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Scheer's views on North unclear
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, June 12, 2017

It appears the freshly minted Conservative Party of Canada leader knows far more about cows than caribou.

In fact, Regina-Qu'Appelle MP Andrew Scheer didn't have much to say about the North, or its indigenous people in the run-up to the May 27 leadership convention.

It's actually quite impossible to determine the Tories' stand on the North, or really very much on its view on handling relations with Canada's First Nations people.

The last Conservative government passed the First Nations Transparency Act, which compelled the leadership of the more than 500 First Nations to have their financial statements published.

Scheer's policy page states the disclosure requirements of the First Nations Transparency Act must be enforced so that First Nations can once again hold their leaders to account. That's it. That's all News/North could find.

And that's sheer nonsense if that's the only policy the Conservatives are going to have when it comes to Canada's indigenous people and the North.

Sure, there isn't a very prominent Tory presence in the NWT - our political playbills usually feature Liberals or New Democrats - but the current crop of right wingers need to look beyond Ottawa and help us keep the true North strong and free.

While the last Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, was not without fault, Northern development appeared to be a priority for him.

For example, Harper made possible the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway, an all-season road that finally connects communities in the Beaufort Delta to the rest of Canada's road network.

Having that connection would be much better utilized if Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hadn't imposed a five-year ban on oil exploration and drilling.

In fact, that's another sign that many, many politicians in the south have no clue about the needs of people in the North.

Common wisdom holds that Scheer narrowly edged out Maxime Bernier as he was the safer pick. Scheer's support from grain farmers in the Prairies and the Quebec dairy industry is strong.

News/North may support Scheer's vow, if elected prime minister, to cancel the Liberals' carbon tax should the Liberals fail to offer up some mitigating measures that address our high cost of living - largely caused by our heavy reliance on diesel energy.

That tax could see prices skyrocket in the already expensive North.

Scheer also deserves kudos for a policy to reduce the cost of airfare in Canada. While it was likely written with southern Canada in mind, there would be intense lobbying from the North to get cheaper flights as well.

So we encourage Mr. Scheer to come up to the NWT for a visit. Not to just settle into a hotel meeting room in Yellowknife but to travel to some of the many communities and meet the people.

Get to know what life is like up here and develop some policies that will help us have better lives as we hold down the Northern fort for Canada.

Tiny blips on federal radar
Nunavut/News North - Monday, June 12, 2017

Last month, the Auditor General of Canada tabled a report stating that Transport Canada was neglecting remote Northern airports, and anyone who has visited their share of Nunavut airports would not be surprised by this fact.

Poor planning in the early days of Nunavut's communities means today we are stuck with Pangnirtung unable to handle planes large enough to fly in an emergency generator in the wake of the power plant fire. In Kimmirut, planes have to land on and launch off the side of a cliff in such a perilous way that the government calls it one of the most challenging airports in the country; there is no room for error. And as communities grow and infrastructure ages, risks increase each year.

The auditor general noted a great many Northern airports without proper runway lighting, and without the technology to help pilots know whether they are landing too high or too low.

The airports in Pangnirtung and Kimmirut are too short to accommodate large turboprop planes, and the runways can't be expanded. MLAs have been fighting for new airports in those communities for years.

In addition, hamlets with gravel strips - meaning all except Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet - limit the airlines' ability to bring in larger, more cost-effective planes, leaving smaller communities on the hook for higher travel and freight costs. As if getting by isn't hard enough in these hamlets.

Federal governments - past and present - have done nothing to improve the situation.

The feds have kept the annual pot of $38 million available for airport projects across Canada at the same level for the past 17 years. To put that figure in perspective, the new Iqaluit airport is costing an estimated $300 million.

The Nunavut government stated 2014 that it needed $463 million over 20 years to get the territory's airports up to standard.

That's almost the amount available for the entire country. All Nunavut can do with its budget is focus on fixing the highest risk airports and runways.

The federal government says Nunavut can tap into infrastructure funding apart from the airport fund. But that requires Nunavut to pitch in a significant share, typically 20 to 25 per cent.

The suggestion that Nunavut is to blame is a slap in the face when you consider the plurality of infrastructure needs in Nunavut. If the money is so easy to access, why is so little of it coming North? Nunavut has identified its infrastructure needs. It shouldn't be so hard for the feds to identify projects that it can back.

And yet our fly-in communities sit waiting for funding to secure the infrastructure that connects residents with the outside world.

The feds may say otherwise but the fact is these communities are simply not on Ottawa's radar.

Tourism cash cow needs to be fed
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 9, 2017
The irony of the NWT having both record-breaking tourism numbers and a capital city visitors association that feels it has no choice but to poach from the private sector to stay afloat appears lost on the city and territorial government.

