Editorial page

Friday, February 19, 1999

Budget suffers from short-term vision

Like the return of the sun to the North, the arrival of the annual federal budget is one of late winter/early spring's certainties.

In this year's entry, federal Finance Minister Paul Martin chose to steer a course between fiscal prudence and restoring some of the cut expenditures to this year's hot topic, health care.

The territories will benefit from a five-year commitment to increased federal spending on health care. We will also benefit from an increase in the budget allotment for DIAND, although it is not clear exactly where the money will be directed.

The state of health care is a national preoccupation, which is one the reasons it received the attention it did in the budget. The federal Liberals' extensive polling told the where voters wanted the money spent.

Here in Yellowknife, we have our concerns about the state of the health system. Increased spending can't hurt, but that won't solve everything. Sensible management of the resources we do have is equally important.

However, amidst all the hot air coming from Ottawa on the subject of productivity, there isn't any significant investment in the infrastructure projects that would increase Northern productivity and, ultimately, self-reliance.

The Northern economy, as we all know, is principally resource-based. In order to increase productivity in this part of the world, investment has to be made in roads and perhaps, a deep-sea port.

And it would be an investment. These projects would not only create jobs for the duration of their construction, but would open the door to investment in resource development by lowering transportation costs and increasing accessibility to remote regions.

As Yellowknifers well know, you don't have to be a miner to benefit from mining.

Martin's budget contained good news for Northerners, but if he's serious about productivity he ought to put his money where is mouth is, and where the resources are.

Finding balance

Revision of the smoking bylaw clearly requires a spirit of compromise rather than extremes.

Everyone deserves the right to breath air free of second hand smoke. One way to protect that right is to ban smoking, as Coun. Kevin O'Reilly has suggested, in every indoor public place and workplace in the city.

This approach shows a remarkable lack of the creativity required to find a solution that accommodates, as much as possible, the rights of both smokers and non-smokers.

If Coun. O'Reilly, who spoke not at all of a city-wide smoking ban during his election campaign, continues to show this level of intolerance he will be the one left out in the cold.

Search is on

The idea of establishing a citizen-based search and rescue team is a good idea anywhere.

But in this Northern city especially, it's a great idea.

Last week, the RCMP Northern Search and Rescue team held a recruitment drive to establish a SAR team made up of members of the community. Anyone interested will receive training in search and rescue operations.

There are so many Northerners who head out on the land all year round to hunt, fish and trap. When they go, there is always the risk that, for some reason or another, they'll go missing. According to statistics given by an emergency measures co-ordinator, 51 searches took place in the NWT last year.

Having organized search teams can only increase the chances of finding missing persons.

Give me a call
Editorial Comment
Glen Korstrum
Inuvik Drum

Back around Christmas, I found a Jonny Lang CD on my sister's CD player. I bought the disc and played it a few times but what caught my laser more than anything was probably the funky calypso-like Brand New Heavies.

Then, I caught the 18-year-old blues sensation on Jay Leno a couple weeks back and his soulful and weighted voice has started filtering through the office here on a regular rotation.

Many have probably noticed Dave Lang (no relation) has stopped writing his creative music reviews. I hear he has left Inuvik too.

But since his departure, there has not been anything in the Drum to introduce readers to new or relevant area music.

Some people have expressed an interest but so far, no reviews have actually been written. As such, here is sort of an open message to people who similarly believe that music is a large part of life itself and who would be interested in expressing themselves on the topic.

For those interested, give me a call so we can discuss it -- hopefully a reliable and interesting columnist will emerge from this.

I think of music also partly because I just finished talking with a woman whose first language is Inuktitut. She suggested I check out the throat singing CD at Boreal Books.

If I do, I suppose I'll have something to celebrate the creation of Nunavut with.

As for the looming April 1 date for the parallel creation of the new NWT, it's creeping up fast but no one I'm talking to seems to be too caught up with anticipation or excitement -- or at least any more so than they are for Chinese New Year.

If the thought ever comes up, it's usually pretty matter-of-fact.

That may be because we have a structure already in place and the new NWT political entity will not be walking as much on untreaded ground.

I haven't heard of any big celebrations around town yet.

If westerners had actually gone ahead with the much tossed-around proposal of calling the territory Bob, then maybe there would be a greater sense that something to get all stirred up about is on the horizon.

A smaller, more manageable NWT seems less inspiring than it is practical. And practical things are less exhilarating than steps into the unknown.

Sunny thoughts

It's amazing how much difference a little bit of sun makes.

Only yesterday it seemed like the middle of the day was dark enough for Christmas lights to shine brightly throughout.

Now, as I look out, I notice the town has still not taken down their light strands, but instead of the sombre dim glow from the December sky, it almost looks like spring.

After a while in the -30 Cs and -40 Cs, the -18 C we had this weekend felt balmy.

