History lesson for junior kindergarten
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, January 22, 2016
Here's a quick history lesson: In 2013, then Education Minister Jackson Lafferty attempted to implement a very worthy education program targetting young children.
It was a junior kindergarten program, intended to increase the quality of education children receive in their early years, expecting it would improve the dismal success rates we are seeing in later years -- among the worst in the country.
Unfortunately, there was little discussion and consultation before the program was introduced and a great uproar resulted. The program conflicted with the successful Aboriginal Head Start education effort which was a demonstrated success over its 18-year run. Nine NWT communities opted out of the program.
Worse, the department attempted to pay for the program's implementation in school districts outside of Yellowknife with money largely cut from Yellowknife school board budgets.
Premier Bob McLeod, heeding the outcry, halted the expansion of the program in 2014, promising a review expected to be complete by July 2015. It wasn't finished until December 2015.
Yellowknifer asked to see the report but was denied under access to information legislation. Public school board chair John Stephenson is also anxious to see the report.
To be fair, MLAs have yet to see the document.
We can only hope there is a complete airing of the report in the upcoming sitting of the legislative assembly.
The lesson from history is the more open government makes its decision-making, the more understanding and consensus is created. Bureaucrats may favour secrecy as it makes their lives easier. Politicians, however, should learn from their mistakes.
Resettlement should focus on families
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, January 22, 2016
The term "refugee" is sparking a lot of debate, much of it around whether our country should be letting more in or shutting our doors.
The naysayers point to incidents like the mass sex assaults that happened in Cologne, Germany over New Year's Eve, many of which were blamed on refugees from Syria.
This, of course, ignores the reality that Germany, a country of about 80 million, has allowed more than 800,000 asylum seekers to cross its borders in 2015 - the vast majority of them young men of various nationalities from across North Africa and the Middle East. Canada's pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, primarily made up of families, is much saner in contrast. And history has been kind to Canada's own
One only needs to look around the city to see plenty of examples of people who had fled dangerous conflicts and not only resettled successfully but became integral parts of the community.
Take Bac Ai Duong, who fled the chaos of post-war Vietnam in a leaky boat with his family. He recently retired from his manager position with the Department of Public Works after working his way up the ranks within the GNWT over 30 years. His family includes three children and three grandchildren. Then there's Siyath Sok, who was still in his mother's womb when she barely escaped Cambodia. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1982, he has already decried Canada's resettlement program for refugees as too slow, pointing to his own parents who narrowly escaped execution by the Khmer Rouge. He moved to Yellowknife in 2011 and calls the city a great place to start over.
When people are given opportunities to contribute they usually make the best of it.
That said, the government should continue to concentrate on whole families, as they will enrich the territory beyond the $35,000 in federal transfer payments each person brings to the NWT. Their children will go to our schools, the adults will have a reason to find jobs to support their families and in turn, build their communities and contribute to the economy.
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, January 21, 2016
When a mine opens in the Northwest Territories, the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board is tasked with overseeing securities.
Usually posted in the millions, securities are put in place to ensure the public won't be paying out the nose if the mine goes under.
Securities pay for reclamation, mine closure and in some cases the care and maintenance period prior to shutdown.
This system would normally be airtight, with securities posted before the mine receives its water licence.
In the case of the recently abandoned Cantung mine, however, the system appears to have failed.
The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board initially set Cantung's security at a little more than $11 million. In mid-2015, the board increased that amount to $31 million.
The extra security was never posted. In fact, only $6.7 million was ever posted in cash, with the rest of the original security posted in the form of a property, according to the Department of Lands.
When the board increased Cantung's security, $9 million of that increase was associated with risks posed by potential liquefaction beneath one of the mine's tailings ponds.
The increase was also meant to address current reclamation practices.
Cantung mine is now the property of Canada, and for all intents and purposes, the federal government only has a fraction of the money it should have had with which to reclaim the mine, should it choose to do so.
Between November 2015 and March 31, 2016, the federal government will have shelled out $1.8 million for care and maintenance of the mine.
Any further cost overruns will likely also come out of the pockets of taxpayers.
