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Support local business
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 8, 2016

Could it be that the NWT's stagnant economy might be partially caused by stagnant legislation?

A new Conference Board of Canada economic outlook forecasts rough times ahead for the NWT, mostly caused by the collapse in demand for the territory's main trade -- metals and minerals.

While the GNWT is somewhat helpless in alleviating the globally-caused stresses on this industry there is one business sector that lawmakers can help right away - territory-based contractors.

As Mike Bradshaw, executive director of the NWT Chamber of Commerce, notes in "Little economic growth anticipated in 2016, says economic organization" (Feb. 1 News/North), the territorial government doesn't do a very good job supporting local business. Despite the fact the government does have the Business Incentive Program (BIP) to enforce local procurement, it doesn't go far enough. While the BIP offers a 15 per cent bid advantage to NWT contractors and another five per cent if they're regional suppliers, Bradshaw points out that an Edmonton contractor, on average, can do a construction job 30 per cent cheaper than an NWT contractor could. He is calling on the GNWT to update its 20-year-old contract procurement legislation so Northern businesses can bid on a level playing field. After the resource sector, small and medium sized businesses are the largest employer in the NWT, according to Bradshaw.

The government can't control worldwide commodity prices but it can control how much, or how little it supports those who choose to open businesses in the territory. The government could be doing a better job at this.

Putting our thinking caps on!
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, February 8, 2016

Up until last week, readers may have noticed a dearth of blunt opinions on page 9 of News/North.

This is because, as stalwart columnist Cece Hodgson-McCauley herself explained last week, ("My first column of the new year," Feb. 1 News/North), she spent some time in Vancouver dealing with health issues.

The return of Cece spurred News/North's editors to question exactly how long she had been writing for the paper, so out came the archives. Her first column, dubbed then as it is now Northern Notes, appeared May 24, 1985. Before becoming a columnist she regularly penned letters to the editor, which might explain why her first offering contained little ceremony over the beginning of what would eventually become 31 years of writing.

She hit the ground running, asking why MLAs packed up and moved from community to community for different legislative assembly sittings. In spring 1985, the government was set to travel to Rankin Inlet.

"The cost of moving the speaker's chair, which probably weighs a ton, plus all the technical equipment, translators and equipment, all the fancy trappings, transportation, hotel, food and staff for the MLAs ... just how much is it?" she asked, calling for a televised system so everybody in the Northwest Territories (which covered today's NWT and Nunavut back then) could watch proceedings from the comfort of their own homes.

"In these technological times, the sky is the limit," she wrote, before making a prescient request.

Before the age of information technology and before the Internet, this now 93-year-old writer who still faxes her handwritten columns to News/North called for a satellite system to be built in the North so people in the communities and children at the schools could be connected to their government in Yellowknife. Today, there is indeed a satellite farm growing in Inuvik as well as a fibre optic line, which will bring high-speed Internet to communities along the Mackenzie Valley, connecting people not only to Yellowknife but to the south.

Now, if only the government would get around to building Cece's other great wish - the Mackenzie Valley Highway.

Time to put those thinking caps on!

Numerous benefits from Nunavut training programs
Nunavut/News North - Monday, February 8, 2016

If the future of Nunavut involves more employment for Inuit residents, the prospects are encouraging.

Considering that the Nunavut Roundtable on Poverty Reduction last fall heard that 45 per cent of residents were on income assistance at some time in 2014, there is a demonstrated need for more people to be gainfully employed. The territorial government's Department of Family Services last August pointed to statistics that only 45.8 per cent of Inuit residents in the territory were employed in 2014, compared to the 85.1 per cent of the non-Inuit population who are employed. Of course, statistics must be put in context.

The fact that many Inuit in the territory are not gainfully employed has been identified as an issue by the territorial government and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) by virtue of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which calls for Inuit to be employed by government at a representational level.

The good news is there are a number of new initiatives to assist Inuit who want to find work.

The Nunavut Inuit Training Corporation is a new joint initiative by NTI and the Government of Nunavut to increase the number of Inuit in government positions. Using $175 million from the settlement of a lawsuit between NTI and Ottawa, it will operate under the name Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corporation once it is established. A board of directors has been chosen and a strategic plan is in the process of being developed to offer Inuit training for jobs within the public service.

Meanwhile, a new entrepreneurship training program called Inspire Nunavut offers help for Nunaviummiut to turn ideas into sustainable businesses during a workshop with experts, by setting up mentorships, work placements and assistance from a co-ordinator. The program financially supports participants for six to 12 months so they can develop realistic businesses.

