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Homelessness money well spent
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 4, 2016

The price tag associated with the 11 recommendations found in the Yellowknife Homelessness Road Map Action Plan might strike some as scary.

Initiatives proposed within the plan are a sobering centre, managed alcohol program, more bed space at the city's overnight shelters, a street outreach program, more money for Housing First, a committee to help frontline agencies collaborate and the creation of a 10-year plan to address homelessness.

Pulling off all of these recommendations will likely make this a multi-million dollar project. The report itself identifies the need for approximately $1.8 million in funding but there are a few recommendations - such as a central intake location for at-risk people and the sobering centre - with costs to be determined.

It might be tempting to focus on costs but there is a different set of numbers that might be more beneficial to see - a cost-benefit analysis for programs such as these. What do they save our government in policing, ambulance, hospital and court costs?

When there is no safety net for at-risk people, they end up cycling through the courts and health-care system again and again. It's expensive to use ambulances, emergency room beds and hospital resources as shelter for people who are found passed out in the cold. Same thing goes for the court system. Many at-risk people end up in the court system for one thing or another, do their time and are eventually released with conditions - such as abstinence from alcohol or scheduled to check in with a parole officer. But if these people don't have access to treatment programs or other life-management programs, they are only being set up to break those conditions. Breaking conditions leads to more charges, taking up more police time, court time and jail space - all of which is very expensive -- when really what these people need is help.

There are no hard numbers to determine how much money could be saved through this new homelessness action plan but it's not difficult to see how money spent on it is a great investment.

Time to turn the page with the police
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 4, 2016

It was an agonizing 15 months for Yellowknifer reporter John McFadden but on Oct. 21 he walked away from the Yellowknife Courthouse a free man.

He was arrested in July 2015 for obstruction of justice for taking photos of police searching a van with stolen plates. He wasn't taking those photos with the intent of obstructing justice. He was taking them because police activity on public streets is in the public interest. Considering the police are publicly funded to enforce laws and keep the peace, it is fair to expect any reporter would be curious about any police activity he or she sees on the street.

The pages of any Yellowknifer newspaper will likely include multiple stories involving RCMP. A good 90 per cent of these stories are positive. Yellowknifer prints stories about liquor and drug seizures, drug busts and results of drunk-driving blitzes. It also helps the police do their job by printing notices about missing people and the RCMP tip line.

But none of this means Yellowknifer has any intent of shying away from controversy. If, like McFadden discovered in March 2015, the police don't properly warn the public about a serial sex assaulter attacking people in the city, the newspaper is going to ask tough questions in order to get that story. This isn't because the newspaper has a vendetta against the police, it's because the public deserves to know when it has been put at risk.

Most of the time Yellowknifer stories will not negatively affect the RCMP's public image but every once in awhile, they will. And when these stories do get written, we hope individual members don't take it personally.

Dedicated few make big impact
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, November 3, 2016

As the face of Table Tennis North, and arguably its biggest advocate, Thorsten Gohl wears many hats.

He's a coach, a teacher, a marketer and an organizer.

That's the reality of many of the Deh Cho's most ardent recreational facilitators.

For Gohl, the past year of work in Fort Providence has finally culminated in the development of a territorial table tennis championship.

While that in itself is a huge accomplishment, Gohl's biggest impact is on the children and youth he has come into contact with over the past year.

Although he's been based out of Fort Providence, Gohl took table tennis all across the Northwest Territories last year, into the most remote communities in the Deh Cho.

Now, Gohl is leaving Fort Providence in order to focus on that tournament in Yellowknife.

The gap he leaves behind will be felt keenly by all the schools in the Deh Cho but most significantly by Deh Gah School.

Thankfully, one of the wonderful things about the Deh Cho is the passionate recreation staff it attracts.

And Deh Gah School has staff who are incredibly determined to provide opportunities for their students.

One such example is Beth Hudson, who has a helping hand in many of the community's activities.

Now that indoor soccer season is upon us, Hudson is helping to get students ready for an upcoming tournament in Fort Liard.

Another example is Nimisha Bastedo, the school's on-the-land teacher, who helps to run many hands-on programs for students at Deh Gah School. Some of those include canoe trips, culture camps and a bison hunt for high school students last winter.

