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Cabinet must walk the talk
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 1, 2017

While some people may be raising their eyebrows at cabinet's trip to a mining conference in Vancouver last week, it may not actually have not been a bad idea.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly and Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green both questioned the wisdom of the trip, which took place just a week before territorial leaders headed into a budget session touting fiscal restraint.

Cabinet has good reason to advertise the territory at the AME Roundup 2017 -- it's a large mining conference that brings together geologists, prospectors, financial investors and partners to discuss the industry.

Think of it as an investment - if the territory's leaders go down and convince even one mining company to start exploring up here, that could mean thousands of dollars flowing into the economy. That said, sending an entourage of 30 people might be overkill. Hopefully a few of those 30 people were able to bend the ear of people in the mining trade.

As Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann stated to Yellowknifer last week, mining makes up 20 per cent of the NWT's GDP. That statistic is nothing to snub one's nose at.

But if the territorial government is going to spend roughly $75,000 to hail the Northwest Territories as a wonderful place to do business, it needs to avoid false advertising -- the territory better actually be open for business when people come here.

Last week, the territory once again received a failing grade from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. The organization's Red Tape Report Card looks at the strength of political leadership, public opinion and clearly set caps on government regulation. The report stated the government still needs to make it a priority to set easy-to-understand and non-cumbersome regulations.

Yellowknifer agrees. If the government is going to spend public money to tout the territory as a great place to do business, the government also needs to spend time making sure it is actually a great place to do business.

Level playing field good for everyone
Yellowknifer - Wednesday,February 1, 2017

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. There is no reason regulations that apply to a bed and breakfast should not apply to an Airbnb. To do otherwise is to make the playing field uneven and that's just not fair.

The city plans to look into its business bylaws this month. When it does, it should take a look at unregistered Airbnbs, which director of corporate services Jeff Dalley says currently occupy a regulatory blind spot.

While it may not seem to be the case to those who run such establishments, leasing out space without registering as a business nor paying taxes on that income is illegal and cannot be tolerated. Much-needed tax revenue is denied to the public purse and those who play by the rules are put at a disadvantage.

But the city need not put the screws to Airbnb and possibly threatening young yet growing businesses. The City of Ottawa chose a middle path last fall in deciding how to accommodate the growing and popular Uber transit service while appeasing taxi drivers who were upset to find themselves in competition with an unlicenced transportation provider.

The result was regulations for Uber drivers and cheaper licensing fees for taxis. Bringing Uber into the regulatory fold offered the fledgling industry credibility while helping to level the playing field for traditional taxi drivers.

Certainly another similar compromise could be found here. After all, bed and breakfasts, both regulated and unregulated, draw money into the territory. Regulations should not stop this from happening.

Furthermore, regulations have the potential to protect a shared interest: the reputation of Yellowknife's tourism industry. People who have a good time tell their friends, people who have a bad time tell everyone. A particularly unsavory unregulated bed and breakfast could create a bad impression. Preventing that is everyone's interest.

Personal thoughts on the loss of a friend
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday,February 1, 2017

Like everyone, I was shattered to hear the news of the horrific tragedy that had befallen the Kaludjak family back in Rankin while I was among those in Arviat taking care of matters at the JLM Calm Air Cup senior men's hockey tournament.

Upon grasping what I'd just been told, I was overwhelmed by grief, anger, and a sense of loss towards the oldest of the three men who lost their lives that fateful day. I didn't really know the youngest, Billy, very well. A polite nod around town and a couple of referee-and-player chats on the ice was about the extent of our relationship.

I continued my goaltending career for a few years when I first arrived in Rankin in 1998, and ended up on Makpa's team during my final year guarding the cage, before I went back to the zebra's stripes once and for all.

As luck would have it, our team went all the way that year and took the senior league championship.

I enjoyed Makpa's devil-may-care attitude in the dressing room that year, and found him to be a genuinely funny guy in the best sense of the term.

On the ice, he was mostly all business, with more than a few good moves and a decent shot, if somewhat of a reckless playing style.

Still the relative new guy in town at the time and trying to fit in - and being a somewhat easy target for those who didn't like it much if I was making a few too many saves in any particular game - what I respected most about Makpa was that he was always the first to jump to my defense if an opposing player took a few liberties with the guy guarding the crease. And it didn't matter what the player's last name happened to be.