There is still the possibility of another operator taking over the mine but the question remains the same: how can residents trust in governmental processes surrounding mines if there is no guarantee those processes will be followed?
That applies both federally and territorially.
Situations like these lead to the perception that the government is willing to let things slide for big business.
That perception is not helped by the fact that although the board required securities to be posted within 90 days, Michael Miltenberger, then-minister of Environment and Natural Resources, said in a letter approving the securities that he was not bound to accept the security in that timeframe.
It seems no checks and balances were in place to ensure the security was posted in a timely fashion.
With the economic downturn the mining industry has been experiencing, it is more vital than ever that the government view mines with a shrewd eye.
Their priority, first and foremost, should always be protecting the interests of their residents. Otherwise, regulatory boards are simply an exercise in futility.
Too big to fail?
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, January 21, 2016
There are some tough choices ahead for the Children First Society, no doubt. But there are also some tough choices ahead for the community.
The reality is that the current model is not working. Whatever setbacks the centre experienced last year when flooding forced it to relocate temporarily, if it were healthy, it would have bounced back by now. Co-chairperson Mike Harlow voiced what many in the community already know. Earlier this month before town council -- fees are too high for many families in Inuvik. As such, the centre is in a tricky position.
Facing a six-figure deficit for a second year running, the centre can drop its fees -- in other words, its revenue -- in the hopes that more children enrol and attend, or it can raise its fees and force out even more families, and not make any more money. Neither of these is a tenable option.
Board members say they have cut staffing costs as much as they can while remaining certified and safe, providing the kind of programming on which the society was founded. We have no real choice but to accept that, as the alternative isn't really any alternative at all. The whole point of the centre was to do something different, something better, for Inuvik's children.
So really, the only thing left is for more money to appear. As rosy as Harlow and the society's board hope the future is with regards to political promises, a dismal economic outlook argues against high expectations from governments. Unfortunately, that same outlook holds true for individuals and groups at a community level, as evidenced by what an analysis commissioned by the society calls "fundraising fatigue."
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there is always a lot of energy and money for new things and significantly less so for ongoing operations. It's easy to jump on the bandwagon when things are shiny and new and exciting, and much harder to deal with the drudgery of an operations and maintenance budget.
With increased fees, the centre has also alienated some people in the community who had originally been behind its creation. This is not an easy thing to overcome, but could likely be done if places at the centre became more accessible.
The question posed by the strategic analysis presented to council is what to do next. At the end of the day, both the society and the community have to figure out if the Children First Centre is worth saving. Does it serve enough families to warrant the effort and money it will take to get it back on its feet? At this point, with more than $6 million invested, is it too big to fail?
Food inspectors need closer inspection
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Does the territorial government really want Yellowknifer as its fail-safe in ensuring city food establishments are being inspected in a timely and efficient manner?
Unfortunately, that's the situation that appears to exist more than six months after a Yellowknifer investigation revealed several eateries had gone without inspection, in some cases, for more than two years. That initial story led to an order from Health Minister Glen Abernethy demanding inspections be carried out more regularly, which is at least once a year and up to three times annually for restaurants. It also spawned a report highly critical of the current practice.
Yellowknifer received a copy of the review Abernethy ordered at the time through an access-to-information request. The report tore into the inspection division, finding it didn't meet global inspection standards, didn't have comprehensive policies to protect public health and didn't have procedures to allow inspections to be carried out consistently and reliably, among other findings.
Yet months later, Yellowknifer discovered for the second time, a total inconsistency in the inspections seemed to persist.
Dr. Andre Corriveau, chief medical health officer for the NWT, confirmed - after telling Yellowknifer he had been assured the backlog of inspections had been cleared up - in fact, six locations hadn't been inspected in more than a year.
This total lack of consistency is unacceptable. Keeping up with restaurant inspections is critical to ensuring the public is safe when dining out in the city. It's worrisome neither a directive from the health minister nor such a critical report led to any obvious changes.
While it can be presumed it's in restaurants' best interests to comply with safety standards, the role of the territorial government as a regulator of the industry is to ensure, for the sake of the public, these standards are being adhered to.
It's imperative the GNWT keeps up with these inspections.