These are just a few of the many people in Fort Providence who, with the support of their community, enrich the lives of everyone.

The mark Gohl has left can be seen in the table tennis talents developed by student-turned-coach Mikaela Vandell.

Vandell, who just graduated from Deh Gah School, has recently secured a position on Table Tennis North's board of directors, where she was voted on as a member-at-large as of Oct. 21.

With Gohl's help, Vandell started playing table tennis a few years ago and twice represented the Northwest Territories at the Arctic Winter Games.

She hopes to become a coach for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games that will be taking place in the territory.

Inspired by Gohl's encouragement, Vandell has gone on to become an inspiration to others.

"I wish I could do more for the Deh Cho region, especially Fort Providence," is what Gohl told me before he left.

But thankfully, the legacy he leaves in the region will be one that endures.

An easy star on your resume
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, November 3, 2016

It was a lonely scene when I stopped in at the open house for the Gwich'in Regional Youth Council Oct. 27.

Just community wellness intern Patricia Louie was there, with pizza and refreshments at the ready for any interested youth

Some of that could be blamed on the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada meeting happening that same evening in the Midnight Sun Complex.

I was hoping to talk to some young people set out on a leadership path, but it was not destined that night.

Hopefully, the turnout does not represent overall response Gwich'in youth council recruiters will receive.

It's a fantastic opportunity and should be jumped at by any Gwich'in youth.

What are the costs? Everything is paid for. You get to visit different communities, network with big shots, take free classes that improve your professional abilities and play a role in leading your community in the coming era of Gwich'in self-government.

It's about as much of a gimme on your resume as you could get. Anyone with a seat on a youth council like this will get a virtual gold star and special consideration in any future jobs they pursue.

The networking opportunities are as big as the resume, too. Want a big-time job in any of these Gwich'in organizations one day? These are the people you want to be rubbing shoulders with.

All of these benefits come in addition to the important role played by the council and its members in supporting Gwich'in culture.

I'm confident the council will find the eight members it seeks.

But I wish there would be a little more obvious competition for those spots and more of a desire from youth to fill them.

Maybe they just need to get the word out more.

At the end of the day, I hope that pizza didn't go to waste.

Pull the plug on the PUB
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

No matter who you believe in the war of words between Northland Utilities on one side, Energy Minister Louis Sebert and Northwest Territories Power Corporation on the other, most people would agree the Public Utilities Board is an incomprehensible beast.

In theory, the PUB's role is to make sure Northerners do not pay more for their power than they should. NTPC and Northland Utilities submit mountains of detailed paper on power costs, telling the PUB why they need to charge what they charge. The PUB then makes a decision to either accept or reject the applications.

Calculating costs and revenue is something all businesses undertake as a budgeting process and the differences between the two shows up as either profit or loss.

Sounds useful and straightforward. Yet when a regular person not involved in the PUB applications looks at the figures, it is anything but straightforward.

In fact, everyone, from the minister to the CEOs of both NTPC and Northland admits you have to understand the calculations behind the figures to know what the figures mean.

And to understand those calculations, you have to have a very high degree of experience in the power industry, specifically the regulatory end to be able to speak with any competence.

That means you need very expensive consultants and lawyers who can only be found down south to explain the figures to the PUB who hires the same kinds of people to scrutinize the same figures.

That why these applications cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2009, Yellowknifer uncovered six-figure fees for lawyers hired to act as interveners in rate applications from power corp. and Northland (see fact file above).

Of course, lawyers and officials both spending and getting all this money insist they are saving taxpayers millions by their due diligence. This is where reality has left the room. These costs are added to our power bills and the whole process undermines public confidence.

In fact, the rate applications are fictional with projections and calculations based on past bad weather, varying water levels, maintenance problems and presumably human error, not to mention the price of oil on global markets.

These same factors will affect the rates set and if the rates don't cover costs, then "riders" adjusting rates to fit the real figures are put on with more experts involved.

It's important to remember, NTPC is owned by the GNWT. The PUB chairman and board is appointed by the GNWT and the GNWT can issue directives to the PUB telling it what to do.

And if the rates get out of control due to unforeseen circumstances, such as low water, the GNWT pumps cash in to the tune of $50 million to make sure rates don't get too high.

