Dumb expense rules cost taxpayers money
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 8, 2016
Elected members of the legislative assembly have the responsibility to understand the legal requirements of their position, and the duty to accept the consequences of failing to meet those requirements.
Eight MLAs, some newly minted, others seasoned veterans, missed a deadline to file their election expense reports. This meant they were, according to the letter of the law, unable to sit and vote without first filing paperwork with the NWT Supreme Court.
Tim Mercer, clerk of the legislative assembly, arranged for GNWT lawyers to take care of the filing for the sake of expediency at a cost of just over $6,100 for all eight MLAs.
Had Mercer not taken this step, individual MLAs would have had to hire their own lawyers to make the Supreme Court filing.
All MLAs involved should repay the money spent on their behalf, and at least four have already indicated they would do just that.
If anybody in the NWT should be expected to understand the rules of government it is the territory's MLAs. Failure to comply with those rules should not be over-looked or subsidized.
On the other hand, most if not all of the MLAs involved were snagged in an inordinately inflexible system.
According to Mercer, five of the eight MLAs in question had mailed their reports a full week prior to the deadline. The mail system being what it is, those reports did not arrive at the legislative assembly in time.
Surely, a dated post stamp should be enough to satisfy filing requirements. MLAs are expected to perform their duties as cost-efficiently as possible. Sending mundane expense reports by regular mail across a vast territory certainly meets that requirement and should not lead to MLAs being penalized for doing so.
The other three made "good faith" errors in failing to comply with the letter of the law.
In other words, all involved likely should have been granted an extension as is permitted for non-elected candidates.
Political commentator and academic Stephanie Irlbacher-Fox was correct to call for a system change allowing the chief electoral officer to extend the same flexibility to elected members of the legislative assembly as she is able to extend to those candidates who were not elected.
Elections NWT should also offer the option of filing these reports electronically so candidates are not at the mercy of Canada Post to get their expense reports in on time.
These options certainly beat making taxpayers pay for the tardiness of some MLAs and the vagaries of mail delivery in the Northwest Territories.
Ambulance fees don't add up to accessible health care
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, April 8, 2016
City councillors talking about reducing the $225 fee charged to patients for ambulance services should consider dropping it all the way to zero. The thinking behind the charge just doesn't add up.
The Canadian health-care system is designed to provide citizens access to "medically necessary hospital and physician services on a prepaid basis," according to Health Canada. People cannot be said to have access to that care if they have to foot the bill to be delivered to the hospital doors.
One wonders why residents should be charged a fee for ambulance trips but not for hospital staff to clean the sheets on hospital beds. Both services are necessary for a hospital to run properly but one cost is billed to the person in need and the other is billed to the public purse.
Ambulance fees for Status Indians are paid for by the federal Non-Insured Health Benefit. If the city can send a bill for these patients to Health Canada, presumably it can send a bill to the territorial government for everybody else who needs an ambulance. From what we can tell, the largest customer base for city ambulance services are the city's homeless. Surely, they're not expected to pay these bills.
City politicians may claim fiscal responsibility by pointing to the $1 million the ambulance fee rakes in annually to pay for the $5-million service but at the end of the day this is just the cost of doing business and when the business is providing emergency medical services, it is a cost well worth paying.
High hopes for visit
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, April 1, 2016
Deh Cho residents are still waiting on NWT Premier Bob McLeod to fulfil his election promises months after he said he would.
The premier is making a trip to Fort Simpson on April 8 to meet with community leaders. At that point, he is also expected to meet with Dehcho First Nations on the ongoing Dehcho Process.
McLeod was re-elected to the legislative assembly in November. In December, while vying for the position of premier, he pledged a new land offer within 90 days.
More than four months later, residents of the Deh Cho are still waiting for that promise to come to fruition.
Now, while members have been waiting, the Dehcho First Nations have been going full steam ahead. Since January, leadership has met numerous times and hired a new chief negotiator.
With this being the second visit from the premier since the new year began, a spotlight should be shining fairly brightly on what comes out of this trip. It is long past time to move forward on negotiations and it is up to the territorial government to make good on its promises.
The last sitting of the legislative assembly was unfortunately relatively free of any discussion on the Dehcho Process, Acho Dene Process or other land claims ongoing within the territory.
