Fortress Fed vs. Senator Nick
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, Monday, September 4, 2017
When Sen. Nick Sibbeston approached the Service Canada building in Yellowknife late last month, he expected to receive some service - even if he didn't have an appointment.
After all, he is the sitting senator for the entire territory - and served as premier in the mid-1980s - and even had his government ID card to prove his day job is in the Red Chamber in Ottawa.
But either the security staff at the door weren't impressed with the senator's pedigree, or were simply following building access rules to the letter.
Here's some background from a story that really had people talking after it was published in News/North Aug. 28.
Sibbeston said he was left "shocked, dismayed and saddened" after being blocked from entering the Parks Canada office at the Yellowknife Service Canada Centre Aug. 22.
A guard told him it did not matter if he was a senator, he simply could not meet with Parks Canada manager Lee Montgomery without making an appointment first. A request to phone up to Montgomery was refused.
When the frustrated senator made his way to the second floor on his own, he was followed by a security guard, who Sibbeston said threatened to call the RCMP on him. The senator then left the building.
The next day, Aug. 23, the senator came to the News/North office in Yellowknife to explain what had happened to him.
"These rules are ridiculous," Sibbeston told the newspaper.
"If I as a senator have a hard time getting into a federal building, how much more difficult must it be for an ordinary person?"
A reporter accompanied Sibbeston back to the Service Canada building and the senator eventually met with an apologetic security guard who had not been involved in the earlier incident.
The outspoken senator has made headlines in recent years on a variety of matters, including claiming $50,000 in improper expenses, quitting the Senate Liberal caucus to sit as an independent, admitting in a tell-all memoir he battled alcoholism for years, and accusing the RCMP of failing to follow up on a lead he gave them in a homicide investigation.
Oh, and in 2005, he also called gay and lesbian lifestyles "unnatural" and voted against a same-sex marriage bill in the Senate.
It was never made clear exactly what pressing business Sibbeston had with the Parks Canada official. We trust it was an important matter of benefit to his constituents.
We can sympathize with the senator for wanting to conduct government business in an expedient fashion without fussing over making an appointment, or dealing with building security and all of their strict procedures that were put in place by that very same federal government.
But we also don't think the average member of the public would expect to show up unannounced and be granted access to a bureaucrat.
Especially in this dangerous day and age when security levels at any government building have been increased. The days of the "pop-in" to see public officials are long over.
However, the incident surely did make for another interesting chapter in Sibbeston's career.
Not guilty does not mean innocent
Nunavut/News North - Monday, September 4, 2017
After more than a year of study, the federal Competition Bureau says First Air and Canadian North did not break the law in its efforts to stop startup airline GoSarvaq from entering the Ottawa-Iqaluit market.
The process has taken some time but not long enough to erase the memories of those paying sky-high prices to go south.
Iqaluit to Ottawa is a three-hour flight by jet, with a retail cost of $2,500 round-trip. Compare that to Ottawa to Yellowknife, a five-hour flight that costs around $800 on Air North. You could even go from Ottawa to Hong Kong, a 16-hour trip, for $1,000 on Air Canada.
It will take some time for Nunavummiut to forget how First Air and Canadian North - working on a codeshare agreement at the time - dropped the price of one-way tickets to as low as $266. That drop came after GoSarvaq said it would fly twice a week for $499 each way. Hard to get off the ground and compete when your competitors drop the cost of a ticket by almost half the price.
But more than the price war itself, the bigger lesson comes from the argument the Competition Bureau used to absolve the airlines' knockout punch pricing. The airlines said they were still making a profit at $266 each way.
We've noted this before but take another moment to breathe that in.
Under the codeshare, First Air and Canadian North had a monopolistic partnership backed by guarantees of government duty travel and medical travel contracts, which fill planes with travellers who need the ability to change their flights on short notice, not those seeking sale prices. The government rate of $1,500 or so is no problem when someone else is footing the bill.
Still, there is a market for those who want to pay a discount price, or perhaps we should call it a fair price. That market wasn't fed for many months ahead of GoSarvaq's launch attempt.
Unfortunately, these same customers were the ones who ended GoSarvaq's startup hopes as much as the larger airlines. It was these customers who jumped back to the legacy airlines when Canadian North and First Air dropped their prices even lower than GoSarvaq could offer. To paraphrase the old saying, with customers like that, who needs enemies?
In the wake of this episode, and after First Air cancelled its codeshare agreement with Canadian North, we've seen some sales bringing prices to a more reasonable level.
But Nunavummiut deserve better. They deserve transparency and actual competition.
That's why we're hopeful GoSarvaq can revive itself, this time aware of the benchmark set by the big players. Pick a different route, perhaps closer to Toronto or the East Coast.
Thinking more creatively, an airline would be wise to consider the success of Iceland's airlines, which have taken a once challenging nation to visit into a free stopover along the way from North America to Europe. Considering the investment made into a $300 million airport in Iqaluit, it's a good time to consider ways to bring more traffic into our territory, and an airline that makes a stop along the way from southern Canada to Europe would be a good way to do so.
