completion.
While it's understandable there are major liabilities involved in big projects like these, the GNWT should be better facilitating volunteer efforts that positively impact the entire community.
Whether this means streamlining processes to make thoroughly-considered exceptions, having a staffer dedicated to help people navigate a complicated system, or ensuring the process is clearly laid out for those seeking information to make it as comprehensible as possible, the GNWT should be helping rather than hurting those willing to take on massive undertakings that benefit everybody.
Keep domestic violence program alive
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 17, 2016
An innovative program that tackles domestic violence at its root faces an uncertain future and like many of the men it helps is a work in progress that needs further support.
A New Day, a community-based government program that helps men who have been abusive, or fear becoming abusive in family relationships, has helped more than 130 men since it started two years ago. It is offered through family-support organizations and the courts. Men can refer themselves. The program offers individual and group counselling to help them deal with anger issues by building on positive traditional values, deal with past trauma and taking responsibility for their actions.
Program co-ordinator Laura Boileau says facilitators see new clients almost daily, a testament to its success.
A New Day works by being proactive, she explained, by diverting men from the court system and working on what is causing the problem and preventing future incidents, rather than dealing with the fallout through the courts and medical system.
Funding for the program is slated to end on Dec. 31. After that, the GNWT, namely the Department of Justice, will look at the results and decide whether it shall continue in its present form. Boileau would like to see the program continue, which currently costs $250,000 annually to run. That is a small price to pay considering the untold millions it costs to process domestic violence offenders through police and courts.
MLAs should keep that in mind when deciding how to proceed in a time of fiscal restraint.
Circus of justice
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 17, 2016
One of the biggest problems with the instant-access world we live in today is the circus atmosphere that often surrounds events that are anything but funny.
On some level within our psyche, no matter what the subject matter, once a circus atmosphere is established we think, "Send in the clowns."
Such is the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious, from which the term is derived.
And we didn't need a lot of help to begin with.
Even before the Internet ruled entirely, morbid jokes made the rounds literally days, if not hours, after the Challenger space shuttle disaster on Jan. 28, 1986.
Images of the Challenger explosion were everywhere, flickering on TV channels, broadcast over AM and FM radio waves, and plastered on countless newspapers and magazines.
And it brought out the worst in many people.
Fast forward to the OJ Simpson murder trial in 1995 and the same applies.
It seemed for every person invested in seeing justice delivered, one way or the other, in the final outcome, thousands of others were wrapped-up in the celebrity of the spectacle.
Ask 10 people who OJ's main lawyer was and I'd wager nine would answer Johnnie Cochran.
Ask them the names of the two people murdered in the case and, well, not so many would answer correctly.
Fast forward to today, and Canada has its own trial turned celebrity circus in the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault trial.
Defence lawyer Marie "Hand Grenade" Henein became the ringmaster and evil villain, with even her $1,500 shoes scrutinized for the subliminal message they send.
Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan was Henein's well-meaning, but bumbling foe, always unprepared or ill-informed.
That is, as long as you're blissfully ignorant of the fact the defence does not have to disclose anything to the Crown under Canadian law.
As Henein shredded the alleged victims' testimony, as if hit by so many pieces of razor-sharp shrapnel, Ghomeshi faded into the background.
People voiced their utter disdain for the villainous Henein over social media.
And, without taking a moment to consider the effects of trauma, they sneered at the actions of the alleged victims that were unmasked by Henein.
No matter what verdict the wise and elder-like Judge William Horkins delivers on March 24, the spectacle the trial became will, by itself, dissuade Lord-only-knows-how-many victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
Why bother? The circus has seen to that.The entire debacle has become a stain on the Canadian judicial system, regardless of the outcome.
Come April, our villain will be purchasing her next pair of shoes that say, "I'm all that," Judge Horkins will play 18 holes of golf while wondering if he'll ever get to see his beloved Maple Leafs play in May again, Callaghan will remind himself he is a successful prosecutor, and the minor players in the three-ring debacle, the alleged victims and perpetrator, will become mere footnotes.
Send in the clowns indeed!
Community liaisons could speed up emergency help
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 15, 2016
The morning 23-year-old Charlotte Lafferty was left bloody, beaten and dead outside the elder's centre in Fort Good Hope has shed light on a problem with the territory's emergency response protocols.