So why do Northerners need the PUB? We don't. The GNWT regulates the rates anyway.

While a PUB may be of value in a province with hundreds of thousands of customers if not millions, with the NWT's tiny customer base, it does nothing for Northerners beyond wasting money and confusing everyone.

As a body created to be accountable, it is through its complexity both unaccountable and uncountable.

The GNWT eliminated the NTPC board because cabinet is the real board. Pull the plug on the PUB for exactly the same reason: The GNWT regulates rates, not the PUB.

Still lots of attitude, little effectiveness
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Once again the shadow of disrespect reared its ugly head during a public Nutrition North Canada meeting in Nunavut.

While this time the outraged community may have been Pond Inlet, every Kivalliq community has its own story when it comes to the attitudes put on display by those administering the program.

In fact it's downright mind-boggling how often those in charge of the worst federal program still active in Nunavut can come off with so much attitude.

It still sends shivers of anger down my spine to remember that March night in 2011 in Rankin Inlet when Nellie Kusugak admonished then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs Greg Rickford and program talking head Leo B. Doyle for rambling on in English without giving translator Henry Kudluk a chance to interpret properly.

Then again, Kusugak also gave me one of the best silent, only-between-my-ears laughs I'd enjoyed in years when she had her chance to address Rickford directly.

She spoke politely and elegantly in Inuktitut for the first five minutes as Kudluk sat silent, suppressing his own smile of point taken.

Fast forward to Sept. 28, 2016, and the feds are still throwing money at the program, stubbornly digging their heels in against the tsunami of negative public opinion that has dogged it since its ill-conceived inception.

In an effort to garner some good will, the feds send program reps out to consult with communities before introducing their long awaited reforms to Nutrition North.

Can you say window dressing, boys and girls?

You would think a meeting dressed up as part of a consultation process would be prime time for members of the program's so-called advisory board to get a handle on what people who live here think it needs to become just the tiniest bit effective.

But, nope, not one board member appeared in Pond Inlet. No one. Zilch. Nadda.

Nunavummiut continue to lend their voices to the chorus still being sung by all Northern folks affected by Nutrition North (except those with shares in the airlines and our major retailers, of course) that it remains a major step backwards compared to the old food mail program.

And still, years and millions upon millions of dollars later, the only thing they continue to get in unlimited supply is attitude.

The only entity that takes the advisory board's advice less seriously than Nunavummiut is the federal government, itself.

A point alluded to by Tununiq MLA Joe Enook shortly after the ridiculous, and downright insulting, meeting was held in Pond Inlet.

If it wasn't for the fact the Nutrition North program has cost all of us who call the North home a lot of money, the ongoing Keystone Kops approach to bureaucracy would be at least mildly entertaining.

But there's simply nothing funny about the minimal benefits the program has provided (average food basket price be damned) since being launched.

Nor is there anything funny about still having to swallow the attitudes of those who administer the program.

People are fed up with both, which, coincidentally, is the only thing Nutrition North has been able to fill people with during its run.

Mid-term review a paper tiger
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, October 31, 2016

Regular MLAs in the current 18th Legislative Assembly have voted to have a mid-term review one year from now. That event will includes confidence votes on cabinet ministers by secret ballot.

So next fall, the premier and ministers will make speeches in the House defending their records; explaining what they have done to pursue initiatives laid out in the government's mandate.

Then all MLAs, regular members and cabinet, will vote - in secret, we remind you - on whether they have confidence in a given minister.

But the vote is non-binding. If a minister's performance is found to be lacklustre - by how large a majority we also won't be told - he or she will not automatically be expelled from cabinet. That would take another vote, one on a motion of non-confidence.

So what are we to expect from the mid-term review exercise?

"It's about making sure we are steering the ship in the right direction," says chair of the rules and procedures committee, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly. "We have the opportunity any day the House is sitting to remove a minister in public. That's not what this mid-term review process is about. It's about making sure we are steering the ship in the right direction. At the end of the day we all have to work together. To have a public vote of confidence ... is not a good way to preserve working relationships."

In other words, while some regular MLAs are frustrated, they don't want to publicly rock the boat in case their attempt to oust a minister fails and they are blackballed when looking for favours or funding for their constituencies.