But consumers need to take a hard look in the mirror, and consider who has our best interests in mind. If they don't support these businesses, they won't get what they pay for, they will pay for what they get.
Smoking ban needs careful consideration
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 1, 2017
Last week, city council directed administration to look into options to potentially outlaw smoking on all city properties, including parks.
The city needs to take a deep breath.
If it isn't careful, the smoking bylaw could end up in the same pile as the poop-and-scoop rules it passed in 2014. Three years after the law came into effect, the city had yet to give out a single ticket and dog poop still litters the city.
Smoking is bad for your health and the health of others. Smokers must accept a dwindling access to the public sphere where they light up - a campaign that began in Yellowknife more than a decade ago when smoking was banned in restaurants and bars. Council needs to find a balance between knowing how and when to enforce rules and when to back off. In some cases, like with the bylaw around bicycle helmets, the city struck the right tone. With poop bag bylaws, not so much.
Nobody wants the smoke police. Especially if enforcement marginalizes already marginalized people.
According to Statistics Canada, while smoking rates haven generally fallen, as of 2014, 33.3 percent of adults in the NWT smoked, the second highest rate in the country, beaten only by Nunavut. Indigenous people are even more likely to light up: a 2010 First Nations regional health survey showed 57 per cent of Indigenous adults smoke daily or occasionally and smoking is more prevalent among people who are unemployed or with lower incomes. Banning smoking on municipal property could consequently mean sticking people -- especially the most vulnerable people -- with onerous penalties.
If the city gets really draconian with a smoking ban, the likely effect will be to drive smokers out of parks and near city facilities and into other areas, such as into the bush, where there is an increased chance of starting fires.
A good place to crack down on smoking would be cigarette butt litter. The city has made a good start, installing 45 special butt receptacles last year. There should be more public ash cans and more tickets going to people who leave behind butts in city parks and streets.
Butting out is good. But the city needs to make sure it doesn't start a bigger fire.
Quashing hate a community responsibility
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 1, 2017
There's nothing new about racist graffiti. Sadly, the 'white power'
slogan spotted in an Old Airport Road pedestrian underpass last week is just a bigger and bolder example of the stupidity rendered on the walls of public washrooms the world over.
Usually acts like these are legitimately written off as the yelps of bored teens hungry for attention - youth lashing out at the world with the pointiest stick they can find.
While Yellowknifer agrees it's not likely the dawn of a nascent neo-Nazi era in the North, it's great to see
institutions such as the city and RCMP take matters like these seriously.
Their swift response last week sends a strong message that there's no room for hate in this community.
As city hall is the obvious first point of contact when people see racist or homophobic symbols, slurs or graffiti on municipal property, it's also good to know it will now contact the
Mounties immediately when notified.
From the grassroots perspective, it's good to hear a local chapter of Stand Up To Racism is putting down foundations in Yellowknife. The group was scheduled to hold a candlelight vigil for victims of hate crimes last night.
Society in general needs to be vigilant against hate. We all need to take responsibility for eliminating it in our communities.
It's a good idea to explore resources along new highway
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, August 31, 2017
When the United States and Canada announced a joint, five-year moratorium on off-shore oil and gas drilling in Arctic waters last December, the countries' leaders hailed it as a move toward a "strong," "viable" Arctic economy and ecosystem.
Their aim was to meet global climate goals while protecting Arctic life from environmental hazards such as oil spills.
Yet, in one of those Arctic communities – Inuvik – the economy was showing signs of stagnation, with some homes and a former hotel boarded up, and empty shop windows lining parts of the main strip.
While the town may not sit on the edge of the Arctic Ocean where this off-shore drilling is banned, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) decried what they called a lack of consultation over a policy that would affect them and which they have a right to be consulted about under their land claim agreement.
At the time, IRC president Duane Smith stated the corporation had been dealing with both on-shore and off-shore drilling in the region for five decades, but the federal government had not asked his opinion on the decision.
Luckily, the IRC hasn't given up hope of tapping into on-shore resources and, with that, boosting the local economy.
Last week, the Inuvik Drum reported the IRC is gathering proposals for a study that would look at the feasibility of harvesting and distributing gas along the nearly-complete Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway.
This research is a good thing. Not only is the new highway expected to draw more tourists (and their wallets) to the region, the study may also show it brings the prospect of homegrown jobs, cheaper energy and a chance to breathe more life into the local economy.
A 2015 report from the Town of Inuvik showed high utility costs and unemployment were some of the biggest challenges facing the community. According to the report, 17 businesses had disappeared from Inuvik within a five-year period from 2008 to 2013.
The effect on local organizations is evident, too. Earlier this year, the Inuvik Food Bank began charging clients a small fee for food, citing increasing costs.