Aside from members' statements in late 2015 acknowledging the need for resolution to land claims, the only real discussion in the assembly happened March 1 between Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. and McLeod.
At that point, when asked whether the government will change its negotiating mandate to ensure there is a common interest to settle both land claims and self-government agreements, McLeod responded that the mandates in place allow for no flexibility.
In the past, that may have been true. But surely now there is more flexibility than ever. Surely with a new federal government that mandate has changed dramatically.
It seems all parties want negotiations to move forward -- at least, they say they do. The question remains as to whether or not progress will actually happen.
Hopefully the territorial and federal governments can move beyond rhetoric and make good on their obligations to the Dehcho First Nations. A new, formal offer needs to be made soon if people are expected to take McLeod's commitments at face value.
Election of the new legislative assembly in 2015 signalled a time of important change for the Northwest Territories. Let's hope that change of spirit has lasted into 2016.
Fresh eyes admire wondrous beauty
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, April 1, 2016
For many, if not most, of the people in the community, this past week has been all about the Muskrat Jamboree.
With everything from games to feasts to snowmobile races and talent shows on offer over the course of the weekend, there was truly something for everyone.
While the children will get their own carnival in the summer, there was certainly no shortage of young people out at events over the course of the four-day carnival, dashing between the legs of spectators and snatching food off tables while dignitaries talked at the opening ceremonies.
As was pointed out by several of those dignitaries and others over the course of the weekend, the jamboree also played host to several visitors.
People from all over the world came to Inuvik for what is arguably the highlight of the year in terms of celebration, sometimes mingling with the crowd and sometimes staying with their own group to take in the sights.
When people talk about cultural tourism and the possibility of growing the industry into something substantial for the area, I think this is what they mean.
It was a beautiful example of people sharing experiences across cultural divides with goodwill and warmth, despite the sometimes chilly weather.
While the benefits of locals and their knowledge to those visitors are evident, the reverse is perhaps a bit more elusive, beyond the obvious influx of outside money into community businesses.
As something between a local and a tourist, not to mention a person who does a job that slowly leeches all capacity for wonder from the soul, I found myself driving down the ice road on the Sunday morning, April 2, vaguely annoyed at having to make the trek out to Bar C on such a busy day.
I thought of all the things I could be doing instead of driving down a river in what could easily have been a Northern version of a Mad Max movie.
I thought, as excellent as reindeer are, that seeing them from afar was not something that would move me.
Had it been just reindeer, I may have been right.
But once there, seeing the reactions from all the spectators there, pushing forward towards the invisible line preventing them from getting too close, gave me a different perspective.
Maybe some of us take the extreme beauty of where we live for granted.
For whatever reason, the Muskrat Jamboree gives us a chance to experience this wondrous place with fresh eyes and heart.
Sell it, keep it or auction it
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 6, 2016
After being unable to sell a parcel of land near Bristol Monument at market value, at least one city councillor has taken a sharp left-hand turn in suggesting the city ought to give the land away for free.
Coun. Niels Konge used words like 'stupid' and 'crap' when referring to the way the city approaches land deals. His suggestion, which was generally supported by several other councillors as Yellowknifer reported last week, touted the give away as a means to promote development and create jobs.
The city was trying to sell the land by Bristol Monument for $790,000.
Konge, as a developer himself, knows the marketplace sets the price of land, not individual buyers and sellers. Surely, he would never contemplate giving anything away without recovering costs and getting the best value for his money. To suggest otherwise as a city councillor is ludicrous - and just bad business.
While Konge described the land, which was transferred to the city from the territorial government, as "free," this is misleading.
In fact, it cost $166,682 to have the land near Bristol cleaned up after it was found to be contaminated, so the city would suffer a loss if it opts to just give it away. Further, the money the city receives through land sales is reinvested into developing properties through roads, water and sewer connections. Finally, the city's current stock of land on the market is worth $13 million, and projected to rise. As Jeff Humble, the city's director of planning and development, so rightly pointed out to Yellowknifer, "If we start giving away land, we start limiting the ability of the city to pursue other land development opportunities."
While in some cases, market value may not be feasible, there are many roads to travel that does not include giving it away for free. One such option may be an auction, which would be a better way to actually gauge what people are willing to pay for the land. If a reasonable price isn't offered, hang onto the land.
It's better than giving away land for nothing while everyone else who owns land in the city pay a premium for theirs.
