Regular MLAs are part of the solution
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 26, 2016
Cabinet is tasked with the difficult and unenviable job of drafting a government budget in dismal economic times.
It is heartening to hear regular MLAs speaking in defense of existing social services and programs as MLAs Tom Beaulieu and Kieron Testart did recently in their capacity as chair and deputy chair respectively of the priorities and planning committee.
Difficult financial choices will be part of the next territorial budget.
The commitment to protect important social programs is critical but so too are concrete ideas from all on how to achieve that goal despite tough economic realities.
In the coming months the public will be turning to regular MLAs for more than criticism of cabinet policy. The public will expect ideas from its elected representatives, regardless of whether or not they hold cabinet positions.
Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne has taken steps in that direction by recommending the GNWT remain committed to infrastructure projects despite tough times ahead.
We need ideas to move forward, and Vanthuyne's concrete suggestion is valuable regardless of its ultimate economic viability.
Ultimately, it's not about being right or wrong, it's about building a consensus on how to deal with these economic doldrums as wisely as possible while moving forward.
It is important not to discount the possibility that the public may have something important to contribute to the process as well.
Testart recognized this when he recently confirmed the committee's commitment to protecting public engagement in the budgetary process.
But the media remains the primary way the public engages with the actions of the legislative assembly. For its last public engagement, the planning committee did not inform media of its intention to hold a Monday morning press conference until after 5 p.m. the prior Friday afternoon.
This tactic of delivering news at the last minute or after hours when it is more likely to be missed is the kind of thing expected of a government doing its best to bury bad news, not of a committee formed to watch out for the public's best interests.
Flawed count still a win
Accessibility audit could open doors - Friday, February 26, 2016
The city's homeless count fits under the category of things that do not work as well as one would like but still work nonetheless.
As an indicator of the number of homeless people in the city, Lydia Bardak of the John Howard Society is right in calling the 139 count a low ball. That is acknowledged in the report.
It says, specifically, the results should be interpreted with caution, in particular regard to people who are "couch-surfing," which represented 33 per cent of the sample. The report says the count's methods are not designed to capture hidden homelessness situations such as this one, so it's safe to say there are plenty of couch surfers the counters did not reach.
Fair enough. The researchers were up front about that. And Coun. Linda Bussey, co-chair of the community advisory board, has acknowledged the flaws in the count.
So while its findings may be problematic, the fact the count was carried out is really not a problem. Bardak has made her point, Bussey has acknowledged it. Hopefully Bardak can be counted on to continue lending her expertise to the city's efforts in the hopes that one day there will be no one living on the streets. No one is going to make the argument that there is no homeless problem in the city regardless of what number is being used.
In fact, the count shows the city is taking the homelessness issue seriously enough to put a magnifying glass to the homelessness situation. Let us not forget: the count still paints a picture depicting the experiences of those who did respond which can be used to devise a strategy to help them.
Not to mention that the federal government recommends communities conduct homelessness counts as part of its Housing Partnership strategy. It may not be mandatory but it is always a good idea to keep the bureaucratic bean counters happy when they are the ones signing the cheques.
No easy answers on crime
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 25, 2016
What do you do when the young people who represent the future of a community turn to crime?
That is the issue Fort Providence is dealing with. As break-ins continue throughout the hamlet, the polarizing debate on how to address crime levels has resulted in a petition asking for the people involved to be banished from the community.
Understandably, getting your home or workplace broken into is a terrible thing to endure. Knowing someone has violated the sanctity of your home, and that they had such little respect for a place you love, can be emotionally scarring.
But in the words of Deh Gah School principal Lois Philipp, nobody wants to live a life of crime. Instead, factors in their life drive them to it.
As non-indigenous Canadian society struggles toward truth and reconciliation with indigenous people, crimes like these are linked to the fact that youth are coming out of a generation still scarred by the traumas of their parents and grandparents who went through the residential school system.
