Solid business for more borrowing
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 25, 2016
MLA Kieron Testart is correct when he says the territory's debt ceiling is a significant restraint on financing large-scale infrastructure projects ("MLA calls for change to debt limit criteria," Yellowknifer, Nov. 16).
And thank heavens for that.
The GNWT seems to have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to launching multi-million dollar projects.
Among candidates for territorial spending are the Mackenzie Valley Highway ($700 million), the all-weather road to Whati ($150 million), the road to the mineral-rich Slave geological region (up to $300 million), or perhaps a new Aurora College campus in Yellowknife ($60 million).
None of these projects have yet been shown fiscally responsible with hard, audited, numbers.
The territory received a $500 million bump last year that raised the territory's borrowing limit to $1.3 billion. The GNWT is expected to close in on $782 million of debt against that $1.3 billion limit by the end of this fiscal year.
A cushion of $318 million may sound like comfortable breathing room, but a large project coupled with unexpected costs, like a bad forest fire season or a draught that forces reliance on diesel instead of hydro power, could cause serious fiscal discomfort.
In light of this, Testart wants the GNWT to once again take up the line of reasoning initiated by former finance minister Michael Miltenberger where self-financing debt, like the Deh Cho Bridge for example, should not be counted as part of the territory's overall debt.
The line of reasoning has its merits and there's no harm in trying to get the federal government to see it that way.
If self-financing debt were to be reclassified, it would give the territory more room to maneuver. Premier Bob McLeod has said previously this would be a boon for the territory.
But even if the feds were to go for this reclassification of debt, the mere fact of more borrowing power is only a "boon" if it is used responsibly.
Boon can quickly bust, especially if an unplanned-for spike in interest rates makes debt loads unmanageable.
Grand infrastructure projects are an important part of the territory's future. They go hand in hand with growth, but only when based on a sound fiscal model.
The territory's reasoning when comes to infrastructure shouldn't start with the question, "What can we afford?" It should begin with, "Here is a project that makes sense, and this is how it pays for itself."
The previous territorial government abandoned the Taltson hydro grid when it realized the federal government was not going to increase the territory's borrowing limit enough to finance it.
Now the government is looking to see what it can afford to finance in the sub billion dollar range if the feds agree to jig some numbers.
The GNWT would have better success with the federal government if it could provide a sound business case for a specific infrastructure project instead of a long wish list of dubious projects and a blank cheque in the form of more borrowing power.
Managing bad habits is a challenge
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, November 24, 2016
Listening to people describe their battles with addiction at Ingamo Hall Sunday, Nov. 20, was a good opportunity for reflecting on my own challenges.
Luckily, I've never taken to alcohol, but I have a very addictive personality in other ways.
This ranges from what I consider a harmless addiction to rockhounding, which will get me crawling through river beds all day and dragging buckets of rocks back to my car, to the more dangerous fact that I am susceptible to performance enhancers.
When I first got into journalism at 19, I was a very nervous person and was not yet comfortable speaking in front of people or on the phone.
I found that getting myself as energized as possible helped my brain work fast enough to get through any stuttering.
I far over-consumed energy drinks, which are relatively benign in the grand scheme of things, but they did eventually culminate in about a month of disturbing heart palpitations.
Before I hit drinking age, I had drawn a line in my head at hard drugs, because I knew that if I found something that helped my stutter, it would be a fast spiral downward.
These days, I most struggle with a tendency to binge eat. I have a bit of an oral fixation and always want to be chewing something.
The more I eat, the more I work out, though, so it's an okay cycle if I can maintain it.
However, I'd prefer to live a simpler, less-guilt-trippy life of moderation.
Environmental constraints help me manage my bad tendencies.
If I can't get something, or if people are around, I'm good at living the straight and narrow life. Leave me alone with bad influences in my face and it's a real battle of willpower.
I find it's good to pretend I'm being watched.
Managing my thoughts has also been important.
When I was younger, I often got caught in repetitive loops of bad ideas going around my head.
I had to mentally confront those thoughts and tell myself, "No, that's not what we think."
I still have to control myself and tell myself what to think.
Your mental state is your reality, after all.
Though alcohol gets much of the airplay, addiction comes in many forms.
People who struggle with alcohol are not alone even if surrounded by sobriety.
Everyone can relate, and being the best version of ourselves is an everyday challenge for life, but one very much worth pursuing.
Gas deposits everywhere but not a drop to burn
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, November 24, 2016
Underground gas deposits surround Inuvik in such abundance that methane bubbles up to the surface of some lakes, yet the town imports fuel from the south.
