Editorial page
Friday, September 4, 1998

Is a new school needed?

There are several problems with the approach the Yellowknife Catholic school board is taking in its bid to get $9.2 million in financing to replace Weledeh Catholic school.

Whether board officials realize it or not, they are using phrases that are always associated with bad deals for taxpayers.

First is the argument that estimates for renovations to the existing structure almost total the cost of building a new school. This is quite remarkable considering there is a fully functioning building on site. Renovations may be required but wood is wood and steel is steel and presumably the present structure meets all building codes.

How much of the proposed renovations are essential for expansion and how much are on a wish list?

The second statement that the $9.2 million is not going to come out of ratepayer's pockets raises another red flag. The territorial government may be committed to operating contributions for eternity but the size of that commitment is subject to political pressures and the promise is only as good as the next budget and subsequent budgets.

The third statement is the most famous of all: The project won't go over budget.

There is always a risk of projects going over budget and it happens most often when people declare there is no chance of it happening.

Ratepayers should be asking some tough questions. How great is the need for expansion? Is a new school the best solution? Is the city population likely to grow? Is the Catholic school board siphoning students away from the public school board with the glitter of state of art schools? If so, could the same migration occur when the public school board starts building?

A public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 21 at St. Patrick high school. If ratepayers don't ask these important questions before the Sept. 28 plebiscite on borrowing $9.2, no one will.

Banking accounts

Yellowknife city council's motion asking Ottawa to delay approval of the pending bank mergers is a well-aimed protest.

Council has requested that the federal government elicit and consider the concerns of Canadians before giving permission to four of the nation's major banks to merge into two.

Cities the size of Yellowknife will no doubt feel the effect of reduced competition in financial services. As the banks make their case for the economies of scale and beefed-up muscle for global competition, the average Canadian worries about a modest savings account and a scrawny retirement fund.

Perhaps other municipalities will pick up on Yellowknife's initiative and air their citizens' anxieties over being squeezed into oblivion by banks reporting billions in profits. Ottawa should know how we feel.

Equal pay
Editorial comment
Glenn Korstrom
Inuvik Drum

First off, I support the principle of equal pay for those performing work of equal value.

The beauty of free enterprise is that the market ensures this. The market determines value.

This week, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Liberal government took the politically daring, reasonable and just decision to appeal a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to compensate female public servants with several billion dollars because of alleged discrimination stretching back to the early 1980s.

Years ago, I worked as a media researcher at the economic research organization, the Fraser Institute, and accumulated data indicating many things, including a left-wing bias at the CBC.

Part of my research focused on the release of Nelson Mandela from a South African prison. And as such, I learned a lot about South Africa.

For example, South African white racist unions supported a policy of equal pay for equal work. That dogma replaced their previous policy upholding white-only job restrictions.

The reason racists supported the policy was because they knew it would effectively prevent blacks from breaking into job situations which were dominated by whites.

How is that so?

Blacks had previously not been allowed to take white-only positions so they had no skills or history of employment in those sorts of jobs.

As such, an employer faced with the prospect of hiring a white worker or a black worker for one of those jobs would find a surplus of white workers with the skills and experience and few blacks with the same.

The only advantage black workers could have had was the freedom to say, "I'll work for less than the white to show you I can do the work. Once I've proved it and have the experience, you can pay me what I'm worth."

Enforced policies of equal pay for equal work therefore hurt the workers they were intended to protect by rendering those workers jobless.

Equal pay for work of equal value is easy to support because it is a truism.

If a worker is not getting paid what he or she is worth, and the employer is unduly profiting, competition will sprout. That competition will pay marginally more per hour to spur an upward wage spiral ending in a just wage, or at least the highest wage the market will bear.

There are flaws in unbridled free-market thinking and no doubt that leads to some injustice. But when contrasted against injustices historically perpetrated by governments, I believe free enterprise blemishes pale in comparison.

Looking back, looking forward
Editorial comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

As any visitor to the Drum office knows, there are stacks and stacks of back issues on the shelves.

After meeting Daniel Allaire, manager of forestry services for the Deh Cho region, I went back and took a look through some of the papers to see how Mother Nature's ferocity was documented in the Drum.

You see, Daniel informed me of how this year's forest fire situation measured up to past years. It turns out the number of fires, about 100, was above average while the number of hectares burned was close to normal. On average, about one percent of the territory burns every summer, he told me. It was 1995 that was most devastating, he said.

So, I returned to the office and thumbed through the summer issues and sure enough I came across a number of stories about the effects of the fires. In August, 1995, more than two million hectares of the western NWT's forested lands had been consumed by fire. Seven Deh Cho communities were blanketed by the resulting smoke.

In late September, there was an article entitled, "Highway of flames," which told of a forest fire forcing the closure of the Mackenzie Highway after it jumped a portion of the road near Wallace Creek. The fires had been burning near the highway for more than a month and had developed a front nearly 40 kilometres wide. A level-one emergency was declared in nearby Fort Simpson as smoke was hindering many residents, the elderly in particular.

It made me realize how fortunate we've been this year. Sure, we've seen some smoke but nothing so choking. No lives have been lost, no homes destroyed, no communities forced to evacuate.

Allaire pointed out that we happen to inhabit a place where the forest occupies the vast majority of the land mass. It's practically inevitable that we'll have an occasional fire claim something valuable, as did the Tibbitt Lake fire near Yellowknife, which reduced some cabins to cinder.

The same is true of close calls with bears, who wander out of the woods and into our yards and streets. That's another subject that fascinates me, and there were also plenty of articles about bear sightings. In 1996, dozens of bears were reported in the Fort Simpson area and three were killed during the first two weeks of August alone.

In an issue from October, 1996, was a preview of the next phenomenon that is slowly creeping into the minds of some Deh Cho residents -- freeze-up. That year, it appeared that high water levels would lead to a delay in the annual build-up of ice. This year, water levels are quite low. Perhaps with an early cold snap we'll see freeze-up sooner than usual.

We're at Mother Nature's mercy.

Operation protection

The efforts of AIDS Yellowknife volunteers who recently offered free condoms during a blitz of several downtown bars shows initiative.

Seven volunteers braved the beer drinking crowds to distribute the free protection. Almost everyone the group approached was appreciative of the team's giveaway.

Statistics show, though, that it's not just the bars where safe sex should be encouraged. A recent survey showed 42 per cent of Grade 9 students in the NWT are sexually active, compared to 25 per cent nationally.

The schools are at least as appropriate a place as bars for such an initiative.