Battle of facts get GNWT and Northland nowhere
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, October 28, 2016
Could Northland Utilities and parent company ATCO join forces with the territorial government to bring down power rates for everyone in the Northwest Territories?
Given how the GNWT stubbornly refuses to sit down with Northland or ATCO to discuss such a solution, NWT ratepayers may never find out.
That power for smaller communities is being subsidized has been a hot topic in the legislative assembly recently but it should come as no surprise.
As with many public goods in the North, there are few if any viable economic models for their existence in small isolated communities.
The cost of providing power to a remote community cannot reasonably be expected to be covered by a relative handful of households.
Instead, the GNWT subsidizes the real cost of power in the communities by subsidizing the first 1,000 kilowatt hours per month during the winter to the Yellowknife rate - currently 23.7 cents per kilowatt hour - and the first 600 kilowatt hours in summer when the days are longer.
It needs to be pointed out that this is by no means a one-way street. Yellowknife and other North Slave power consumers received a nearly $50-million subsidy over the last two years to cover the cost of more expensive diesel-generated electricity after low water levels impeded hydro production on the Snare River.
Subsidized power is the simple reality of Northern living and if seen in proper focus, is a testament to the North's co-operative way of living. It is the Northern way.
What is disturbing is the GNWT's continued unwillingness to sit down with Northland and parent company ATCO to discuss the cost of power delivery in the North.
In ATCO the GNWT has access to the experience of a $19-billion corporation with approximately 8,000 employees involved in all aspects of the energy sector.
But the GNWT's refusal to hear what Northland and ATCO have to say is well-established. In May, 2015, the GNWT commissioned a report on restructuring the territory's electrical industry. Northland offered to provide input based on its roughly 60 years of experience in the North but cabinet brusquely declined the offer.
More recently, at different times over the past year Northland Utilities, Denendeh Investments, and ATCO have invited the GNWT to sit down and figure out a way forward on power delivery and power rates in the North. The GNWT has refused all overtures to co-operation.
Instead, the government seems hell-bent on finding its own way forward.
The GNWT should work with the private sector - Northland Utilities and ATCO -- and its considerable experience to bring power rates down in Yellowknife and across the North.
Downtown part of national fabric
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, October 28, 2016
Every community has its hidden history, the kind only friends and family share among themselves. Funny or weird stories about people they knew, local legends and little-known moments in a community's history.
Rarely do these stories get recorded in books or newspapers as many people feel they are not important. However, one national project is aiming to get those stories on record before they fade into the ether of time.
Tale of a Town has been travelling the country over the past three years gathering stories on community downtowns. It has been collecting stories about this city's centre since late September, which were offered in a multimedia presentation at Centre Square Mall on Oct. 14 and 15. The idea, said its proponent Charles Ketchabaw, came from watching big box stores move into his downtown Toronto neighbourhood and pushing the smaller stores out. This project is to celebrate the living memories of downtowns everywhere.
Like many downtown cores, Yellowknife's has changed as the city grew and developed. It too has not been immune to change as big business moved in and the city expanded outwards. Projects such as this one help keep memories alive of downtown and the people who helped build it. Local and national historians are also provided valuable information they may not have had without them.
Communities no priority for GNWT
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, October 27, 2016
In the wake of job losses in Wrigley, thanks to Pehdzeh Ki Contractors Ltd. being passed over for a highway maintenance contract, the GNWT was lukewarm, if not outright chilly, in it's response.
On Oct. 18, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson went to bat for the small community in the legislative assembly, where he asked Transportation Minister Wally Schumann to commit to meeting with leaders from Wrigley to address their concerns on this and other transportation-related matters.
Five times, Thompson asked. And five times, Schumann refused, saying he would only commit to a phone call - despite insistence from unidentified members of the assembly, according to Hansard documents, that Schumann commit to a face-to-face meeting.
Nothing could send a louder, clearer message to the small communities in the Deh Cho that their struggles and concerns don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
All the cabinet rhetoric about understanding the challenges faced by rural areas of the Northwest Territories has, at this point, been rendered moot by the manner of Schumann's refusal.
And Thompson's fear that the needs of smaller communities in the territory aren't being properly represented in cabinet has been confirmed.
Job losses in small communities are no quibbling matter. Five to seven jobs lost in Wrigley means, in effect, up to five per cent of its population may have been put out of work. If that happened anywhere else - even Fort Simpson, for example - the outcry would be long and loud.
Without doubt, the job of a minister is a busy one. If Schumann is so busy he cannot travel to the Deh Cho, perhaps Wrigley's leaders could consider meeting with him in Yellowknife.
This isn't just about the highway maintenance contract. One priority the assembly is mandated to push for is funding for the Mackenzie Valley Highway, which could have a transformative effect on Wrigley.
Wrigley is not a one-topic community where transportation is concerned. As Thompson told Schumann, transportation is in fact the biggest issue he heard about during his stop in Wrigley.
The GNWT needs to move quickly to rectify this situation if it wants to be seen as sincere about the wellbeing of communities like Wrigley.