At the time, Heather Wheating, chair of the Inuvik Food Bank, stated the organization was handing out an average of 100 flats of food per distribution, compared to just 30 flats five years ago.
According to Kate Darling, general counsel for the IRC, the corporation's study would look at the possibility of supplying gas from the region to residents of the region, which could limit Inuvik's reliance on southern fuel producers and create new jobs.
The study would first explore gas supplies in Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic and Tuktoyaktuk, and then some coastal communities, she said.
It would also be important to examine how the environment can be managed at the same time.
Although the possibility of harvesting gas along the highway isn't yet a sure thing, it's good to see the IRC exploring an opportunity that could make Inuvik more self-reliant when it comes to fuel and that could give the economy a push forward.
GNWT has created a monster
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Laws and regulations should serve a good purpose and normally, they do.
Roads have speed limits to save lives. There are laws against drinking and driving for the same reason. Regulations that stipulate food safety standards for restaurants exist so people don't get sick. Cities have noise bylaws to insulate those who need a good night's sleep from those who party into the morning.
But Yellowknifer is at a loss as to why the NWT's Liquor Licensing Board has barred NWT Brewing from distributing its own beer.
Legally, all beer made by NWT Brewing must be sold to the NWT Liquor Commission and then sold to customers through the commission. One exception to this rule is that beer sold at the Woodyard restaurant, which is attached to the brewery, is sold directly to customers. This is because NWT liquor regulations allow for a way to circumvent the rule so as to allow the brewpub to function efficiently.
For distribution, however, liquor regulations require the brewery to sell its beer to the liquor commission, which then trucks it to its warehouse, slaps some fees on top of what is already one of the highest beer taxes in Canada, and then makes that keg available for restaurants and bars to purchase. What NWT Brewing owners Fletcher and Miranda Stevens would like to do instead is put that keg in the back of their truck and drive it right over to whoever orders it.
The liquor board can permit this form of distribution if it likes. The brewery has asked for this to happen and the Department of Finance, which administers the commission, has endorsed the request. But the Liquor Licensing Board says no. Why? We may never know.
Finance department spokesperson Todd Sasaki explained the decision is outside of the Liquor Commission's purview, as the Liquor Licensing Board operates at "arm's length" from the GNWT.
So what does the board have to say about its decision?
"The board does not discuss specific cases that may be brought before it," stated board manager Jaimie Graham in an email to Yellowknifer.
The NWT Liquor Licensing Board's decision forces NWT Brewing - a local business - into a situation where it will have to charge approximately $100 more per keg than what a major brewery charges to have the same amount of beer shipped up from the south. And the board doesn't even have to explain why.
If Yellowknifer didn't know better, it would almost seem as though the territorial government has created a monster. Some of the biggest challenges territorial leaders face are economic - diversification, growth and the task of earning the NWT a reputation for being a great place to do business. If the 18th Legislative Assembly is going to do these things, it must hold its regulatory boards accountable.
The NWT Liquor Licensing Board may operate at "arm's length" from the government but it is still, by definition, within reach. Unless there is a very, very good reason for it, the board is abusing its power by overriding a recommendation made by the Department of Finance, which created the board in the first place.
Down the home stretch of 2017
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Well, valued readers, I'm back in Rankin Inlet and only a stone's throw away from starting my 20th year at the helm of Kivalliq News.
I would never have believed almost two decades could go by that fast. I don't mind admitting I'm more than a little terrified at the prospect of not donning the zebra's stripes for the upcoming hockey season.
Once the puck drops to begin the new hockey season in Rankin, it's going to be a completely alien feeling to only watch from the stands and not get involved on the ice.
I have a personal note I'd like to pass along to you readers. To everyone across the Kivalliq who kept my mom in their thoughts and prayers while she was in a Cape Breton hospital, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Mom was well on her way to mending when I returned to work and I'm already looking forward to spending the summer of 2018 with her.
I may even risk a trip to the East Coast this holiday season to spend Christmas tied to her apron strings.
Your prayers were heard, thank you.
It promises to be a race to the 2017 finishing line over the next four months. Tensions are building over Agnico Eagle Mines' performance in Baker Lake and the impact its latest endeavour, the Whale Tail gold project, may or may not have on the environment, wildlife and the community.
Nunavut is also starting to have a little extra trouble attracting teachers and our territorial teaching programs are not meeting the demand.
A number of Kivalliq schools are down in staff numbers as the new school year begins. It promises to be a challenging year, indeed, if those numbers aren't pumped up during the coming weeks.
There are also rumours swirling around that a number of our top teachers are considering making this their final year in the Kivalliq.
Our region cannot afford to lose any more of our top professionals, especially teachers who are effective, loved and heavily involved in our communities.
It will be a dark, dark day for extracurricular programming across the Kivalliq should our best teachers leave.
Let's all do our part to let all our teachers know how much we appreciate their efforts.
It's a good feeling to be back in the saddle again and I look forward to watching the rest of 2017 unfold with you.