I never knew his feelings away from the arena, but on the ice I found him to be a fiercely loyal teammate who was always quick to get between me and whoever was trying to make my life miserable at that particular point in time.

And the irony of it was, being at a point in life where I could play both age groups at once, his father, Joe Kaludjak, often took the same role when guys were messing with me in old-timer's tournaments, especially once in Naujaat and another time in Northern Quebec.

I respected the heck out of both guys for that and never forgot their courage, kindness and loyalty for a teammate.

My greatest sense of loss in the wake of this tragedy, however, is for Patrick, who was the most gentle soul I've ever met.

I first got to know him through playing on hockey teams together, and getting him to sharpen my battered old goalie skates, which he took great delight in teasing me about every time I clanked them down on the table, their leather tattered and torn.

But it was later, during our years refereeing together, I got to know Patrick much better. We weren't pal-around or party buddies, but you learn a lot about a guy when you spend numerous hours in a ref's room together.

No matter how tense things got with players or coaches, Patrick (Mikilaak) never, in all my memories, added fuel to the fire.

He'd sit there; with that lovable smile of his, perfectly calm, offering his opinion or advice when asked.

Patrick often lamented the fact to me that what he disliked most about refereeing - and what took a lot of the fun out of it for him - were guys who couldn't leave it on the ice.

Being a hockey referee in a small town is not easy and my coolest memory of Patrick is from a few years back, when he was with a good friend of his who was giving me a pretty hard time verbally during an Avataq tournament.

A day or two later he came to tell me, face to face, how bad he felt over it. It was a sincere, generous gesture from a real stand-up guy.

Mikilaak had a quiet, yet over-the-top sense of humour that could leave your belly sore from laughing. Some of my fondest memories are of him and our mutual friend and fellow zebra, Donald Clark, exchanging barbs in the ref's room. It was the type of dialogue that could bring tears of laughter to your eyes in record time.

My heartfelt prayers and sympathies to the entire Kaludjak family in this most trying of times.

And Patrick, my friend, I miss you already.

MLA digs herself a deep hole
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, January 30, 2017

A healthy democracy demands a strong opposition to hold government's feet to the fire.

While we don't have adversarial party politics in the NWT – and our chilly climate makes warm feet a positive image – we still need diverse opinions in the our consensus government at the legislative assembly.

As the 11 regular MLAs act as an 'opposition' to the seven members of cabinet, we can expect some strong ideas to emanate from that group.

Such as in recent weeks, when MLA Julie Green spoke out against a major infrastructure project and also lambasted the entire cabinet for travelling en masse to a mining trade show in Vancouver.

The Yellowknife Centre rep has taken some pretty good heat herself for her comments in News/North and on social media.

And rightly so.

While her leftist ideology might fly in her constituency – and resonate with a significant demographic across the territory – we applaud Min. Wally Schumann for publicly stating what had to be said.

He was speaking about Green calling the cabinet on the carpet for flying to Vancouver for AME Mineral Exploration Roundup 2017, a leading trade show and networking event for the mineral exploration and development industry.

We have no problem with the entire cabinet – and MLA Cory Vanthuyne, chair of the Standing Committee of Economic Development and Environment – attending the event in a show of force and to provide a one-stop shop for industry contacts. But we do bristle at the estimated $75,000 price tag that taxpayers will be stuck with as a large contingent of government staff also went along for the ride.

However, Green was adamant that the entire cabinet should not have gone, just a small contingent of ministers and the premier.

The first-term MLA was equally perturbed a couple of weeks earlier when she penned a guest column for News/North, ("Roads aren't a good investment," Jan. 16). In it she suggested Whati Chief Alfonz Nitsiza and the Tlicho Government were "sold a bill of goods," on the benefits of a 97-kilometre all-season road from Highway 3 outside of Yellowknife to Whati.

Quoting an unnamed mining industry veteran, Green also questioned the viability of Fortune Minerals' NICO deposit located 50 kilometres northwest of Whati.

The following week she was blasted in public for those comments in News/North, ("Bumpy road to Whati," Jan. 23), with Fortune Minerals, the NWT/Nunavut Chamber of Mines and Chief Nitsiza taking her to task.

Fortune Minerals president Robin Goad said the company plans to mine cobalt, gold bismuth and copper in the area at the NICO mine.

"The road was a critical enabler for our project. Without the road there's basically nothing more we can do," said Goad, adding that the company has already spent $116 million on the project.