The number of visitors seeking the Northern lights in the NWT nearly doubled in 2015-16, according to the GNWT. Tourists spent a whopping $40 million on aurora viewing alone during that 12-month period.

This bonanza capped another bumper year for tourism overall, with an 11 per cent rise in the number of tourists and a 14 per cent rise in their spending over the previous year.

The blight at the center of this rosy picture of a healthy, growing industry is the 'closed' sign taped to the door of the Northern Frontier Visitor Centre when it was shut down May 15 after the building was deemed unsafe to occupy.

After the closure and layoff of staff, things actually got worse for the visitors centre last week when a letter from a group of gallery owners accused the not-for-profit association that runs the centre of taking their customers away.

Clearly frustrated, the letter-writers pointed to the conflict of interest in an association running a competitive visitors gift shop at the same time it is supposed to be promoting tourism and local member businesses, including stores catering to tourists.

Given merchandising sales account for nearly two-thirds of the visitor centre's $1.09 million in revenue, it's hard to deny that the association put itself in direct competition with the members it serves.

But it's also hard to deny that the GNWT and city got into this ridiculous boom-bust position by underfunding the visitors association in the first place. Funding from the GNWT last year amounted to $161,000; $86,723 came from the city. Is it really a surprise that board members chose retail when no other options were on the table?

In a perfect world, the government would be fully funding the association but Yellowknifer will settle for a fair-ish world where it simply gives the association what it needs to service the increasing demand.

Surely, properly funding the visitors association is in the territory's best interests. We are staring the success of the tourism industry in the face and government stands to let it fail if it doesn't act now.

Learning the art of compromise
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, June 9, 2017

Nobody wins when bureaucrats hold onto rules that make no sense.

And it seems like NWT Brewing has suffered the brunt of this attitude as of late. For example, pub owners Fletcher and Miranda Stevens are saddled with a $1,500 cap on giving any donations or sponsorships in the territory.

But out-of-province companies are not burdened by these rules, which is why Labatt is able to sponsor the First Air Rec Hockey Tournament and Big Rock Brewing is allowed to sponsor Folk on the Rocks.

This loophole renders the original intent of this law totally moot and holds NWT Brewing back from contributing to the community. How crazy is that?

Also, minors aren't allowed into the brew pub, which serves brunch, lunch and dinner, because it is a liquor primary establishment.

The Stevens would like their brew pub to be a family-friendly establishment, and why not? Certainly people want to bring their children there to eat - the establishment does turn families away.

Other jurisdictions, such as B.C. and Ontario, have relaxed their liquor laws to allow minors on these premises during specific times during the day. There is no reason this rule wouldn't work here, too.

The territorial government needs to take a serious second look at some of its more draconian rules and reassess why they are needed. Unless there are safety issues, government shouldn't be inhibiting business, residents and the community, it should be helping them prosper.

Paperwork could kill Inuvik's next big industry
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fueled by the tech industry in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, private satellite operations are booming.

No longer is space limited to governments and prohibitively expensive mega-projects.

As technology progresses, the ability for the private sector to engage in space operations is rising exponentially, and big players like Google are jumping in.

Inuvik is perfectly placed to compete in the global market of satellite ground stations thanks to its northern position.

Companies are banging on the door with millions of dollars in hand looking to set up their businesses in our part of the world.

But Inuvik could miss that boat almost entirely if the federal government doesn't change the way it handles licensing and regulation in the industry.

Six shiny new satellite dishes next to the Dempster Highway, between the airport and town, sit motionless, aiming at nothing.

The computer systems and cooling machines are cranking in nearby warehouses, but no data is being tracked or collected.

Operated by KSAT, Planet and Google, the stations are all offline until licensing approval can get past the federal government's desk.

Inuvik is attractively located, but it's not the only place in the world to set up satellite operations, and its competitors, such as Alaska, offer much faster approval processes and open arms to foreign industry players.

The problem is Canada has not updated its legislation to keep up with the times. It still treats the industry as if it's made up of only massive government projects, not the dynamic and much more accessible industry it is becoming.

Blame can be pointed in many directions, but the more important thing is for Inuvik and the territory to push for a legislative rewrite.

Red tape can be a killer, in more ways than are obvious at first.

Over-regulation blocking a business is the clear initial way red tape is stifling.

On top of that, having excessive hurdles to jump through raises the costs of compliance, meaning the product's prices will have to go up for the business to break even in the end.

Taxpayers, during this process, pay for all the overhead.

But perhaps the biggest result, and the hardest one to see, is the effect that bad reputation has on future investment.