Otherwise, the government is providing proof that it is all talk and no action on issues that matter most to its constituents.
Education is a lifelong pursuit
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, October 27, 2016
People will always learn best when they are genuinely interested in a subject and driving their own educational experience.
That's why I'm glad to hear the approach of the Inuvik Youth Centre, which seeks to not just kill time after school, but to engage youth in activities they both enjoy and can learn from. The two don't have to be opposed.
A basic bike repair workshop seems perfect considering many Northerners' love of bike riding, something I've noticed in Fort Simpson, Iqaluit and here in Inuvik.
Those handy-person skills are in demand today, and being able to take on basic bike repairs and to be able to work with basic hand tools will put anyone ahead in life.
Similarly, the baking group teaches vital cooking skills. We know food security is a top issue in the North, and few things go as far toward addressing food security as knowing how to prepare food for yourself.
I didn't learn those skills until my mid-20s. Because of that, my diet was poor as was my ability to budget. Eating out, or getting take-out, is far more expensive than cooking for oneself.
I've never retained what I learned in school unless I was interested in the subject. People learn differently, but I relate to those who learn by doing and following their own lead.
It's good to have varying methods of education in town.
It's good to have the book-smarts classes, the leadership classes and the youth centre's hands-on activities.
Education is simply a part of life, not something you do in blocks. The more we can occupy youths' time with things they are interested in and let them educate themselves, the better.
With any luck, they won't take until they're 25 years old to become brave enough to turn on the oven.
It's just a crosswalk
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 26, 2016
It would be funny if it weren't so alarming.
In the legislative assembly last week, Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne requested Transportation Minister Wally Schumann ask that shoulder lines be painted and an illuminated crosswalk be erected on a section of Highway 4 near Niven Lake.
He said the road is becoming a real safety issue for pedestrians with new developments springing up in the area.
As far as requests go, Vanthuyne's was simple, straightforward and cheap to fulfill, especially considering how ministers are so often grilled on complicated issues ranging from homelessness to potential job cuts.
MLAs are constantly competing to make sure their regions' priorities are represented, giving wish lists for major infrastructure investments across all 33 communities. That's their job. This makes Vanthuyne's request a minister's dream question.
He wants a crosswalk on a busy road, and all Schumann had to say is, "We will do this," because the answer is so obvious and easy.
Instead, he claimed a crosswalk will require a traffic study and consultation.
"We have to include everybody," he told Vanthuyne about the crosswalk deliberation process.
"We're not going to exclude everybody. We have to involve everybody in this process and make sure it's done in a fair and equitable manner and everyone has an opportunity to have input."
The stretch of road in question is fast becoming a busy pedestrian area.
Aside from the Niven Lake neighbourhood, it boasts a visitor's centre, legislative assembly, museum and now a new hotel.
The need for a crosswalk really seems like a no-brainer.
Mayor Mark Heyck agrees. He told Yellowknifer the area needs safety improvements and doesn't know why the territorial government isn't doing it.
The Department of Transportation really just needs to start painting some crosswalk lines and erecting crossing light posts.
Because crying for the need for consultation over something as simple as a crosswalk doesn't instill confidence the territorial government has a get-things-done attitude.
In fact, our leaders stalling on something so simple as a crosswalk creates an image they're scared to lead.
A harbinger of a good economy
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Yellowknife is open for business.
This message is what the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce wants to send and it looks like it is being heard.
Evidence is in the announcement that all 36 lots in the City of Yellowknife's new Engle Business District sold out in July, and the city plans to expand on the district in two more phases.
The popularity of these lots is most likely due to perks offered by the city, such as a declining seven-year property tax abatement for those who were willing to make the move.
It's encouraging to see the city is willing to offer incentives to bring people in, because once they are here the hope is they will want to stay.
These incentives are bringing new businesses such as Alberta's Enerchem International Inc., which has been approved in Engle Business District's Phase 2.
And of course, the more businesses bring their operations here, the more employment there will be and the better off people will become.
Clearly, incentives along these lines seem to be working, so hopefully residents can look forward to seeing more of them.
Straight A's for local camp
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Most regular readers of Kivalliq News know I'm a "hockey guy."
As such, they probably realize it would be quite easy for me to rave about the hockey camp held in Rankin Inlet this past week based solely on its content. I've admired the season opener hockey camp since its debut three seasons ago. On top of the list for my admiration is the literacy (personal development) component.
Because, for me and millions like me, hockey is much more than a game.
It helps develop young personalities, teaches the concept of teamwork, working together toward a common goal, being gracious in defeat as well as victory, and always regarding the team, the family, as the number-one priority.
The personal development modules taught by Adriana Kusugak also challenge young minds to think for themselves and introduces the concept that individuality does not have to be sacrificed in the name of teamwork.
This is an extremely important ability in an age when the systematic approach to the game can often stifle creativity.