On the trades front, Skills Canada and Nunavut Arctic College is teaming up to offer what is billed as the only way to get a stable job for life. So far there are more than 120 apprentices in Nunavut and Skills Canada is reaching out to high schools to attract more by offering training in a variety of trades as alternatives for those who don't find academic post-secondary education attractive.

Sanatuliqsarvik, the Nunavut Trades Training Centre in Rankin Inlet, offers training to Nunavummiut who want to become journeyman in a variety of fields. Nunavut Arctic College trains people to become carpenters, plumbers, electricians, teachers, chefs, camp cooks and workers in other occupations.

Between the three offerings there are opportunities for Nunavummiut to fill positions in business, bureaucracy and building, setting the stage for the territory to solve its own housing problem.

After all, with an entrepreneur, a carpenter, a heavy equipment operator, a plumber, an electrician and a government employee to approve the permits, Nunavut has all the occupational ingredients needed to build houses, filling a void needed to address a serious social issue.

Cuts must serve purpose
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 5, 2016

Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod will probably be wearing some pretty ugly shoes while making his budget address later this month.

Should he continue the tradition of donning loafers that match the fiscal forecast, one may expect what's on his feet to look quite ratty.

The grim picture is multi-dimentional - the latest-available figure shows the amount of goods and services produced in the NWT in 2014 is 7.5 per cent lower than the five-year average before the 2008 recession; the closure of the Snap Lake Diamond Mine in December has had a yet-unquantifiable impact on the economy with the layoff of more than 434 workers; and the government is having trouble paying its bills. It expects GNWT debt to rise to around $1 billion within four years.

The territory is in dire straits and as McLeod himself said, these changes "puts us in a fairly difficult position fiscally ... we need to make some decisions on how we are going to deal with that."

'Tis the season of tough decisions and the 18th Legislative Assembly indeed will have its work cut out for them - but what should be remembered is that budget cuts should have a purpose. Each item on the chopping block must be considered in a manner that asks, 'What for?'

What is cut and what is preserved in the budget should have the overarching goal of generating economic activity.

As Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart also expressed, the GNWT must still hold strong to business and industry, despite an economic storm brewing around them.

Right now, the territorial government is in negotiations with the Union of Northern Workers, the latter of which is seeking improvements to worker benefits.

While the union's demands will be heard through the process of negotiation, representatives would be wise to remember those demands may be up against the fiscal reality of the times.

So long as the GNWT makes its cuts strategically, with the economic future of the territory in mind, it will helm the ship that gets us safely to shore, eventually.

Pioneers saw big bucks in Northern lights
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 5, 2016

When Tokyo's Canadian Pacific Airlines representative Toshi Togo suggested to Bill Tait in 1989 that he should guide Japanese tourists on trips to see the Northern lights, he likely didn't expect the idea would one day blossom into a major industry.

Yet that's exactly what happened, which puts Tait on par with the likes of Stewart Blusson and Charles Fipke, whose discovery of diamond-bearing kimberlites in the tundra lead to the opening of Ekati Mine in 1998.

Those diamonds might still be there waiting for someone to find them if they hadn't been discovered. Had Tait overlooked the economic opportunity in aurora tourism, it might never have been found either.

It started with Tait guiding 80 Japanese tourists through his company Raven Tours more than 25 years ago.

According to 2013/2014 stats, about 21,700 aurora visitors, most of them from Asia, brought in $21 million to the NWT economy. The number of aurora tourists continues to be on the rise.

While the Ekati Mine has contributed much to the NWT economy, given enough time, it may be overshadowed by aurora tourism in the long run and that is no small accomplishment.

Tait has since moved to Vancouver but he has left an indelible mark on the territory.

Aurora tourism's growth potential is only limited by the market's ability to respond to it.

Funding for the future
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 4, 2016

The long-awaited territorial review of the junior kindergarten program has finally been released.

Since the program was first implemented for four-year-olds in 2014, it has been fraught with criticism as schools tried to fit the program into their already-stretched budgets.

The territory has received flak for the way it funded the program, which put pressure on the schools, and for the way it initially rolled out the program, with a broad brush seemingly without consideration for existing programs.

Some schools, including Deh Gah School in Fort Providence, opted out of the program altogether in favour of more traditional methods such as Aboriginal Head Start.

Other schools that supported the program had to make compromises to ensure it stayed viable.

After its first year of offering junior kindergarten, Fort Simpson's Bompas Elementary School combined the junior kindergarten class with the kindergarten class, offering junior kindergarten half-time in order to keep the program going.