After the vote, the chair of the review committee will simply state whether the minister has the confidence of the members or not, O'Reilly said.

Then one of three things can happen - because the vote is non-binding - the first option for a minister who has lost the confidence of the House, is to do nothing at all. Or the minister might decide to take the hint, resign his or her portfolio and return to the ranks of regular MLAs.

So even if a minister has lost the confidence of an indeterminate number of unnamed members of the legislature, he or she can simply, stubbornly retain the well-compensated position following the mid-term review and start a power play behind the scenes. Since the vote was secret, all the minister needs to do is ensure a simple majority of all elected members would provide support in case a subsequent motion of non-confidence is made.

This is yet another example of how the NWT's consensus government differs greatly - and not favourably - from the traditional party system seen in the provinces and Yukon Territory.

This is a protect-what-you've-got environment that fosters cabinet secrecy and frustration among the regular MLAs.

So it's no surprise that all 11 regular members voted in favour of the mid-term review, while the seven cabinet ministers, and the premier, abstained.

Government House Leader Glen Abernethy - the only cabinet minister who spoke about the mid-term review report on the day of the vote - said cabinet isn't afraid of being judged.

"We believe that we are already making progress and will have made even more progress by next fall," he said. "We are confident that we could stand on our record collectively as well as individually."

Clearly there are under-performers in cabinet. And there are some bright prospects in the ranks of regular MLAs.

Would a cabinet minister resign if given a bad grade by his or her colleagues? It has been a very rare occurrence. Would a cabinet minister improve his or her performance if given a wake-up call one year from now in a mid-term review? That will remain to be seen.

Home grown police watchdog
Nunavut/News North - Monday, October 31, 2016

Paul Okalik, MLA for Iqaluit-Sinaa and former Justice minister, is right to question the Ottawa Police Service's ability to fairly investigate incidents involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nunavut.

It's a common practice across Canada to hire an outside force to conduct such investigations. The RCMP can't be expected to investigate its own members, so Ottawa police are called whenever a Nunavut RCMP officer is accused of wrongdoing.

Okalik expressed his concern after a sergeant with the Ottawa police, Chris Hrnchiar, posted comments on Facebook in response to an Ottawa Citizen story about the late Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook after her body was found in the city's Rideau River.

The comments suggested she had either committed suicide, or had gotten drunk and fallen in the river.

It took weeks for Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau to use the word "racist" to describe the comments, instead calling them "inappropriate" or "containing racial undertones," according to Ottawa news outlets.

Pootoogook lived, for most of the past nine years, on Ottawa's streets, and news accounts of her life in Ottawa describe it as rough. But Pootoogook's life had value. Her death deserved respect.

She was an artist whose work was acclaimed for ushering in a new level of artistic respect for the Cape Dorset print shop, where her renowned grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona and mother Napachie Pootoogook created their impressive bodies of work.

These are the people we pay to ensure Nunavummiut are being treated fairly by our RCMP. These are the people who get to decide whether an officer crossed the line when firing a weapon at a suspect or when using force to restrain a prisoner in RCMP cells.

At this point, the well is poisoned.

It doesn't take much Internet searching to find a history of racism among police forces across Canada. Who can people trust to do this work?

One option might be Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, a civilian body designed to act as watchdog when such complaints are made against Ontario Provincial Police. But a 2007 ombudsman report found a clear pro-police bias, with investigations seen through "blue-coloured glasses." A Toronto Star report found there were only 16 convictions resulting from 3,400 investigations and only three officers went to jail.

So what option can Okalik get people to support? A truly Northern one.

Nunavut may not have enough people for its own special investigations unit, as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have. Ontario's SIU consists of 85 staffers. For the number of incidents in Nunavut and the number of people who live here, it would be impossible to sustain such a force.

But perhaps it's time for a unit that is pan-territorial and self-contained in the territories. A small force, a team of civilians with legal experience, hired for their impartiality, yes, but also to reflect the cultures that make up the North.

The territories have Inuit police. They need Inuit watchdogs. And we bet the First Nations in the Western Arctic will want the same for themselves.

Even if it takes 20 years, it's an idea worth investigating.

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