Downloading doubts
Ad sparks call for more public input

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 14/97) - GNWT downloading could be costly to city residents if not handled properly, community service leaders warned city council Monday.

Representatives of the Yellowknife Women's Centre and the Yellowknife Association of Concerned Citizens for Seniors criticized the city's handling of the transfer of health and social services and housing.

Their concerns were sparked by a recent advertisement for a consultant to help the city complete a feasibility study of the possible transfer. The ad appeared Oct. 29. Deadline for responses was Nov. 5.

Women's Centre executive director Arlene Hache said the centre would have competed for the job, "but that was literally impossible, with only five working days to respond ... we basically have to take the volunteer role again, give you our advice for free."

Though the seniors association had not considered competing for the job, the ad also caught it by surprise, said board member Al Falconer.

He said the call for proposals failed to mention what his group sees as key components to such a study, most notably, community consultation.

"We need to broaden the base of input into this topic," said Falconer.

Mayor Dave Lovell said the city was running an ad Wednesday calling for applicants for a health and social services community empowerment advisory committee.

Hache said the city should not ignore the expertise of those with direct knowledge of social, health and housing programs.

"If the negotiations are not done properly, if the expertise is not available, if front-line workers are not brought in, Yellowknifers are going to be left holding the bag," warned Hache.

"It's a bag nobody else wants to hold."

Hache said the trend toward devolution, downloading or, in GNWT parlance, empowerment, began as a federal cost-saving measure.

Territorial and provincial governments are simply following suit, said Hache, seeking to cut costs by dropping responsibilities to the bottom rung of the political ladder, the municipalities.

As a result of the presentations, council directed administration to re-open the competition, allowing three weeks response time.

Health and social services includes public health programs, social workers, child welfare, foster homes, environmental health and probation officers.

Yellowknife Health and Social Services, which currently oversees such programs, also administers territorial funding for other community groups, such as the Yellowknife Women's Centre and Tree of Peace.

The transfer does not include responsibility for administration of Stanton Regional Hospital.

Yellowknife Health and Social Services is a division of the territorial Department of Health and Social Services.

Falconer said local health and social programs are run by the territorial government. In the 14 months the seniors association has been involved in the transfer issue, it has come to the position that health, social services and housing would better be administered by the city through a board that operates at arm's length.

"The present setup, to leave it in the hands of a government-appointed administration, is really not acceptable," he said.

Hache questioned what mandate council had to even consider the transfers.

"I don't recall the people of Yellowknife directing the city to assume control of these programs," she said.