Editorial page

Friday, December 18, 1998

Gas pricing doesn't make sense

For Yellowknifers, two key questions about the price of gas at the pump are: Will the slide in world oil prices continue? Will prices for crude stay down long enough for the retailers to drop their prices?

In January 1997, a barrel of crude oil was $23 and the Canadian average gas price per litre at the pumps was 56.8. A year later, crude was close to $18 and the Canadian average edged down to 54.5. In March 1998, crude had dropped to $14.43 and continued down to $13.53 by August. This month, crude is selling for $10.73 and the Canadian average at the pumps is 50.6.

Obviously there is a trend downward but crude falls far faster, more than 50 per cent in the past two years, than gas at the pump. Who is responsible for the huge price gap is difficult to determine.

Of the approximately 70 cents Yellowknifers are paying per litre today, the costs of the crude (26 per cent), taxes (34 per cent) and refining (27 per cent) represent 89 per cent of the total with 11 per cent going to the local retailer. By comparison, retailers across Canada have a five per cent margin. The difference does not explain the outrageous pump prices.

What role do the major oil companies play?

Responding to public discontent, a Liberal committee was created last June to look into gasoline prices in Canada. They didn't find out much other than the government's inability to "provide financial data on oil companies."

While the committee concluded there was no price fixing going on they added: "..given the current measures at its disposal, if such anti-competitive acts did occur, the Bureau of Competition Policy has little chance of discovering, let alone prosecuting, them."

It is safe to say that the only pressure on the oil companies that's going to work in bring down prices is public pressure across the country. Of course, if the price of a barrel of crude starts climbing, there is no guarantee the whole industry won't just pocket the latest profits.

What's to stop them?

Helping hands

It was sad to learn that boxes making up the Salvation Army's annual Christmas hampers weren't full of food earlier this week when Yellowknifer contacted organizers.

Here's an organization that, along with these much-needed hampers, offers people from the street a warm haven, a soup kitchen, a drug and alcohol program and a lot of community support.

While there is no shortage of volunteers -- they have more than 100 -- the demand for this food is up by as much as 25 per cent.

That means that the Salvation Army needs more donations of food. The good news is, it's not to late to offer the some help. Rumour has it, they don't mind loose change.

Building bridges

The last few days have provided Yellowknifers with yet another object lesson in doing business with Mother Nature.

Once again, shelves were bare and merchants and manufacturers were looking anxiously at the thermometer as the Fort Providence ferry was pulled out of service until a channel could be cut through the ice forming on the river.

While enduring the whims of nature could be considered one of the charms of Northern living, not having a fixed link to the south undermines any thrust to develop the North.

Perhaps it would be forward thinking to re-open the debate over a bridge at Providence before we get too far into the discussion about where to put the proposed road north to the mines.

Remembering basics
Editorial Comment
Glen Korstrum
Inuvik Drum

Some Inuvik residents were surprised but most were happy to see MLA Floyd Roland promoted to cabinet by his peers.

It is easy to underestimate the work done by those in the public service who take their jobs seriously. Roland has made it look easy as an MLA, but now his workload increases with his cabinet responsibilities.

Not every MLA has Roland's rapport with constituents, and his efforts to make a difference at home stand out in the legislative assembly.

Several others maintain comfy digs in the capital and get so caught up with life in Yellowknife that their home community is pushed to the back of their minds -- except at election time.

Roland is solidly an Inuvik-firster.

He understands one thing hard to find in Yellowknife is constituents.

This comes through in the house when he has repeatedly stressed in speeches, "Remember Inuvik."

Within days of joining the executive council, Roland visited SAM school to award prizes for the 74 students who designed national child's day posters.

Cassandra Kirk won the contest with a poster graphically depicting Inuvik complete with the Igloo Church, boating, tobogganing and the sunrise festival.

For her effort, Roland gave her a large NWT flag, as well as lots of other goodies including a legislature baseball cap and a national child's day pencil.

Something went to everyone, be it a mouse pad, a thank-you poster or a desk flag.

He had also mentioned the contest in the assembly.

With time complacency and preoccupation might set in for the minister of Transportation. Big issues such as the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk highway could occupy his time in Yellowknife along with the other roads he says he must now consider equally given his responsibility to the entire NWT.

If Roland ever does seem to be away for too long a stretch, all his constituents need do is echo his own words back to him, "Remember Inuvik."

Freedom and dependency

I'm uncomfortable with paternalism.

This is when the state jumps in and tells individuals what they can or can't do because it knows what is best for them.

The problem with Holman's recent plebiscite to limit alcohol is that in an attempt to help the community limit crime and problem drinkers individual rights are sacrificed.

Alcohol-related crime towers over sober crime in Inuvik as much as it does in Holman.

And many advocate a community's collective right to be free from crime directly connected with what it considers a controllable substance.

But is alcohol really controllable?

Drug addicts and alcoholics really need to come to the realization of what is best and the decision to gather the strength to resist on their own.