Yellowknifer enjoys a juicy story like any media outlet but when biting into that juicy steak at a city restaurant after work, we imagine everyone would be happier if it wasn't up to the newspaper to ensure our food establishments are being inspected on a regular basis.
Kudos to implementing life-saving measure
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Last spring then-city councillor Dan Wong called for ambulances to be equipped with one-time use epinephrine injectors, or EpiPens, the brand name the injectors are commonly referred to by. The devices provide relief from severe allergic reactions which can kill.
Ambulances were not previously equipped with the devices due, it was reported, to the relatively short shelf-life of the units and the cost associated with cycling through unused but expired devices.
Sometime last year the ambulance service obtained the necessary medical approvals to begin carrying the pens.
On New Year's Eve that fact may have saved a life when resident Lisc Daley was stricken with an allergic reaction to what she believes was shellfish cross-contamination in her restaurant meal.
She didn't have her personal EpiPen with her, and described herself as having difficulty breathing by the time an ambulance arrived and administered the shot of epinephrine.
It can't be said definitively if Daley would have met her demise that evening had there been no EpiPen available for medics to administer but it is no stretch of the imagination to say her life was in danger.
The city did a great job of moving forward on this front, and in particular the fire chief's office whose department oversees ambulance service in the city.
Without timely and efficient behind-the-scenes work to get the EpiPen implementation approved and ensure crews were trained in the use of the devices, Daley may not have lived to ring in 2016.
Tournament concept holds plenty of promise
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Well, ready or not, tournament season officially gets underway this coming weekend in Arviat with the JLM Calm Air Cup senior men's hockey championship.
This year's lineup of events promises to be a great one, with the Challenge Cup junior 'C' championship making its way back to Rankin Inlet on Feb. 25 to 27.
It joins a stellar cast with the Arctic Atoms (March 25 to 27), Powerful Peewee (Jan. 29 to 31), Polar Bear Plate (Feb. 4 to 7), First Air Avataq Cup (March 9 to 13), Johnny Kook Memorial (April 1 to 3), Joseph Nakoolak Memorial (TBA), Arctic Circle Cup (TBA) and Kivalliq Cup old-timer's tourney (Feb. 12 to 14) all scheduled to go.
Kivalliq's tournament season could also receive a huge boost if Whale Cove recreation co-ordinator Chris Jones is successful in launching the High School Hockey Challenge on April 8 to 10.
The concept is a solid one in most areas, with the no-body-contact stipulation going a long way to alleviate the risk of boys and girls playing in the same event, as well as bantam-aged players sharing the same ice as those of junior age.
Still, hockey is hockey and the officiating crew will have to be on its game to ensure nobody introduces unwanted aggression or fisticuffs into the proceedings.
It was also more than a little encouraging to hear Jones talk about the tournament enticing kids back into school so they'll be eligible to play.
A few years back, the Whalers hockey program run by two teachers in Naujaat produced the same effect.
Then Tusarvik School principal Leonie Aissaoui raved about the impact the program had on many Naujaat youths.
A number of youths were enticed back into the classroom by the Whalers program, and Aissaoui noted both attendance and grades took a noticeable swing upwards during its duration.
Ian Gordon and Mike McMillan earned the Local Hockey Leaders award, and had their photos hang in the Hockey Hall of Fame for a year for their efforts.
It was a shame the program was left to die after they left the community.
Should Jones's idea take root and the High School Hockey Challenge become an annual event, many kids may benefit academically, as well as athletically through their participation.
Jones was also bang on when he said the tourney would give more kids the chance to play in at least one major event each season, and the most important aspect of the challenge will be to ensure the kids have fun.
Whale Cove is by no means the only Kivalliq community that has trouble icing a full team in an age category in any given year.
The high-school team approach could bridge that gap considerably and help kickstart the minor hockey program in a number of communities.
Finally, Jones also hit the bull's-eye when he said many kids would take a great deal of pride in representing their school at the event. Some of the best hockey memories of my youth involve the Donkin-Morien High School crest on the front of my sweater.
It will interesting to see how things unfold with the concept during the next three months.