It is beyond unfortunate that a community can be so plentiful in resources but so unable to take advantage of them.
But under the circumstances, it's understandable.
Petroleum resources are very expensive to tap into in the first place, even more so in an Arctic environment. This doesn't even take into account the drop in the price of oil from record highs of more than $140 a barrel in 2008 to its current $47 a barrel.
It's hard, if not impossible, to justify a mega project like the Mackenzie pipeline under the current economic circumstances.
Mayor Jim McDonald thinks the pipeline's prospects are a distant hope at this point.
Though understandable, that's a shame, because projects like this are nation-building opportunities.
For the North to survive not just on its own, but to find its role in Canada and the globe, it needs to capitalize on its assets.
Efforts to promote sealskin across the world do just that, as do the successful diamond and other mining operations in the North.
For the nearer-term option, developing a gas-to-liquids project to meet the region's needs sounds more possible.
Either way, the economic lesson here is resources don't make you wealthy. What contributes to wealth is the ability to harvest or extract them, and use them in an efficient manner. This extends from natural resources to human labour and beyond. The gas in the ground is not worth anything, and neither is the idle worker, speaking in economic terms.
The Northern lights aren't worth anything in themselves, yet a flourishing tourism industry centred on the aurora borealis draws visitors and their dollars from Japan and across the world to the North.
From unemployment to natural resources, the North needs to turn its unproductive assets into wealth-building ones. That's a big job, with many organizations involved and many unique issues making it a complicated endeavour, but it's the only way toward self-sustainability and a more independent North.
Hopefully, there's a path for Inuvik to capitalize on its own resources soon, at least the ones so plentiful they bubble on the lakes.
Don't leave shelters out in the cold
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 23, 2016
A municipal services committee discussion about proposed criteria that would set out which not-for-profit organizations are eligible for property tax exemptions uncovered something interesting.
According to the territorial government's Property Assessment and Taxation Act, any building used as a residence is excluded from tax exemptions.
On the surface, this makes sense - it stops a person from setting up a not-for-profit in their house and personally benefiting from property tax breaks. But it also means organizations such as Bailey House, Avens, the women's shelter and Hope's Haven are excluded from even being considered.
These organizations do critical work to address homelessness, which is one of this city's biggest societal issues.
Being not-for-profits, they rely on the goodwill of people and the government for funding but part of that funding goes straight back to the territorial government in the form of property taxes because of this rule.
Instead of staying in the coffers of front-line service providers, this cash gets fed back into the government machine.
Because the problem hinges on amendments to territorial legislation, anybody hoping for a quick fix to this problem shouldn't hold their breath.
The city is already waiting in line for changes to the Cities, Towns and Villages Act that would allow the city to loan homeowners money for energy retrofits and implement a hotel tax. But in September, the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs told Yellowknifer it had 19 separate pieces of legislation pending on its agenda.
It makes sense amendments to legislation take time and careful deliberation. But amending the Property Assessment and Taxation Act so donations and government funding stays in the hands of shelter providers is simple common sense.
Hopefully, the territorial government can find a spot in its lengthy legislative to-do list to include this very important change so shelters aren't left out in the cold at tax time.
Fixing visitor's centre shows pride in city
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Out of sight, out of mind.
For years, the Northern Frontier Visitor's Centre has been at the mercy of frost heave over Frame Lake.
Right now, the centre's Northern lights exhibit area is closed because long cracks are running through the wall above the exhibit and an entire wall is pulling away from the building by a few centimetres.
Most Yellowknifers don't see this because those who live here normally wouldn't have reason to visit the visitor's centre for obvious reasons.
But for tourists, business travellers and even those scouting Yellowknife as a possible place to live, the visitor's centre will likely create a first impression.
Having a cracked and broken visitor's centre is kind of like walking around with spinach stuck in one's teeth - it sure is embarrassing even if most Yellowknifers aren't aware of it.
The Canadian Northern Economic Agency (CanNor) has provided the centre with $75,000 to do a feasibility study on how to fix the building's structural issues. It's important that the city and territorial government commit to fund whatever conclusions come from the study.
The last time the centre received money for repairs, it was $400,000 from CanNor and the territorial government to patch up a short-term solution.
Rather than continuing to patch the problem with hundreds of thousands of dollars, the visitor's centre is going to need a bigger sum of money for a more permanent fix.
It will surely be expensive but putting out a good first impression to visitors shows Yellowknifers have pride in their community.