"Ms. Green's statement that the Tlicho have been, 'sold a bill of goods,' is condescending and implies the Tlicho don't understand the importance of socio-economic connectivity to the public highway system, or the economics of roads, power development, and resources, or the benefits they bring,"

Ouch. We're sure MLA Green will weather the withering backlash in style. However, while we do encourage and support dissenting views in our consensus government, we also hope those handful of very outspoken MLAs – we'll add Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly's name here as well – weigh their words carefully.

As Minister Schumann stated, we can't just be a social welfare state relying on federal government transfers. We need to show the world that the NWT is indeed open for business, especially when it comes to key industries such as mining.

Bad math equals substandard health care
Nunavut/News North - Monday, January 30, 2017

This week, The National Post reported that The Privy Council Office has told the federal government it is not meeting its objectives in two departments: democratic reform, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

It's a recognition the feds are not doing enough for Canada's indigenous people, and for the North

This is no surprise to Nunavummiut.

Last week, we reported on the Nunavut government's complaints about getting less than a fair shake for health care funding.

Premier Peter Taptuna and his fellow premiers grudgingly agreed to a bad deal that sees health funding delivered on a per capita basis. Each Nunavummiuq gets the same per capita health funding – about $1,000 in health transfers per year – as someone living in any southern province.

Which might be fine, if health outcomes were equal for all Canadians. As it is, the Conference Board of Canada gave Nunavut a mark of D minus for health outcomes in 2015, while British Columbia got an A grade.

The territory ranked worst for life expectancy, premature mortality, infant mortality, self-reported mental health, mortality due to cancer and respiratory diseases, and suicides. According to the report, the health of our people is not only worse than other provinces, it's far worse.

These outcomes are ignored in the funding math.

The math gets worse when the higher costs of health care – especially the cost of staffing, medical travel, and operating costs – are not included as part of the formula.

It's worth noting that the math has not gotten better as Nunavut's population has grown, now almost the same as the Yukon's. The federal finance department's website shows Nunavut's proportion of the Canada Health Transfer used to be larger than the other territories, and only started diminishing when Leona Aglukkaq was removed as Minister of Health in 2013.

It stopped being a priority for the Harper government, but it appears the Trudeau government has simply followed Harper's lead on this.

As Premier Taptuna points out, this transfer is only 11 per cent of the territory's health budget, but how many lives could be changed – or saved – by an additional one per cent?

With another $3 million or so, could we reduce the number of suicides? Could we help more people stop smoking? Could we keep more babies alive?

If Justin Trudeau and Carolyn Bennett are serious about the North and reconciliation, they need to remember that the job of the government is to provide help to those who need it.

Looking at the health outcomes, it's no mystery Nunavut deserves more help than it is getting.

Status quo no reason to shut out the mayor
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, January 27, 2017

When Yellowknifers went to the polls more than a year-and-a-half ago, they faced a selection of candidates for the position.

Presumably the fine voters of this fair city cast their ballots based on their confidence in each candidate's integrity, leadership and experience.

We expect few people realize, once elected, the mayor is shut out of debates and excluded from casting a vote on the matters of the day except in the case of a tie vote in council.

The mayor does have the option of excusing him or herself from mayoral chairmanship by switching spots with the deputy mayor and voting on a matter, but it rarely happens.

Heyck told Yellowknifer he has been frustrated by rules which prevent him from contributing to debates during council sittings. And frustrated he should be. Heyck, a person of considerable experience in city matters, was elected to lead, not to sit silently while others debate and vote on the matters at hand.

Sure, the mayor could swap chairs with the deputy mayor more often, but why make such a fuss every time the mayor wants to be heard? The chair swap could also be seen as an infringement on the rights of the councillor standing as deputy mayor, so it's hardly a solution.

All councillors and the mayor were voted in to represent citizens in city matters. The average Jill and Joe wants to know where the mayor stands on the issues of the day, and may assume the mayor stands with however council voted on a matter. But at times nothing could be further from the truth.

An external report also supports extending mayoral power, pointing to jurisdictions in the rest of Canada where many towns and cities have already moved to allow their mayors to vote.

But regardless of what external auditors may or may not recommend, extending the mayor's powers only makes sense.

Did Yellowknifers vote in their mayor because they felt he or she would make a great chairperson who would silently keep council meetings on track like some kind of rules-of-order geek?

