A glimmer in the sky
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, January 6, 2016
As usual, there was plenty of good news and bad news in Yellowknife in 2015. But honing in on the themes that exist underneath the endless news cycle, one can better get a glimpse not of what was but what will be as the clock starts to tick on the new year.
Economically, it would be understandable if Yellowknifers are sitting
a bit nervous; on Dec. 3, Kim Truter, CEO of diamond company De Beers Canada, touched down in Yellowknife to announce the closure of its Snap Lake Diamond Mine and the slashing of 434 jobs.
The company's other mine, Gahcho Kue a joint venture between
De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds -- is still slated to open this year and on the surface, all is rosy.
But one has to wonder if the outlook is really as good as the company
purports the mine, after all, while vital to the city and territory's economy is but a line-item in a corporate budget at global headquarters.
Yellowknifers must brace, at least a bit, for that rosy outlook to be tainted. Just prior to the holidays, Yellowknifer $34.2 million of funding the NWT gets from the federal government is on the chopping block a move that caused a "disappointed and not very happy" Premier Bob McLeod to raise the issue with the federal finance minister whose department is now reviewing the change.
Although the figure represents just a 2.7-per cent drop from last year's transfer payment, every penny or million counts and that this is reflected in the actions of our leaders is comforting. But in this seemingly dire outlook, there is a glimmer of hope: it's green and floating across the sky.
One only has to take a short gander onto city streets to see it speckled with tourists many from China and Japan. The increase has been exponential in five years Chinese visitors skyrocketed from 100 in the first year to 7,000 in the fifth -- and these markets are only expected to grow.
Maybe it's time to gently lay down the 'diamond capital of Canada' catchphrase and call ourselves the 'aurora capital of the world.'
Although marketing of the aurora has primarily been driven by the private sector, there are new politicians on all three levels of government following the trifecta of elections this fall. If there's any time for new ideas and an overhaul of the status quo, it's now.
The new city council has a big decision on the horizon on whether to bid on the 2023 Canada Winter Games a project that was the source of much contention last year despite Mayor Mark Heyck being its numberone cheerleader.
The city committed to deciding on whether it would bid on the project by the end of the year but the decision has been pushed to this month. It's looking unlikely the Games will go ahead with the economy the way it is but the public hasn't seen the recommendation from the Canada Winter Games working group, which has been looking at a possible bid from all angles.
The city showed it could spend responsibly last year when work on
the Northland Trailer Park showed it was on budget on the $15.8 million project.
On social issues, there's still much work to be done. The city conducted a count of homeless people this year and came up with 150 in what could be a lowball estimate as the count was conducted by attracting the homeless with a barbecue.
This was part of the city's Housing First model in which the city, with funding from the federal government, intends to give people who
need them homes.
Dealing with the city's homeless is a complex issue that will likely never be solved entirely, although the establishment of transitional housing in the city is a positive step in the right direction.
One thing is clear: the cost strain on the territorial government for putting the homeless and downtrodden up in hospitals and jails is too high.
But often front-line shelter workers are paid the least. If the territorial government wants to cut costs it needs to financially support front-line workers so they have the skills and tools to help the homeless do better in life, with the ultimate goal of transcending what is now just a safety net.
A lot can be accomplished in a year it's important to have a vision and move forward accordingly.
WEDNESDAY KIVALLIQ NEWS -->
Past, present and future memories
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, January 6, 2016
As you take a peek back at some of the events that have happened in our region during the past 12 months, may I take the quick opportunity to wish you and yours happiness, prosperity and good health throughout the new year.
Wow! I am now into my 18th year as editor of Kivalliq News.
Much has changed since my flight landed on its third attempt through the wind and snow on Dec. 9, 1998.
I briefly questioned my sanity as I sat in the airport terminal and tried to comfort my daughter, Lindsey, who was shaken by our landing amid a crowd of unfamiliar faces.
Even the person I was replacing forgot about our arrival and was late meeting us.
It was a lonely feeling.
The following day, I nearly froze my rear-end off walking around the community.
The first friend I made in Rankin Inlet was Joachim Ayaruak, who stopped to ask if the coat and boots I had on were the best I owned.
He told me what I was wearing would never do in Rankin, especially a winter jacket with no fur on the hood, welcomed me, shook my hand and headed on his way.
A few days later my phone rang and the voice of the same Joachim Ayaruak, who headed oldtimers hockey at the time, said, "You never told me you were a goalie."
Joachim remains a good friend of mine today, as does his wife, Joyce.
I never had a vehicle for my first six years, or so, in Rankin, and I can honestly say I don't miss lugging my camera bag around the community with 90-click winds trying to keep me from my appointed rounds one little bit.
I can't remember the exact day I received word from Yellowknife we were going digital with our photography, but what a glorious day it was.
I hadn't "souped" film since college when I arrived in Rankin and, each and every week, I was a nervous wreck until I went into my little darkroom and saw my negatives did, in fact, have little pictures on them.
Well except for the time I was spooling negatives and realized I could see my hands, but that's a story for another day.
Fast forward to today, and Rankin Inlet has become the place where I've lived the longest in my life, and the town I've considered my home for a good many years now.
Yes, it's true. It was hockey that first hooked me and kindled my love affair with the Kivalliq.
I love it to this day and consider Kivalliq hockey fans, especially in Rankin, among the best in Canada.