Solid programs help build better communities
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Getting more youth involved in sports is paramount in the ongoing struggle to give Kivalliq youth enough positive experiences to build healthy lifestyles around.
The challenges have been well documented, from having volunteers willing to put the hours in with the youth and get certified to instruct the sport of their choice, to fundraising for travel, securing practice space from already overtaxed infrastructure, and finding equipment to accommodate every person who wants to play, no matter their family's financial situation.
Kivalliq has been blessed during the past decade by the number of southern businesses, sporting associations and individuals who have stepped up to donate new-and-used equipment for our children and youth to be able to play, especially in hockey.
The people behind these efforts truly deserve the region's unwavering gratitude. Getting children out - and the younger the better - is the first step in the process, and they have to have faith in their coaches always showing up or they'll stop coming out.
Next is making the sport of their choice fun to play and resisting the temptation to stack teams or put too much emphasis on winning.
If the children are having fun, they'll keep coming back. But if they feel there's too much pressure on them, or expectations always exceed their reach, they'll leave the sport and often for good.
One can take for granted common sense will carry the day and coaches will always put participation and fun above winning, especially in lower-age groups.
However, those who do take such things for granted are setting themselves up to be gravely disappointed.
If overly-competitive coaches weren't a problem, we wouldn't hear so much about it every year and we wouldn't see the number of children competing in sports continually dropping.
Another difficult balancing act, especially in areas where so much equipment is donated, is not to let a sense of entitlement seep its way into the programs.
For the most part, children are the same across this great nation of ours.
They'll be lazy if you let them, and they'll be engaged and productive if properly encouraged.
Paul Stroeder is making significant strides with soccer in Rankin Inlet. Stroeder is helping develop soccer at a grassroots level, getting as many children involved in his programs on a continual basis as he can.
He organizes a number of mini-tournaments during the season, keeping the teams as even as possible, and often puts friendship ahead of skill when placing players to ensure maximum fun levels.
Stroeder helps children fundraise and managed to get two U-12 boys' teams to Yellowknife to compete in the junior Super Soccer event earlier this year. But for all the effort he puts into his soccer program, he is always quick to point out children earn every perk they get. Nothing is simply given to them.
That attitude shapes the backbone of his program, as the children take a certain level of ownership in their sport, knowing they will be rewarded for their efforts.
And Stroeder is not alone in that approach. The children on Lisa Kresky's competitive gymnastics squad are well known for their involvement, dedication and commitment to their program, including fundraising.
Donald Clark is also well known for enforcing behavioral guidelines for his junior 'C' hockey program, having sat out top players more than once for stepping outside the boundaries of what he and his coaching staff deemed to be acceptable. All these components are essential in developing youth sports programs that withstand the test of time.
When put in place and adhered to, the benefits transcend the sports arena and positively influence the personal development of the children involved.
And that is where the true strength of a solid sporting program reveals itself, being a benefit both to the individual and the community in which they are a part of.
Stop studying,start helping
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, November 21, 2016
Health Minister Glen Abernethy made the above proclamation in his introduction to the glossy booklet Mind and Spirit: Promoting Mental Health and Addictions Recovery in the NWT.
As reported last week in News/North ("New addictions plan in works," Nov. 14), that new "strategic framework" highlights issues and ways the GNWT plans to tackle mental health and addictions at a broad level.
Well, Minister Abernethy, we suggest there is no health without real action on mental health. And we have found very little evidence your government - or previous legislative assemblies - have made any substantive headway on that front.
One thing that does impress us is your industrious production of empty, meaningless words that have accompanied countless documents, studies, action plans and reports over the years. Projects that did nothing but line the pockets of consultants, keep bureaucrats busy and give politicians a place to shelve the issue for awhile.
The latest polished tome contains such meaningless passages as:
"The Government of the Northwest Territories is committed to supporting the well-being and safety of residents by delivering quality mental health and addictions programs and services ..."
Sounds meaningful, right? Almost downright optimistic. Sure, if not for this passage from October 2015's Report on the Review of Bill 55: The Mental Health Act:
"At the public hearing, Minister (Abernethy) admitted that 'there are gaps in our current mental health system and residents are falling through the cracks; it is clear that change is urgently needed.'"
Or this piece of the same GNWT boilerplate messaging from June 2012, when then-health and social services minister Tom Beaulieu said at the release of A Shared Path Towards Wellness, a three-year action plan to improve mental health and reduce addictions: "We must fight the impact of addictions and promote mental well-being."