Crime like this cannot be fixed like an ordinary problem. It cannot be solved like a math problem because it often springs from negative emotions. It is an irrational response that has its roots in poor economic outlook, lack of jobs and lack of personal agency, compounded by intergenerational trauma.
During the Feb. 18 sitting of the legislative assembly, Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli told the assembly the unemployment rate in the Deh Cho is almost double the NWT average, at 19 per cent.
At the same time, the percentage of people in the Deh Cho with a high school diploma is 47 per cent, compared to the territorial rate of 74 per cent.
Other statistics Nadli gave are equally as depressing. In the Deh Cho, 32 per cent of families live on a total income of less than $30,000.
In Fort Providence, the violent crime rate is 2.5 times greater than the territorial rate.
"That needs to change," Nadli said, and he is right.
But how do you heal intergenerational trauma? Deh Gah Got'ie Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge may have the best idea, by putting young people on the land where they can reconnect with their traditional values.
Not only does such an endeavour get these young people out of the community but it gives them a chance to develop pride in their indigenous identity.
Crime cannot be addressed solely by banishment, as much as that may put the minds of some community members at ease.
Until the root problem is addressed, young people will continue to act out to express their pain.
Hope needed all year long
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 25, 2016
It's great to hear about the progress being made at the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre, but it also begs the question: Now what?
The centre's executive director, Joey Amos, said this week he is looking for new sources of funding to keep the facility open all year long, something which is clearly needed in this community. While the original intent was to essentially keep people from freezing to death in the winter months when they couldn't go to the Inuvik Homeless Shelter, which insists its residents be completely sober or be housed by the RCMP for the night, the need for such a centre is clear in summer as well.
Like everything else, recovery is governed by Newton's laws of motion, including the one that states that bodies in motion will tend to stay in motion if left to their own devices. Similarly, people who have the opportunity to stay on track are more likely to do so than those who have the proverbial and literal rug pulled out from under them.
Now that the centre has a permanent location, its success in acquiring money to keep the doors open through the warmer months is far more plausible. Winter is, after all, the challenging half of the year for property maintenance at the very least. On top of looking for other sources of support, Amos said the centre is looking to re-open the second-hand store which used to occupy half the building in years past to help bring in some money themselves.
All this points to longevity and success, but the community cannot become complacent. As other worthy and important efforts around town can attest, getting off the ground - monumental task though it is - is a very different beast from maintaining regular operations once the shine of something new has worn off.
Even programming dollars are likely to shrink now that the GNWT has announced it will have to tighten its belt in light of a bleak economic outlook this assembly.
Luckily, Amos said community members have remained generous in their donations of food, clothes and personal items -- indeed, so much so that the proposed second-hand store is already well stocked. Hopefully this level of support will continue and those moving towards recovery will be better able to stay that way.
The nuclear option
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Say the word 'nuclear' and people go running, or on environmental tangents about indestructible waste, or reciprocate with loaded words such as 'Chernobyl' and 'Fukushima.'
But take a look around.
The Snare and Yellowknife rivers, which supply the city with hydro power, are mere trickles compared to a couple years ago. The Jackfish diesel plant is coughing up oily, black smoke on overdrive, trying to make up for water levels so low the hydro system can't generate the power required to keep the city's lights on.
Despite the NWT Power Corporation being "cautiously optimistic" - which it was last year as well just prior to the territorial government's $30 million power-consumer bailout - the city and territory must acknowledge this may be the new climate-change-induced norm.
What is barely working now is unsustainable into the future.
A gold mine potentially coming online in 2025 will only add further stress to the power landscape. TerraX president Joe Campbell says the mine could consume at least as much power as the city currently uses.
The territorial government will be craning its neck at the height of its debt ceiling within a few years and the $50 million it forked over to power corp. to shield citizens from even higher rate increases over the last two years - and possibly into the future - is digging into already depleted revenues.
The territory cannot afford to use its valuable borrowing ability to fund expenses with zero return.
According to a 2012 study by the Institute for Energy Research on power costs, nuclear power emerged as cheapest, at 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour. Right now, Yellowknifers pay 28.9 cents per kilowatt hour.