If Canada becomes known as a place where projects get lost in regulatory purgatory and have no clear set path to fulfillment, investment will simply go elsewhere.

This is a balance all governments must manage. It's a given that some amount of oversight is prudent. But too much, or too clunky of a process, and soon enough you won't have anything left to oversee.

With hope, Canada can open the door to the North for foreign businesses. This land, and sky, is rich in opportunity.

It would be a tremendous shame if paperwork in Ottawa closes Inuvik to the world.

Bad faith move indeed
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It makes sense Louis Sebert is the transparency minister because everyone can see right through his announcement to sole-source the contract for the men's domestic violence program A New Day.

Late last year, the counselling program was set to expire while waiting for the justice department to compile a report to measure its success. There was a public outcry and Sebert, who is also the justice minister, extended the program's mandate until June 30 of this year.

The justice department released its report, concluding A New Day was seeing success after a rocky start. Despite this, the department drafted a new request for proposals (RFP) that drastically pared it down: it went from full-time to hourly, as needed; abandoned one-on-one counselling sessions; and stated applicants to provide counselling need not have experience.

Another backlash ensued. Nobody bid on the project. Instead, a group of 14 community advocates submitted a letter to the justice department to question the changes.

Then at the eleventh hour, Sebert announced: "We are dealing with an NGO that has expressed interest."

That NGO ended up being John Howard Society, and strangely enough its executive director, former MLA Robert Hawkins, had a different take on what happened.

"We were approached by the GNWT," he told Yellowknifer.

In other words, the Department of Justice magically transformed a one-year request for proposals to run a mutated program nobody wanted to touch "with a 10-foot pole," according to Lydia Bardak, the community advocate Hawkins replaced after she was fired from the John Howard Society, into a four-year, sole-source contract.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green called this a bad faith move, and she is right.

This entire time, what has the obstacle been to prevent the justice department from re-issuing the A New Day RFP in its original form - the one with a proven track record success? How can Sebert believe A New Day will continue to provide good programming without the ingredients that made it successful in the first place?

On what planet does Sebert believe the public can't see right through what he's doing?

It's about time MLAs and community advocates acknowledge the truth -- Sebert has no interest in a successful A New Day -- and say loudly and clearly this is not an attitude NWT residents want in their leadership.

Cold days ahead; world closes in?
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It can be quite difficult to objectively analyze, challenge, or disagree with the words or practices of someone you have a healthy respect for, consider a friend or, perhaps, both.

That difficulty grows exponentially when you live in a small town or modestly-populated region where people are aware of many relationships that exist, whether they're cloaked in animosity, fuelled by dislike, or kept strong by a mutual interest or genuine respect for one's intellect or life's direction.

Like it or not, the majority of people in today's society accept most forms of conflict as genuine intent, sentiment or emotion.

Conversely, any open show of positive reinforcement, support, or praise for someone viewed as a friend or close acquaintance, is often viewed with doubt as to its sincerity, with suspicion of an agenda being put into play, or as praise made hollow through its expectancy.

The effect this has is to make it far easier (and safer) to be adversarial in public - or through any type of writing, video or audio production meant for public consumption - than risk being accused of simply pumping the tires of someone most people in your orbit know you like, support, respect or admire.

The final irony of the situation is that if you do lend public support and are judged as tire pumping, which is most likely going to be the case, you end up doing considerable damage to the person you were trying to bring positive attention to, as they automatically become guilty by association.

The rules of interaction have changed drastically in the past 15 years. Whether you choose to accept it or not, we've allowed ourselves to be cowered by the use of labels as weaponry by those most judgmental and easily offended among us.

We sat back and allowed the most vocal, most oversensitive, most vindictive, least compromising, least patriotic and least faithful to turn the modern era of the free world into the ultimate mytopia in a devilishly short period of time -and there's no going back now.

Thankfully, we live in a part of the world where we can soldier on trying to focus more on our similarities than our differences.

But, for the outside world; oh, we watch, we read, we listen and we declare ourselves aware and enlightened. Then we voice our opinions, sometimes vehemently and often overbearingly, but, the truth of the matter is, we've had a fairly comfortable ride for a long, long time and our space is shrinking and the world is closing in.

The world is turning colder in spirit and intention by the day, despite what it may, or may not, be doing climate wise.

We can choose to rail against it by reminding ourselves of what it took; how we came to have such a wonderful country to call our own, or, we can continue to pick ourselves apart by drawing more and more attention to the differences between us, and by continuing to try and force our opinions and beliefs upon each other.

However, there can be no denying, getting others to do a little less talking and a lot more walking can be damn hard to do (sigh). Yet we soldier on.

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