The flurry of reports, recommendations and re-assuring language goes as far back as the August 2006 NWT Health and Social Services Action Plan.
At that time, initiatives to deliver "a community-based approach to address addictions and mental health issues to be provided closer to where clients live" had completion dates ranging from 2006 to 2009.
Apparently that failed, as the new Mind and Spirit booklet states: "Many people in the NWT strongly believe that culturally relevant treatment delivered close to home works best."
The GNWT's failure to provide effective mental health and addictions supports over the past decade has resulted in a culture of despair and mistrust. People in need have few options and service providers have few resources.
The last thing that is needed is more studies, action plans, frameworks or conferences. The territory needs firm, decisive action.
But we'll naively hold out hope that our elected leaders and the massive bureaucracy that supports them will find the strength needed to finally get on with it and produce some tangible results for people struggling just to live with themselves.
Even though we've been fooled more than once, we are prepared to take the government at its most latest word.
While a new Mental Health Act is set to be implemented early in the new year, the GNWT will attempt to walk and chew gum at the same time and draft a new plan - detailed in the Mind and Spirit booklet - to address mental health and addictions issues.
This is supposed to numb the stinging criticisms of the government found in the scathing July 2016 Report of the NWT Expert Panel on Mental Health and Addictions. It found the GNWT had indeed done numerous reports and studies over the years on how the system functions but failed to properly follow through on implementing recommendations.
That report also found the system does have the resources needed for the territory's population but it is fragmented, with too many positions that are vacant.
Minister Abernethy had the gall to utter at the time, "I think the answer is clear we definitely have to change some things."
Now the department is working on three "action plans" touching on child and youth mental health, a broader mental health plan, and an addictions recovery plan.
Those will include specific actions or goals.
One definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results each time.
It's clear the GNWT has repeatedly promised action on the mental health and addictions file, with precious few results.
What's to believe this latest "strategic framework" isn't just another house of straw?
The result of Tootoo's departure from Cabinet
Nunavut/News North - Monday, November 21, 2016
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled his government's $1.5 billion five-year plan to protect Canada's oceans.
Nunavut's coastline accounts for 67 per cent of Canada's entire coastline, so can the territory expect to see a proportional amount - $1 billion - of that figure spent here to protect our shores? Take a guess.
Details were not revealed at the Nov. 7 announcement in Vancouver but a read of the plan summary give hints about where that money will go.
On the East Coast, money will be provided to improve responses to shipping emergencies. A maritime rescue sub-centre and a research centre specializing in oil spill response will get significant funding. Two new lifeboat stations will open.
On the West Coast, the government will train indigenous people in search-and-rescue and environmental response to spills and other incidents. Vessels capable of towing container ships will be bought to improve response times, and four new lifeboat stations will be built.
On the north coast, the investment is minimal. The North gets a longer icebreaking season, more aerial surveillance, a single seasonal rescue boat station, and up to eight community response boats to respond to emergencies and spills.
But perhaps the most miserly gift to Nunavut will be the creation of the Arctic's own branch of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer organization.
That's right, the plan will bring new jobs to the other coasts but in Nunavut the federal government wants Inuit to be volunteers in protecting the Arctic coast. Correction: they will get a tax credit for their volunteerism.
Here, we see the direct result of MP Hunter Tootoo's departure from cabinet. When Trudeau appointed him Fisheries and Oceans minister, Tootoo was to be the Northern face that "reminded all Canadians that we have three oceans."
Without Tootoo, it seems ours will continue to be the unconsidered ocean.
When the numbers come out, it may be true that former Conservative MP Leona Aglukkaq will have done more for Nunavummiut during Tootoo's years as an independent MP. She was the federal face of the Iqaluit port project and the Pond Inlet small craft harbour. Her backing of the Pangnirtung harbour continues to generate work there in the growing fishing industry.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper promised the Arctic off-shore patrol ships and the Nanisivik Naval Facility. The projects were over-promised but at least some of it is being delivered. They are more serious investments to protect our waters than what Trudeau is proposing.
Each year, more and bigger commercial and cruise ships traverse our waters, and Russia inches closer to our northern border. Climate change is drawing eyes northward, with the exception of, it seems, the eyes of the Liberal government.
Hunter Tootoo may not be in the position Nunavummiut intended but this is a cause he can get behind. Fight for Arctic waters, for sovereignty, and for jobs for Inuit.
If you don't, Mr. Tootoo, the people will in 2019.