With luck, the good weather will hold up and I'll be able to give the new Drum vehicle -- a blue Chevy Cavalier -- a run up the ice road.

Answers don't come easy
Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

It's the $64,000 question. Perhaps it's the $64- million question. Maybe even the $640-million question.

Trailblazers or hasty decision-makers?

The topic of logging and oil and gas development in Fort Liard seems to be a surefire way to get a good debate raging. There are many business owners in the Deh Cho who watch in envy as they pass through the southernmost hamlet in the region and see the hustle and bustle of industry.

Then there are those who argue adamantly that it's all smoke and mirrors. Sure, there's plenty of activity, but they argue that the percentage of industrial revenue going into the community is minimal. The majority of the money is going south, they say.

Of course, dollars are only one aspect of the deal. What about environmental concerns? The Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently executed a search warrant and seized documents from the Liard Valley Band office. No charges were filed. Rather, a DFO official said the department was gathering evidence. Apparently, a road built by band members leading to the resources violated one or more environmental regulations. Is this an aberration or the tip of the iceberg?

What sort of deal has been made by the Acho Dene Koe leadership in Fort Liard? I think only a privileged few outside the community know the answer to that question (and only a privileged few within the community as well, for that matter).

I'm sure the leadership negotiated the best possible terms it could manage, but are those terms anywhere near what the Deh Cho First Nations will ultimately attain through self-government? Only time will tell.

No matter how you look at it, Fort Liard is undoubtedly better off economically today than it was several years ago. There are more than enough jobs to go around. Yet even that fact is contentious. I've talked to people from the community who have expressed concern that some young men have been working as slashers, clearing brush, for years now. Is there truly upward mobility to be found? Some people have also complained of being overworked. A few people who have performed support work in the camps told me that they put in long hours for near minimum wage.

On the other hand, there is plenty of training being offered. Many people are being offered the opportunity to work on the oil rigs. Yes, they inevitably start at the bottom, but isn't that true of practically any job? I recently asked a certified training consultant with NWT Community Mobilization if the oil and gas industry is one where an employee can start at the bottom and work his or her way to the top. He responded with an unequivocal yes, providing that the employee is willing to really invest the time and effort.

It shouldn't be forgotten, either, that the Acho Dene Koe are looking into the prospect of joint ownership of oil rigs, through which they could derive even greater profits.

Now, Acho Dene Koe leaders are seeking a comprehensive land claim of their own. It is unprecedented for a single community in the NWT to receive its own land claim.

One thing is clear, leadership in Fort Liard can never be accused of sitting on its hands.

Everything but a Canadian
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe it was growing up in Cape Breton, whatever the case, for most of my life I was pretty much sheltered from dealing with stereotyping, classification by creed and, dare I say it, racism.

In fact, looking back, I always felt the worst possible thing to do was to acknowledge the incessant ramblings of such people, kind of along the same lines and writing books or making Hollywood movies on the heinous actions of serial killers.

For most of my life, I couldn't understand those who got upset over such terms as mic, spic, fairy, herring choker, jar head, whatever. Even out West in my early 20s listening to then Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein telling all us job stealing Easterners to go home, Calgary didn't want us, I wasn't upset. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and how seriously can you take someone who doesn't realize the hardships others face to begin with?

That all started to change for me a couple of years back and I've found I'm no more thick-skinned than anyone else when it comes to being categorized by the colour of my skin, or, what disturbs me even more, by the language I speak -- which is, coincidentally, one of the two official languages here in my own country.

About two years ago, I was asked to come out and play goaltender for a competitive men's team in Timmins, Ontario. As it turns out, I was the only anglophone on a team of francophones, but, I can honestly say, that didn't bother me.

We were fortunate enough to rattle off seven straight wins after I joined the club and I felt pretty comfortable with my spot on the team, even though I understood little more than hi, how ya' doing when I'd come to the rink. That all changed when I showed up for game eight.

I knew something was up the second I entered the arena and my teammates who were watching the earlier game by the glass took off for the dressing room the second they laid eyes on me. I dropped my gear and decided I'd watch a bit of the game and wait to see what happened. I didn't have long to wait.

A few moments later the coach came out and, after ushering me off to a quiet corner of the rink, told me the team would have to let me go because I didn't speak French. He said although he understood it didn't bother me not understanding what was going on in the dressing room, some of the players were feeling uncomfortable because of all the English jokes being told in my presence.

As it turns out, some of "the guys" were getting a big kick out of putting down my culture right in front of me, knowing I couldn't understand a word.

The whole experience stung and was one I will never forget. In my own country I've been labelled a worthless Easterner, an unwanted English guy, a jar head while in the infantry, a leech since I joined the ranks of the media and now I'm one more Kabloona in the North.

Funny thing though, I still look like the same guy when I shave in the morning. A damn proud Canadian!