Editorial page

Monday, September 6, 1999

A simpler approach

Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, but it does.

A comparison of salaries for members of the Legislative Assembly shows a drop from 1994 to 1995. Five years ago, the basic salary for an MLA was $39,349.48. The base salary for a member in 1999 comes in at $33,720.

Before you start feeling sorry for the MLAs, consider that this is only the start. There are allowances and added benefits that rapidly move the actually take-home pay of our elected officials quickly into six figures.

Take the take-home of Goo Arlooktoo, the highest paid MLA in the NWT last year. Add up his member's salary, a minister's salary of $58,900, a travel allowance of almost $70,000 and various other add-ons, and Arlooktoo made a respectable, a very respectable, $217,416.

While Arlooktoo's tally may have been the highest for 1998, he was by no means the only member who tipped the scale well into six digits. Of those still serving the NWT after division, Tu Nedhe's Don Morin was tops at $159,508.

Considering that people who obtain seats as MLAs are, hopefully, capable and talented individuals, that kind of money is probably not excessive or unreasonable.

What is questionable is the way those amounts are calculated. You start at $33,720. If they make it to the cabinet, they receive more; serve on committees, another boost; travel, it's covered; so on and so forth.

The problem is, once on a committee the member doesn't actually have to do anything, even show up, to receive the extra money.

There has been talk of replacing the existing system with one that pays members a single salary. Money is deducted if members don't show up or do the work -- a much simpler system that seems considerably fairer and much easier for us all to understand.

No doubt the accounting will still require a compass and road map to navigate, but any step towards greater accountability and clarity is a good one.

Round 2

The headline could be from an alternate universe - 'Donnie goes after Jane for conflict of interest.'

But it's happening right here on planet NWT. Now, it's important in such matters to distance oneself from one's emotions in order to keep an open mind.

Forget that a couple of years ago former Premier Don Morin, irritated by embarrassing questions in the legislative assembly, demanded Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen lay a conflict of interest charge against him or else shut up. Forget that Groenenwegen obliged him. Forget he resigned as premier after being found guilty.

Without prejudging the merits of Morin's case, it is a fitting end to what had to have been the wackiest legislative assembly ever. We just hope they get it out of their system before the next one.

Time is now

The Nunavut government is on the right track with the launch of a Nunavut Council of People with Disabilities.

There are more than 100 people in Nunavut living with disabilities. The government has committed $90,000 to get this council up and going.

Its goal, like other councils throughout North America, is to offer people with disabilities options for living a better life.

Meeka Kilabuk, a council advocate who has agreed to fundraise and lobby for programs, is proving there's lots of room for improvement, especially when it comes to how communities as a whole treat these people. Kilabuk says what frustrates her most is that a lot of communities simply aren't helping people with disabilities.

This new council may be a catalyst for change.

Lawsuits in lieu of learning

Any way you look at it, $1 million is a lot of money. And it seems to follow that wherever there is a lot of money, there is a lot of trouble.

The Baffin Divisional Board of Education has launched a lawsuit over a $1 million deal that has gone off the rails.

The deal was supposed to have made partners of the board and the Kakivak Association, with Kakivak giving the board $1 million worth of funding.

The board was to put the money towards hiring more personnel and giving current employees a raise.

After getting rid of the chief executive officer who negotiated the deal, Kakivak reviewed the partnership decision. In the end, they backed out.

The education board maintains that hiring commitments had been made, so a lawsuit was launched by the board to cover the obligations of the Kakivak Association.

Sadly, the people most affected by this chain of events are the those least able to do something about it -- the students.

We will leave the evaluation of the case to the judge. However, we have to wonder if the board isn't spending good money after bad in pursuing the case in court. The case will cost money, at a time when the board's problem is a shortage of funding.

The current administration of Kakivak claims that the deal wasn't binding because it hadn't received approval from all the appropriate levels of administration.

Another lesson to be learned from this sorry situation is don't spend the money until the ink is dry on all the copies of the deal.

Finally, both sides should remind themselves of their mandates. Certainly the children of Nunavut aren't being served by a lot of legal wrangling.

In the end, providing a good education to the people of the Baffin is what matters most. Anything less is a failure on all sides.

Working together

Other NWT communities battling the huge problems associated with alcohol abuse can stand to learn from a recent initiative in Fort Good Hope.

The K'asho Got'ine Community Council has joined forces with the RCMP to start a new tracking system for liquor sales coming from Norman Wells.

The RCMP have asked people to come into the police station to enrol in an identification program that will hopefully stop people from abusing the current liquor regulations. Not only will this help cut down the amount of liquor-related offenses, but may put a damper on bootlegging operations.

Bootlegging is a problem in all communities. Let's hope this crackdown by both the community and the police will be an effort other communities can copy.

A rediscovery

Recently, a group of adventurers paddled the Snowdrift River from Lutsel K'e to Baker Lake.

Two youths from Baker Lake, four Lutsel K'e Dene and three German documentary makers retraced an Aboriginal route that hadn't been explored in 60 years.

Besides battling bugs and rain, rubbing shoulders with grizzly bears and wolves, the group travelled some of the wildest territory in the world.

As the two Inuit and four Dene youth paddled into Baker Lake, hundreds came to greet them. It was a proud moment for all.

Each time a traditional route is travelled, it comes alive again with stories. It is in these traditional stories that aboriginal youth find the inspiration and develop confidence in their culture.