If Jones is able to pull it off, I plan to be in Whale Cove exhibiting equal parts of hockey fan, hockey referee and tournament cheerleader!
A good start to a long haul
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, January 18, 2016
Ask and ye shall receive.
The federal government has approved work on an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, which is great news, but now what?
The federal Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs will have to determine what the inquiry will look like and how it will investigate why indigenous women are so grossly over-represented in murder and missing persons statistics.
This is where it gets complicated.
The amount of success the government sees from this exercise correlates directly with how carefully it listens to the many people across Canada who are affected by this violence.
After meeting with a group of indigenous Yellowknife women to glean some pre-inquiry advice last week, Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett said she heard one of the most important things the commission will need to do is understand regional differences between Canadian First Nations and Inuit groups.
In other words, the commission needs to understand that the experiences of the Mi'kmaq in Millbrook, N.S. will differ from the experiences of the Mishkeegogamang Ojibway of Pickle Lake, Ont., and those experiences will differ from the Dehcho Dene of Wrigley. Every single one of Canada's indigenous communities are populated with people with different experiences, histories and stories that will no doubt lead to different perspectives on how to tackle the massive systemic problem that links these communities together.
That's the thing about systemic problems - they affect everybody but there are a million individual acts that cause them and another million reasons for each of these acts. It will be the commission's job to dig deep, get into as many communities as possible and listen without incredulity to as many people as possible.
Then, the commission will have to take all of this information and devise a comprehensive map of these individual, disparate instances of ignorance, incompetence, apathy and abuse and explain how they lead to the victimization of so many indigenous women. It will take a lot of work and a lot of money to get here but getting to this point only marks where the real work begins.
The Canadian government will then have to take all of this new information and devise a plan to combat this insidious problem. A comprehensive plan will no doubt affect the public and private sector, police, hospitals, schools, prisons, elementary schools and universities. If it is a Canadian institution, organization or private citizen, he, she or it will most certainly be culpable to do better.
But in order to get to this point, the commission will have listen.
No easy solution to incidents of dog abuse
Nunavut/News North - Monday, January 18, 2016
All living things owned by humans deserve to have food, water and shelter in the harsh climate of Nunavut.
That is why it is so distressing to hear a story about people belonging to an animal advocacy organization coming across the frozen body of a dog, still wearing a collar attached to a rope that goes to the front steps of a home so the dog couldn't wander off.
There are other horror stories, including the case of a dog that grew up with a tight chain collar around his neck.
Of course the chain didn't expand as the dog grew and it eventually became embedded in the dog's neck.
The dog was put on a plane and flown to a veterinarian in a southern city, where surgery was performed to remove the collar.
Stories of neglect, abuse and over-population get people's attention. No one wants to see an animal abused.
Many people own dogs and look after them properly. Some people prefer small dogs, exotic breeds not suited to a Northern climate that should be kept indoors. The owners of these dogs, who spent money to purchase the dog and made the effort to bring it North on a airplane, must also be prepared to care for the animal properly.
Large-breed dogs, such as huskies, are suited to the North, must also be cared for properly.
Historically these have been working dogs, animals that are relied upon to pull a qamutik laden with supplies for a hunting trip or a journey to a neighbouring community.
Although sleds dogs are still widely used in some places, they have been largely replaced by snowmobiles.
Sled dogs require food rich in nutrients, coverings for their paws depending on the terrain and harnesses, usually in a fanned out style so they can more easily cross pack ice.
The owners of working sled dogs know to maintain their teams.
Aside from undernourishment, lack of shelter and other basic care, over-population causes dog problems in a community. One female dog can have a litter of several puppies, all becoming large dogs within a year. Some communities have many stray dogs running loose.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact there are no permanent veterinary practices in Nunavut. With only sporadic access to spaying or neutering, having a dog "fixed" is low on a dog owner's list of priorities, even if the cost is subsidized or free.
There are many people in Nunavut who place high value on the welfare of dogs. But the lack of spay and neuter services has to change if Nunavut communities are to get a handle on the overall dog population. We encourage pet owners to take advantage of spay and neuter services when a veterinarian comes to town. Stopping the dog population from spiking will go a long way toward preventing incidents of neglect and abuse.