It is obvious from the government's review many smaller communities in the Northwest Territories see the benefits of the junior kindergarten program. More activities, involvement and learning opportunities for children is always a good thing.

With the territorial review now out, the government can at last move forward on practical solutions for the junior kindergarten program.

The first thing they should consider is putting some additional money aside for the program so schools like Bompas can provide the appropriate supports for the students who are already enrolled in junior kindergarten. That could include moving junior kindergarten back to full-time and hiring a teacher dedicated to the program.

Another issue the review addressed that needs to be taken very seriously is concerns raised by Aboriginal Head Start representatives of the institutionalization of four-year-olds.

In an area of the country heavily impacted by residential schools, the government should have known better than to roll out an education program, even a voluntary one, without proper consultation.

After giving the program appropriate funding to continue in the communities that want it, the government must pursue positive consultation in other communities.

The fact is that younger children require more support than school-aged children. At the age of four, junior kindergarten students need that support more than ever. It is unfortunate that it took the government so long to consider those supports.

It is important to note the review does not bind the government to any course of action. However, it is a step in the right direction because it gives the government conclusive evidence for the successes and failures of the program.

While flawed, the program does indeed have benefit and deserves support for that reason.

Need for apartment project to be saved
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 4, 2016

It's hardly news to anyone that Millennium Construction is no longer a functioning company in Inuvik but confirmation that the new singles' apartment building the company was constructing near town hall won't be completed this winter is still something of a blow.

It's a tired trope that the North is in the midst of a ridiculously drawn-out and ongoing housing crisis and anything or anyone seeking to alleviate that crunch is good news.

The flip side of that is a lot of hope for new projects and a lot of disappointment when they are delayed or even fall through.

Sydney Apartments was touted as a bright shiny future in many ways. It will mean new public housing options for both single people and couples, with an open-plan concept, one-bedroom apartments, a change from the old Sydney Apartments, which feature thin walls and only bachelor units. It was also meant to have solar panels.

It can still absolutely be all those things, it's just a shame it had to hit this stumbling block.

The reality is that in this kind of economy, the only agency or group with the wherewithal to build pretty much anything is government. The other part of this reality is that in this kind of economy, more people need affordable housing than ever.

This is a town of less than 4,000 people with two well-used homeless shelters.

Hopefully the Government of the NWT will move quickly to find a new contractor for the singles apartments project.

Hopefully a company will be found to take up where Millennium Construction left off and manage to do it reasonably within budget and as quickly as possible.

One building was never going to solve all the housing-related problems in this town -- and public housing has its own slew of problems in and of itself -- but it was a step in the right direction in a place that seems to be barely crawling forward right now.

As the court documents obtained by the Drum this week suggest, there is definitely blame to be doled out here, but right now that doesn't much matter.

The hope is that those responsible for this mess will be held accountable and that it won't happen again.

Right now, what matters is getting this project back on track so it can house the people it was always meant to accommodate.

Be bold with Games
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let's not beat around the bush, Yellowknife is in a rut. Everyone living here knows it and everybody feels it.

The black cloud that appeared with the closure of De Beers' Snap Lake diamond mine in December continues to rumble overhead as falling commodities prices and a failing economy threaten what remains of the territory's resource sector.

Government, which years ago replaced mining as the city's primary economic lifeline, is also signalling trouble ahead. The territorial government announced Monday that shrinking revenues will be having an effect, raising the silent spectre of cuts to programs and services, even layoffs.

Right on cue, the NWT Chamber of Commerce released a gloomy letter to MLAs and city council expressing "absolute opposition" to the proposed bid for the Canada Winter Games. The letter states this is the time "to step back" and not "put additional stress on the private sector or on our residents."

In all due respect, we would argue, as does city councillor Shauna Morgan, the Canada Winter Games is exactly what this city needs and the timing couldn't be any better. Furthermore, it will be great for business.

The prospect of hosting the Games in 2023 has been a source of derision since the idea first appeared on city council's radar in 2014. The business community, with some justification, is suspicious of city administration and the GNWT's unblinking enthusiasm to bring the Games North, surmising that doing so will lead to higher taxes and costs with few benefits.

The chamber points out in its letter that two of the top three priorities its members would like the legislative assembly to address are poor economic growth and the territory's stagnant population. Neither of these problems will be remedied by hunkering down and counting pennies.

This city, and by extension the territory, needs a bold project and a goal.

Yes, the Games - now projected at $76.8 million - will be expensive, and additional revenues may have to be raised to pay for them. Prince George, B.C. required taxpayers to fork out an extra $125 a year over four years to pay for its games held last year.