No, the mayor is the first round pick in a hockey draft, and nobody benches their number one pick. Yet on council, "benched" is an apt description of the mayor during council deliberations.

He's a sideline player by virtue of unquestioned and outmoded traditions that are already abandoned in many other municipalities across the country.

Council has struck up a committee to study the idea of extending the mayor's power, as well as extending council terms from three years to four.

On the question of extending the mayor's power and making the role more significant to city governance, we wholeheartedly stand behind the idea. Both for this mayor and future ones.

A little appreciation goes a long way
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, January 26, 2016

The level of commitment it takes to be on Fort Simpson's fire department is high, and that's why the department is celebrating receiving the 2015 NWT Fire Services Merit Award. In 2016, volunteers for Fort Simpson's fire department logged 2,000 hours and responded to 164 ambulance calls.

They meet every two weeks and participated in numerous training exercises.

According to assistant fire marshal Travis Wright, even the awards committee was blown away by the amount of work fire volunteers do in Fort Simpson.

Fort Simpson's fire department is one of the last ones in the territory to tackle both fire and ambulance, Wright said.

That in itself is impressive, especially considering how busy Fort Simpson's ambulance is and the fact the majority of calls the department receives seek ambulance services.

Although Fire Chief Roger Pilling and deputy fire chief Pat Rowe make it as easy as possible for volunteers, those volunteers are still effectively on-call all the time. It's not a job that has set hours or gives you weekends off, either - when the radio buzzes, someone has to respond.

That could be at 3 a.m. on a Sunday or in the middle of the workday.

But beyond the topic of the hours volunteers put in, it's also important to remember the kind of people who are taking on this work. Many of the department's most dedicated volunteers are teachers and business owners who genuinely want to make a difference.

Most have other full-time jobs, and heavy demands on their time but that doesn't stop them.

But in order to see where these volunteers get their dedication, all you have to do is look to the top.

Under the guidance of Pilling, the ranks of the department swelled this year to the biggest it has ever been.

He has been a staunch advocate of more funding and proper equipment for the department.

Of course, if you were to ask Pilling yourself, he'd most likely lay the credit for the department's success at the feet of the volunteers themselves.

But the truth is that the decades he and Rowe have spent dedicating their time to the fire department have built up a structure that gives volunteer firefighters opportunities for training and the ability to pick up skills they can't get anywhere else.

They take their volunteer work as seriously as any job and thanks to that, the fire department has flourished.

Often, volunteering can be a thankless job. But it undoubtedly makes the community a better - and, in this case, a safer - place to live.

Onus on individuals to manage alcohol
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, January 26, 2016

Prohibition doesn't work.

Throughout the town hall meeting on whether to allow The Mad Trapper an extra 16 Sundays to serve alcohol or not, I started to wonder why we don't just ban alcohol completely.

Most people against the Sunday bar openings seemed to demonize alcohol and name it the great plague of Inuvik.

Alcohol may indeed be a generally bad thing, but I don't think four months of Sunday openings at one place in town is the straw sitting precariously on the camel's back.

If these people believed what they were saying, surely they would want to ban alcohol completely. 

Unfortunate as the North's history with alcohol may be, the dialogue in the town hall was at a superficial level.

It was focused mostly on "alcohol is bad." Okay, agree there - moving on to the question at hand now.

When laws are made, there are direct effects and unintended side effects. The direct effect here would be the Trapper can't serve on Sundays. The unintended effects are much harder to see, but just as real.

Here are a few possibilities: people who desire alcohol instead load up on other days, potentially leading to more binge drinking; people who want to feed their addiction on Sunday turn to alternative, more dangerous measures; and demand for booze on Sundays still exists, fuelling the black market to supply it.

The future is hard to predict, and anything could happen. Government can't control human nature, and no law operates as simply as its stated intended effect.

I was glad to hear some voices toward the end put the onus on individuals themselves.

If Inuvik wants to be a community where alcohol is not an issue, the onus is on the people to pursue that goal, not the heavy and clumsy hand of government.

The opinions of the people opposed to this issue are just as legitimate as any. It is heartbreaking to hear of the effects alcohol has had in the North. We all should preach and practise a life of moderation, civility and good health.

But we must search deeper into the question of human action and consequences, instead of relying so heavily on feelings. 

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