I will never, until the day I depart this life, forget leaving the ref's room, walking down the hall (in those days the ref's room was in the arena worker's office), opening the door to the ice surface, and seeing a sold-out crowd for a peewee playoff game at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning.
It was truly one of the most inspiring moments of my life.
Since then, I have accumulated countless hockey memories in the arenas of Rankin, Arviat, Naujaat and Whale Cove (at one time the Johnny Kook Memorial was the toughest senior men's event of the year) in particular.
I feel privileged to have been at the helm of this publication for so long, and look forward to another year of telling the stories of those who call the Kivalliq home.
And, who knows, maybe there will be another memory or two still in store for this old zebra!
New year, old problems
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, January 4, 2016
Heading into the new year in the Northwest Territories the glass is half full but it would be foolish not to acknowledge it's also half empty.
NWTers are turning over a new leaf under new leadership with fresh faces in the legislative assembly and a federal Liberal government that seems keen to heal relations with indigenous governments across Canada and open a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.
But these new governments will be haunted by the same ghosts.
The NWT economy, which relies on resource extraction, is entering the new year on a precipice. De Beers' Snap Lake diamond mine closed in early December, North American Tungsten declared bankruptcy and closed its Cantung mine earlier in the fall, the territorial government approved up to $4.5 million to pick up a tungsten-rich property because nobody else wanted it, Canadian Zinc shut down its Prairie Creek project in September and Dominion Diamond experienced what was described in media as a "shareholder revolt," which resulted in two board members stepping down. Only time will tell whether this leadership shuffle will result in any changes in the company's Diavik or Ekati diamond mines.
The oil and gas sectors remained relatively inert last year. ConocoPhillips did not return to do any exploratory drilling in the Sahtu and Imperial Oil delayed plans to drill in the Beaufort Sea.
Meanwhile, the National Energy Board released a study last May that speculated the Sahtu could be sitting on as many as 200 billion barrels of oil.
In aviation, one of the territory's stalwart companies, Buffalo Airways, was grounded in early December by Transport Canada. The federal department cited serious safety concerns and there is no timeline for when - or if - the airline will get off the ground again in 2016.
In power generation, the territorial government added $30 million in September to 2014's $20 million subsidy to the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. This is to keep the cost of power at the same rate as the power corp. increasingly relies on diesel generation in the face of low water levels.
The new government will have to decide whether it will be able to afford to continue these subsidies this year.
The public also does not yet know how much money in resource revenues the government stands to lose with Snap Lake, Cantung and Prairie Creek closing their doors but whatever the total is, it could be coupled with an estimated loss of $34 million per year in federal transfer payments, more bad economic news that came down the pipe just before Christmas. The territorial government has slotted expenditures of approximately $1.6 billion over the coming year.
The economy and power generation were big problems as 2014 came to a close and one year later, these problems persist. Nobody knows if or when resource prices will rebound.
Rather than play the waiting game, those in power must think about diversifying the economy. While the government itself will certainly continue to be a major contributor to the NWT economy, the mining sector's contributions will need to be supplemented. Tourism is a good place to start but won't fill the role entirely.
It will be up to the territorial government to hold the Liberals accountable for the campaign promises they have made to invest in Northern infrastructure.
To borrow words from News/North's colourful columnist Cece McCauley, the territory's leaders are going to need to usher in the new year with their thinking caps on.
Federal funding crucial for territory to succeed
Nunavut/News North - Monday, January 4, 2016
The prospect of tackling significant challenges with hope and optimism is what is greeting territorial leaders of Nunavut as 2016 begins, providing the money exists.
In an interview with Nunavut News/North, Premier Peter Tuptana spoke about the top items on his to-do list for the coming year, observing a need for change in the way education is delivered and a desire for the multimillion-dollar Iqaluit airport construction project to be completed on budget and on time.
The conversation touched on many issues of importance to Nunavummiut - housing, employment, job training, suicide prevention and devolution.
One thing Taptuna was not prepared for was a surprise from the federal government. A technical change in the way the territorial formula financing amount is calculated is resulting in a $34-million decrease in funding sent to Nunavut by Ottawa. The federal government plans to grant $1.462 billion in 2016-17 to the territory.
Finance Minister Keith Peterson is hopeful the discrepancy in the vital source of revenue, caused by a difference in how Statistics Canada measures data, can be resolved and the funding can be brought back to the expected level.
The issue of funding from the federal government is crucial to the territory's success in so many ways.
Promises made by the Liberal government will only become reality if the territory has its share of money to contribute.
The previous government's Building Canada fund provides 75 per cent of the funding for infrastructure projects like a small craft harbour for Pond Inlet and a deep-sea port for Iqaluit. Nunavut has to come up with the other 25 per cent for the project to proceed. That means the territory has to find $22.1 million to match Ottawa's $63.7 million for the Iqaluit port project and $10 million for the $40-million Pond Inlet project.
That said, there is reason for optimism in the coming year and beyond.
Nunavut MP Hunter Tootoo is a cabinet minister with a significant portfolio, the respect of his peers and a desire to deliver on the many needs identified during the 2015 election campaign.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on side with a recognition of the many challenges residents of the North face. His government has already pledged an increase of funding for Nutrition North of $10 million per year for four years.
Key to Nunavut's ability to address many of its pressing problems is financial capacity. We are hopeful the federal government recognizes the multiple needs and assists the territorial government with the money required to make a real difference.