Mushing dynasty well established
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, April 6, 2016
It shouldn't surprise anyone to see the Beck name at and near the top of the standings at the Canadian Dog Derby Championships, held each year on the ice of Great Slave Lake.
Richard Beck once again took the top prize and this year's race for the top spot was a family affair, with Jaden Beck chasing the elder Beck but Richard, who has raced in the derby for almost 40 years, handily beat him in the 241-kilometre race. For his efforts, he took home $5,000, a trophy and the Yellowknifer Knife for being the top Yellowknife musher.
Dog mushing has always been a part of life in the far North, from the days when trappers would navigate supply-laden sleds across long distances to get to traplines, camps and civilization, to today's lightweight racer sleds and dogs bred for speed. The popularity has also translated into tourism dollars, thanks again in part to the Becks and their Aurora Wonderland Tours, with many aurora tourists taking in a dogsled ride as part of the Northern experience.
It is people like Richard Beck who have kept dogsledding alive in Yellowknife while giving tourists another reason to visit. He also proves that dogsledding is one where youth does not automatically give you an edge.
His decades of experience show whenever he gets on the sled.
He explained the dogs do most of the work but it takes skill to hand-pick, train and guide them successfully in the race.
His influence is evident in the family, with several Becks among the racers every year. When accepting the trophy, he praised the younger generation, saying he can see Jaden winning the derby someday.
With the legacy he has laid down, that is a very real possibility, as well as many more generations who will be getting behind the sled.
Memorial tourney should have strong 'choose life' voice
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, April 6, 2016
The whispering and second guessing in some corners of the community was bound to happen with the announcement of the Terence Tootoo Memorial senior men's hockey tournament being launched in Rankin Inlet this coming year.
The problem as some people see it is that a tournament should not be held in memory of someone who took their own life, even if they were a hometown hero at the time of their death.
And this is a valid concern.
However, those condemning the decision to hold a Terence Tootoo Memorial should take a moment to gather all the facts before making their decision.
I interviewed a few of Terence's closest friends shortly after that tragic day, and each and every one lamented the fact Terence took being a role model very seriously.
In a heart-wrenching moment, one friend reflected upon what he had just said and then added, "It sounds strange to say that now."
And that's the crux of the matter in a nutshell.
You cannot pretend naming a tournament after a suicide victim does not come with inherent risk.
There may be a youth out there contemplating the action who equates the naming of the tournament with justifying their actions.
They may think nobody cares about them now, but they're really going to miss them when they're gone.
Maybe even enough to name
a big event after them.
That's why how the Terence Tootoo Memorial is presented is of paramount importance.
And one need look no further than the tireless anti-suicide work done by Jordin Tootoo during the years following his brother's death to gain confidence in the fact the proper message will be delivered in connection to the new tournament.
In fact, the Terence Tootoo Memorial has the potential to be a strong ally in the battle against the suicide monster.
There are precious few people who have not been touched by suicide in this region.
Every family has felt the heartbreaking pain that comes with the senseless loss of a mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, cousin or close friend.
Yet the families endure.
And many within those families hope others take a lesson from the loss of their loved one, and never feel the pain and grief they continue to struggle with.
A united family is a powerful force, and there should be little doubt the Tootoo family will be united in delivering a strong message of "choose life" in connection to the tournament.
With Jordin's commitment and dedication leading the way -- reinforced by the love of his mom and dad, Rose and Barney -- there is almost unlimited opportunity to host a number of "choose life" events in tandem with the tournament, each one with the potential to reach a struggling youth and pull he or she back from the edge of the abyss.
Far from being whispered about, the Terence Tootoo Memorial has the potential to be an inspiring event that accomplishes a lot of good in the community, region and territory.
And this corner says it is in the proper hands to do just that.
How to restore faith in senate
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, April 4, 2016
The credibility of the Canadian Senate has fallen under spotlight over the past few years in the wake of the Mike Duffy scandal and subsequent auditor general investigation into every senator's expenses.
Certainly Duffy's indiscretions have exposed a rot and the investigation has shown how deep it goes but NWT Senator Nick Sibbeston's comments on the $26,000 he is expected to pay back shows how the problem is systemic.