The community can help by finding alternatives to drinking that make a sober life exciting and desirable.

Economic doldrums, dependency on government funding and resulting negative vibes all contribute to problem addictions.

Understanding this and seeking out opportunity may be more effective than limiting alcohol supply.

Hand to mouth
Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

The Christmas holidays aren't yet upon us but they sure are close and it's not hard to tell. Decorations adorn many houses and Christmas lights are strung across trees everywhere. Santa has been spotted several times and television commercials constantly flaunt a variety of products.

The other dead give-away is the food. There are fabulous spreads of food everywhere you turn, particularly last week with all the open houses in town.

There's a joke about being on a see-food diet. Naturally when you say it, others mistakenly believe that you're subsisting on fish only, but the punch-line is, "No, whenever I see food, I eat it."

Lately, that's how I've been feeling. It's starting way too soon. A Christmas dinner is always a time when one eats like there's no tomorrow, but keeping a handle on things until the big day takes real self-restraint.

Why is it that we over-eat, feel uncomfortable and promise ourselves never to do it again, only to be back in the same boat a few days later? Why does our memory fail in the presence of cold cuts, sliced fruit, vegetables and dip, devilled eggs, chips and too many desserts to mention?

The Christmas holidays are also the time when those little mandarin oranges begin popping up in the stores. These sweet and juicy fruit are a real treat. Other temptations aren't nearly as nutritious.

Last week at the Thomas Simpson School concert, each of the tables was stocked with a tray of cookies. They were impossible to resist. I noticed a little girl pulling some apart, scraping the icing from the inside with her teeth and discarding the rest. I had to laugh, remembering that my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.

A number of years later, I still have a weakness for chocolate-covered mints. Unfortunately, too many members of my family know this and have exploited it. So far I've received six boxes of them in the mail. My initial reaction was that of disbelief. Why would they send them, I wondered. Now I had to contend with row upon row of mints. I needed help.

Needless to say they're gone. I ate most of them -- the rest we gave away. Of course, the holidays are a long way from being over. Many more battles have yet to be fought. The turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, carrots, peas, corn, buns, etc. all lie in wait.

The most important thing to remember is for those of us who are fortunate enough that the holidays are a time of plenty, we should be very grateful. There are those within our own community and many more around the world who, for one reason or another, cannot enjoy the holidays. Nobody is obligated to help out, but there are plenty of people who have proven to be completely selfless time and again.

The Deh Cho Friendship Society has a Christmas hamper for food donations and the Northern Store has its angel-tree standing again this year. It's just a way that those who can afford to share extend goodwill towards those are less fortunate. After all, that's what the holidays are really about.

Where do you live?
Editorial Comment
Marty Brown
Kivalliq News

There is an acute housing shortage in Nunavut and it doesn't look like things will get much better in the near future.

"It's like we've got a Cornish game hen when we need to feed 55 people at a turkey dinner," said Darrin Nichols, manager of the Rankin Inlet Housing Association.

Nichols was at a housing, community government and transportation conference in Iqaluit and said housing was being blamed for everything from domestic violence to students quitting school to health problems. But housing associations aren't safe shelters nor are they short-term emergency housing, he said.

The government figured if they pushed home ownership, everything would be alright, but Canada Mortgage and Housing went out of the house building business in 1995.

"There's only so many homes on the market and besides ownership is an expensive proposition. Many people want back into public housing when they find out how expensive it is," he said. "If more than 30 per cent of your income is spent on housing, you're in deep trouble."

Then there's the catch 22 -- if you get a job, your rent goes up. Housing rents are based on salaries, so if salaries go up so does the rent.

But the government can't afford to get back into public housing.

After the Iqaluit meeting, Nichols came away thinking that different organizations think housing associations are the bad guys. "We're not, but with so little money, I'm not sure what anyone expects us to do," he said.

Habitat for Humanities is an international organization that builds houses in partnerships with needy families. People have to be able to make mortgage payments, show they have a need for housing and show their present accommodations are inadequate. Families take on a 20-year mortgage of appraised cost, but don't pay a downpayment. Much of the materials and labour is volunteer.

But when they went to Iqaluit with the offer to build houses for needy families, there were no takers. No one could afford to maintain a house.

Down south, public housing has a bad name. But most of the housing association tenants are good, said Nichols. The North just echoes a problem right across Canada -- affordable housing.

Nichols' hopes lay with the assistant deputy minister of Housing Sarah Flynn. Nichol hopes she will be able to supply some direction. As it stands now, housing associations lose $3 million a year and spend $1 million a year in utilities. An average house uses 90 litres of water per day.

There will be a complete study done on the housing issue after the new Nunavut government is installed.

The old saying "if you have a roof over your head..." is starting to take on a whole new meaning.

Housing is an important part of one's sense of well-being. A place to hang your hat they say or lay your head is very important to people. Ask any homeless person.

Of course, I copped out and bought a recreational vehicle. But that's not a solution for everyone, especially families.