Elder Barthy Kotchile doesn't speak English very well but he was the first to report Lafferty's injuries to the RCMP.
Because there was nobody at the Fort Good Hope detachment at the time, his call was redirected to Yellowknife.
It is clear from listening to a recording of the emergency call, which was submitted during the trial as evidence, Kotchile and the emergency dispatcher did not understand each other.
In the recording, Kotchile is clearly distressed, switching between Slavey and English, exclaiming about a woman being beaten "outside the duplex."
This wasn't enough information for the dispatcher to get an officer on scene, and in this situation where every second counted, RCMP was not able to respond quick enough to save Lafferty's life.
How can emergency response times be sped up? They could if every community had its own emergency dispatch liaison, who could field calls in English and his or her community's predominant language, and relay that information to the local RCMP 24/7.
Beyond speaking to callers in the language they are most comfortable, this person would know the community.
They would know what a caller might mean when he or she says something is happening outside "the duplex," for example.
The territorial government has a wealth of resources in the members of its smaller communities.
If the government would open up to recruiting people into liaison roles like this, it would make emergency, police and health services that much more effective.
An essential member of the community
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 15, 2016
Today in the NWT it can be difficult for elders, who grew up speaking their indigenous language, to do things like go to a doctor, report a crime to a police officer or fill out a tax form.
This is the situation in many of the territory's communities, where elders today speak little English, if any at all, making seemingly simple tasks taxing, confusing, stressful experiences.
This is why people like Lianne Mantla, a Tlicho-speaking Behchoko resident who works as a nurse in her own community, are so valuable.
As Mantla says herself in the Feb. 8 News/North article ("The language of wellness"), she has worried about the information that gets lost in translation when a patient describes his or her health issues through a translator or worse, broken English without the help of a translator, so she left Behchoko to study nursing at Aurora College, finished her degree in Alberta and returned home to pursue her career.
She wasn't sure she would be accepted in Behchoko because she felt residents might be reticent to share details about their private health issues with somebody they grew up with in this tiny community. As it turns out, she was not only accepted but has been celebrated.
She was recently awarded a Tlicho Government Health and Government Award and Inuit Health Branch Award of Excellence in Nursing award from Health Canada.
The territory needs more people like Mantla, people who are willing to leave their community and bring back an career skill coupled with traditional and cultural knowledge.
Nunavut deserves special treatment for federal funding
Nunavut/News North - Monday, February 15, 2016
There are more than a few things that are special about Nunavut.
At more than two million square kilometres (787,000 square miles), it is the largest single land mass under one jurisdiction in Canada.
It is Canada's northernmost territory, reaching far above the Arctic Circle.
It is the newest established part of Canada since coming into existence under its own government on April 1, 1999.
Nunavut is also special for the high percentage of its population being of the same ethnic origin, Inuit.
There are many things that make Nunavut unique, unlike any other part of Canada in so many ways.
But it is its status as the least populous area of Canada that really puts the icing on the argument that Nunavut needs to be treated in a special way.
Case in point is the federal government's Building Canada fund. That is the pot of money Ottawa has set aside for big infrastructure projects, like bridges and roads.
The $14-billion, 10-year program that started in 2014 provides money on the condition that a lower level of government shares in the cost. Quite often, Ottawa will provide 75 per cent of the cost while, in the case of Nunavut, the territory pays for the remaining 25 per cent. That is fair to both levels of government.
Another guideline used to award financing for capital projects from the Building Canada fund is not fair. In fact, we agree with a report by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board, which is calling for changes to the way infrastructure money is spread across the country.
The practice of awarding funds based on population is shortchanging Nunavut. With approximately 30,000 residents, a per capita funding formula would award the entire territory of Nunavut the same amount of money as one small neighbourhood in a major Canadian city, simply a drop in the bucket.
Since the federal Liberal government has come to power, there has been talk that there was only about $10 billion left in the fund. Alberta just got a big chunk of that money toward infrastructure so that province, which is struggling with low oil prices, can put its unemployed oilpatch workers on infrastructure jobs.
The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board is recommending Ottawa set up a new fund specifically for Northern infrastructure. We couldn't agree more.
Nunavut deserves special treatment by virtue of its special features, which not only make it unique but also more costly and more challenging than other parts of Canada.
With no roads to southern Canada and its dependence on air transportation for goods and services, there is no question that Nunavut can justify its need for special treatment.