But, aside from a renewed vibrancy, a new swimming pool, an overhaul of existing facilities and a greater sense of purpose such an event would bring to the community, there are straight up dollar benefits too.

Prince George's mayor told Yellowknifer last fall that his city's Games were expected to add an extra $70 million to $90 million in economic benefits. The figure turned out to be closer to $120 million.

And there will be jobs.

According to the report on the 2011 Games in Halifax, the event spawned 1,112 jobs and $40.4 million in wages and salaries. More than 11,500 people attended those games as participants or spectators. Total gross economic activity totalled $130 million.

Pulling off the Games in Yellowknife, with its smaller population, higher costs and relatively greater distance from other population centres will not be easy. But rolling over when faced with challenges while hoping some magic life preserver will be tossed our way to rescue us from our slump is no way to beat the doldrums either.

Right now the voices of 'no' hold sway. That's partly because the city and GNWT have not demonstrated that they can work together to ensure the city isn't stuck with the bill. It's ridiculous the GNWT won't commit to funding $26.5 million for an athletes' village without council approval of the Games bid itself. This stance only heightens the risk that council will reject the bid.

The key players must also ensure they are transparent and timely when providing information. One of the main reasons why the city's worthy geothermal project died in the womb was because of its reluctance to lay out all the facts. This seeded the distrust that led to the project's defeat in the borrowing referendum of 2010.

Yellowknifer supports the Games because we believe it will breathe new life and ultimately benefit Yellowknifers. But if problems are glossed over and costs misrepresented in an effort to deflect legitimate questions and discredit critics, we will expose those efforts vociferously, much as we did during the lead up to the geothermal vote.

The Canada Winter Games is a winning ticket and everybody -- the city, territorial and federal governments and business - should do everything they can to ensure the territory emerges a winner.

JLM growing tale of success
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tournament season got off to a rousing start in the Kivalliq with the JLM (Jon Lindell Memorial) Calm Air Cup senior men's event in Arviat from Jan. 22 to 24.

The crowds were large, boisterous and well-behaved, the atmosphere electric, and the hockey fast, competitive and exciting.

Organizer Gleason Uppahuak has been doing a steadily-improving job with the event and, as noted by Karetakers' forward and son of the tournament's original namesake, Jackson Lindell, his efforts have not gone unnoticed.

I've travelled to Arviat for the JLM since its inaugural year, and it has slowly grown in credibility and prestige during those years.

This year, the excitement on the final Sunday was quite palpable.

So too was the enjoyment of the hundreds of fans who took it all in.

And nowhere was the impact more noticeable than on the smiling faces of the kids loving every minute.

It was quite enjoyable to see the looks of admiration on so many of those children's faces as they watched their favourite players take to the ice, and the looks of awe as they saw some of the region's best-known players walk past them in the arena.

Make no mistake, a good number of the kids knew full well who Rodney Taparti of Naujaat, David Clark and Wendel Kaludjak of Rankin Inlet and Chris Jones of Whale Cove were.

Some might say these guys are just senior hockey players from the Kivalliq, but those folks underestimate the impact the game of hockey has on so many children in our region and that players of their talent, whether they want to be or not, are role models in their own right.

And this year the players came through in spades for the children.

They saw a high-calibre of action with no fights, very little dirty play, and four teams on Sunday afternoon giving it everything they had.

The Arviat arena has a ways to go to equal the atmosphere in Rankin's grand old lady, but the Arviat fans have come light years during the past few seasons.

This might be something you'd expect to read, seeing as it is penned by - as everyone knows - a hockey guy. But the truth of the matter is there was almost a festive feeling around Arviat during the JLM weekend.

Whether you're a sports person or not, you must admit such an atmosphere is always a welcome addition to our communities during our Kivalliq winters.

If I had $10 for every time I was high-fived or knuckle-tapped by children in the arena during the weekend, as I was going to or from the ice surface, I'd have a nice little early-year bonus to deposit. And that's the type of spirit our regional tournaments can instil in our youth when they're well-organized and the players set a good example by sticking to hockey.

Hopefully, Uppahuak and whoever else pitches in can continue to grow the JLM Calm Air Cup and make it even more attractive for players and fans alike.

And, while acknowledging money for travelling is always a barrier, it would be nice to see a few more communities send teams to the JLM on an annual basis. There is nothing to rival the satisfaction that comes with the success of a homegrown event, and the JLM is poised to take its place as one of the top three hockey events of the season in the Kivalliq, if not all of Nunavut!

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