Despite the cheaper energy a nuclear option could provide, M.V. Ramana, Princeton University nuclear physicist, says the kilowatt-hour cost of a new nuclear reactor without government subsidies would initially be around $9 U.S. due to the very expensive safety tests they require.
But if we're talking about government subsidies, should they not be aimed at something with a promise of eventual savings? Throwing millions every year at power corp. to make up for the cost of diesel does nothing to guard us against skyrocketing power rates. Subsidizing a power source with a high up-front cost that is guaranteed to drop drastically in the future could be a wise investment.
Nuclear power now doesn't necessarily have to look like the classic image of gigantic milk-bottle shaped cooling towers dwarfing everything in sight - there is smaller-scale technology pushing to break out into the market right now.
Civil engineer Daniel Gillis thinks the 'integral molten salt reactor' is the Hail Mary to the city's energy woes and he has been a loud advocate of just that. Created by Canadian company Terrestrial Energy, the reactor touts itself as being incapable of meltdown as it uses liquid fuel and not pressure or water. It also produces a third of the waste of traditional reactors, and has the ability to recycle its own waste. Both Toshiba and Hitachi have also designed smaller-scale reactors although neither have gone further than the prototype.
Galena, a diesel-dependent village of 600 in Alaska, nearly received a small-scale reactor from Toshiba after frustration with high energy costs but the company abandoned the project because the certification stage was too arduous.
The territorial government, now responsible for researching alternative energies through its Department of Public Works, told Yellowknifer this fall while small-scale reactors are on its radar, it's not willing to be the technology's flagship.
It's up to the territorial government to investigate options and make the right decisions for the future. Maybe, if not nuclear, the answer is a liquid natural gas plant adjacent to the city, as power corp. spokesperson Pam Coulter suggested last week. There has been no solid case for solar and there is just starting to be a sliver of hope for wind which is abundant on a set of hills near the Snare hydro system.
Power corp. should be reminded should it resist that, it's bound to take cues from its sole shareholder, the GNWT. Either way, these are important discussions as our reliance on diesel is simply unsustainable.
Time to streamline permit process
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 24, 2016
It was an eye-opening experience to be involved in trying to stage a fundraiser to support a group of young soccer players in Rankin Inlet during the past few weeks.
The boys hope to travel to Yellowknife this coming April to participate in Super Soccer.
And as always, the cost is in the tens of thousands of dollars to get them there.
The idea was to host a beer dance with live entertainment at the community hall.
I had been asked by the boys coach if the band I play in would do the gig, and I immediately said yes. That's when the fun began.
I had heard stories in the past of the difficulties involved with obtaining a liquor permit for such occasions, but it was the first time I actually got to see the process unfold.
The first step is quite understandable, as the non-profit or registered charity group hoping to hold the event must first seek the hamlet council's approval.
Really, who should know better if an event is in the community's best interest than its hamlet council?
One would think if a local event has the approval of hamlet council, the rest of the process should be pretty straightforward.
However, while Nunavut's Liquor Licensing Board may move straightforward, it does so in the lowest gear imaginable.
The permit was granted for the dance.
But not until the morning before the event was scheduled to be held, and a day after it had been postponed due to lack of said permit.
Anyone who has ever staged a large event can tell you, one working day is not a whole lot of time to cross your t's and dot your i's.
In a community where the use of alcohol is legal, such as Rankin Inlet, and its hamlet council has already given its approval, the granting of a permit should be a fairly quick process.
The bottom line is, there are very few ways to fundraise in our communities, and there's a long list of deserving organizations, school athletic programs and minor sports teams hoping to get a small slice of the pie.
In a community where the people have spoken, and the selling of beer is allowed for special events, those events become valuable fundraising opportunities.
They can easily prove to be the difference between a group of kids participating in a positive experience such as Super Soccer, or sitting at home with a game controller in their hand and a bitter or heartbroken look on their face.
And let's not open Pandora's box on a beer dance or two a month being any less acceptable to a community than the seemingly endless nights of bingo games we see held.