In defending an eight-day trip to Yellowknife he took in 2013 that he admitted was primarily to see his wife, Sibbeston said he was disappointed he'd have to pay back the $4,324 in claimed travel expenses because he holds "informal meetings" whenever he travels in the North.
"I see people," he said.
"I go to the hospital, I go to Tim Hortons and see people."
Reasonably yes, there is no doubt Sibbeston sees people and holds informal meetings whenever he is in Yellowknife but what a dangerous precedent to set.
Technically, he could justify coming up to Yellowknife any time, for any reason, because he is bound to run into people he can informally discuss issues with.
According to the auditor general's report into senate expenses, senators govern themselves when it comes to the way it functions, including travel.
"They design their own rules, choose whether to enforce those rules, and determine what, if any, information will be publicly disclosed," the report states.
This means before the auditor general came into the picture, Sibbeston was entirely reasonable to expect he wouldn't catch any flack for flying to Yellowknife to visit his wife and maybe run into some people and talk shop for a bit in order to make the trip seem legit. There was really no bar set for him to meet in order to prove the legitimacy of his claims.
Media spotlight on this issue has resulted in the reduction of public's confidence in senate, something that must be disheartening to all senators, but there is a silver lining -- paying back the money and instituting public oversight into the way Senate spends in the future will restore legitimacy and trust.
A success story for Fort Smith
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, April 4, 2016
Fort Smith social worker Jaleesa Paulette is proud to be living and working in the community where she grew up in.
When she was 18 she left the community to study at Aurora College in Yellowknife, earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Regina, then did something rare for people her age - she came back to share her skills in her home community. The territorial government offers incentives for NWT youth to study elsewhere and bring their skills back, an initiative that has proven notoriously hard to successfully implement. This is why Paulette is so valuable to the North.
Those who were born and raised in the NWT have an innate understanding of the land, the communities, the history and the people.
It is something that is invaluable to any profession, be it social work, engineering, health care or education.
Paulette is a shining example of how to take advantage of the opportunities the territorial government offers youth, and how taking advantage of these opportunities can also make the territory a better place.
Send a clear message for sustainable development
Nunavut/News North - Monday, April 4, 2016
If mining is your game, Iqaluit is the place to be from April 4 to 7 for the 2016 Nunavut Mining Symposium.
Under the theme "Balancing Our Investment," the 19th annual event draws industry professionals, Inuit beneficiary groups, regulatory agencies, representatives of various levels of government and mining industry delegates from all over the world.
The one-day trade show, gala awards evening and conference sessions are expected to attract people from across North America, Europe and Asia.
Mining plays an enormous role in Nunavut's economy and it continues to grow.
The government of Nunavut has been sending out signals to industry that the territory is open for business. And it's working.
Exploration spending increased to $202.5 million in 2015, up 28 per cent from the previous year's spending total of $158 million. And this is at a time when commodity prices could be substantially better.
There are calls for the federal Liberal government and the territorial government to do more to encourage more exploration spending. However, one has only to look at the success Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. has had to find inspiration to do business in Nunavut.
The company has successfully extended the life of its Meadowbank gold mine by developing the Vault pit. Meliadine Mine, meanwhile, is very close to starting construction and its Amaruq deposit is in advanced stage exploration with operation anticipated within the next five years, ideally in time for Meadowbank's closure in 2018.
Agnico Eagle is an example of a company that has persevered and is now a major employer, a large contributor to the economy and a strong corporate citizen.
Other mining activity is promising, including Baffinland's Mary River iron ore project, Sabina's Back River gold project, TMAC's Hope Bay gold project, Arctic Copper Inc.'s copper play in the Kitikmeot region and the Pelly Bay diamond exploration project near Kugaaruk. Also on the horizon for diamonds is the Hood River and Muskox diamond properties located 245 km from Kugluktuk and the Stein diamond property located 85 km north of Taloyoak.
With mines comes infrastructure, and that means spin-off benefits for many people.
It is estimated by the NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines that each dollar spent on Northern economic infrastructure has the potential, if invested wisely, to generate $11 of economic benefits for individuals and $11 of fiscal benefits for governments.
Mining means prosperity and the future of Nunavut depends on responsible development of resources. What Agnico Eagle has done at Meadowbank shows the impact one mine can have. Many more projects have the potential to become mines and deserve support.
Symposium delegates need to hear that Nunavut supports the environmentally responsible and sustainable development of the minerals industry.