The liquor board members should understand the importance of a viable fundraiser in our communities, and they should be obliged to process each application as quickly as possible.
It's time the Government of Nunavut put the ability to outright grant a special event licence in the hands of hamlet council.
Our councillors are elected representatives with the community's best interests at heart.
And opportunities to raise funds for worthy causes flow through our communities slow enough, without board members shutting off the taps altogether through nothing more than indifference.
Stop, collaborate and listen
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 22, 2016
With a brand new legislative assembly and Decho First Nation's brand new lead negotiator Garth Wallbridge, the two parties are set to give land claims talks another round.
Land claims are important. They give First Nations rights, control and determination within their own boundaries. They give First Nations leaders an important place at the table when negotiating whether resource development will happen and how much money will go back to First Nations communities if it does. In a post-devolution territory, land claims give First Nations governments a portion of the territory's resource revenues. Land claims give First Nations the ability to build their own renewable resources boards to manage caribou hunts.
Dehcho First Nations negotiations hit controversy last year when chief Herb Norwegian cried foul over Premier Bob McLeod's public claim that the GNWT was negotiating in good faith while privately it appeared he was giving an ultimatum. As far as Norwegian was concerned, the government was offering a limited amount of acreage and saying, "Take it or leave it."
This time, McLeod appears to be taking another approach. In his bid to retake the premiership, he promised his peers in the legislative assembly he would meet First Nations leaders and come back to them with new offers within 90 days. That was in mid-December, so these new offers should be on the table soon.
McLeod will be meeting with Dehcho First Nations leaders for the first time under the mandate of the 18th Legislative Assembly next week.
A spokesperson stated the premier wants to leave behind the "cookie-cutter approach used previously." He said he will listen, collaborate and work constructively with First Nations leaders and encourages them to do the same.
Land claim negotiations cannot be a cookie-cutter project by design, because what works with one First Nation probably won't work with the next. Each First Nation has its own unique set of challenges, resources and historically used lands, so doing away with any sort of prefab approach is a good start.
For the good of everybody involved, the best of luck to Wallbridge and McLeod in guiding Dehcho First Nations toward a settled land claim.
Make plans to bring Inuit artifacts home
Nunavut/News North - Monday, February 22, 2016
It is wonderful that efforts are being made to preserve thousands of Inuit artifacts collected over dozens of years.
Home to the largest collection of Inuit artifacts in the world, totalling about 30,000 pieces, the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the Manitoba capital is set to take delivery of another 8,000 precious items from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife through a loan agreement with the Government of Nunavut.
It is at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where some selected pieces will be put on display.
The vast majority of them, however, will be kept in storage, under climate-controlled conditions to ensure they do not degrade over time.
Much of the artwork has been under lock and key in Yellowknife for years.
Included in the collection are carvings, wall hangings, prints, drawings, textile art and other pieces of art.
These are the historic documents and artifacts of the Inuit people that were collected prior to division.
In fact, there was talk more than 15 years ago when Nunavut was created of the need for a place within the new territory to house and display the many historic items that had been collected over the years and deemed important enough for special treatment.
That the Government of Nunavut did not work toward creating archival space within the territory speaks perhaps to the chronic shortage of money for cultural necessities, in comparison to the pressures of the territory's social problems.
And we recognize it may be difficult to justify spending millions of dollars to preserve ancient art while a large percentage of the population lives with food insecurity in overcrowded housing.
However, this is valuable Inuit art that was created by Nunavummiut.
The prospect of having to travel to Winnipeg to view the product of people's ancestors is too much to bear.
History has its own importance to people. Some say if you don't know where you came from, you don't know where you're going.
In this day and age, when repatriation of artifacts is so important for so many people, we submit that plans should be made for Nunavut to bring these artifacts home, not to sit in a dark, climate-controlled storage space, but cataloged for public access and displayed for the world to see.
This rich history has been carefully preserved for years in Yellowknife but it is ultimately Nunavut that is responsible for its integrity and future.