Close behind personal development is the mentorship aspect of the camp. It is, as off-ice instructor Pujjuut Kusugak alluded to, an awesome feeling to see players who have gone through the local system giving back to a program that taught them so much and gave them so many hours of fun and competition.
For those who continue on and, one day, become local minor-hockey coaches, it is an invaluable opportunity to learn at their own pace with instructors they know and respect and develop a more thorough understanding of the game and the different variables that come into play.
The on-ice and off-ice components complement each other in delivering a complete picture of the dedication necessary to advance in the sport.
And, while the structure may seem like common sense on the surface, keeping it fun in the early stages and slowly advancing toward competitiveness is a concept that eludes many minor coaches these days.
All these aspects of the camp are more than enough for this old(er) hack to gush over in an opinion piece.
But, there's one more element to the camp that truly sets my hockey spirit soaring.
With regards to Andy Nowicki and a few other great instructors I've met in Rankin over the years, the best part of the camp is that it's a true example of Kivalliq.
Yes, there are many excellent hockey camps across Canada, and a number of them come with hefty price tags.
The Rankin camp, in my opinion, can compete with most of them in its complete approach to encouraging youth to have fun playing, while teaching the skills they need to improve their on-ice skills.
Not all young hockey players want to make the top teams or devote their young lives to advancing in the sport.
For them it's all about having fun while playing a game they love.
The Rankin camp treats those youths no differently than the ones who dream of one day hoisting the Stanley Cup.
And that approach, derived from being a local operation, is the beauty within the beast some people would have you believe the game is.
May it never change!
Farming needn't be a tough row to hoe
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, October 24, 2016
The GNWT's mandate document, tabled last March, mentions the term agriculture six times.
Several of those mentions over 47 pages are contained in the same repeated phrase, "We will develop and implement an Agriculture Strategy to increase domestic food production, improve distribution networks for NWT-produced foods, and to increase producer and supplier opportunities."
Nice words. But what we've had are endless panel discussions, research papers, public consultations, Well you get the picture.
As long as the black gold was flowing, gas was being piped out and exploration was in full gear, agriculture was left to wilt on the vine. Then the oil dollar bottomed out, the industry rocked to its core. The NWT's economy was then saved by shiny baubles ripped from the rocks in massive diamond mines. That sparkling distraction left farming in the shadows again.
With 2017 on the horizon, the NWT's relatively bright picture has a few major clouds in the distance. The diamond industry, as it sits right now, does have a shelf life. Imperial Oil wants to sell its assets at Norman Wells, where it has been extracting fossil fuels for decades.
There is the real threat of a burdensome carbon tax coming fast toward the territory from Ottawa.
The wise thing for the GNWT to do now is to try chewing gum and walking at the same time. While it continues to coddle big industry, it has to finally give some real attention to agriculture. Not just lip service. Not a slowly developed and glacially rolled out strategy.
And money is needed to seed new and existing groups who are pioneers in modern Northern agriculture. There are many out there at this time, across the territory, working in small greenhouses and in found spaces utilizing the same urban farming practices as found in big cities down south.
In Hay River, the former site of the Northern Pork facility has been turned into the Northern Farm Training Institute. Since it is harvest time, the Northern Farm Training Institute - better known as NFTI - is giving thanks for a successful second year at its farm campus, basically its first in operation.
Kim Rapati, NFTI operations manager, told News/North its important for advocates of farming to crush the notion that farming can't be done across the NWT.
It just needs to be well-planned, taking advantage of the long sunny days in summer for crops and also extending the growing season by using greenhouses heated with sustainable energy such as biomass, solar or electricity.
Students at "Nifty" this year came from Hay River, the Tlicho, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence, Fort Smith, Yellowknife and even northern Manitoba.
As the GNWT continues to plod along with its agriculture strategy it is supporting growth in the sector through a variety of projects and funding initiatives. This includes an agriculture conference Oct. 25 to 27 in Yellowknife.
Industry, Tourism and Investment agriculture mentor Lone Sorensen tells News/North there has been an "overwhelming positive response" to the conference.
"We now have exceeded the 60 people we were expecting, nearing 80 registrants from all North Slave communities, as well as all Sahtu communities," Sorensen said.
While we applaud the support shown to the farming sector to date by the GNWT, a comprehensive strategy needs to be produced sooner than later to provide firm guidelines for people wanting to engage in this most respected and vital endeavor.
Junk here, potential prize down south
Nunavut/News North - Monday, October 24, 2016
Pretty much every dump in Nunavut is full of rusting vehicles, old appliances and computers, pop cans, and many other items that southern municipalities would otherwise redirect to specialized recycling facilities.
Nunavut's proposed end-of-life vehicle disposal fee is one step toward reducing the growing garbage piles in our territory. If approved, people shipping their vehicles here will pay $1,080 to cover the cost of barging them down south once their vehicles' driving days are done and supposedly, taken to a waste contractor for recycling.
The $1,080 fee is a lot of money to most people, which is why the government is proposing that vehicle owners should be allowed to pay in five annual instalments upon registering their purchase with the motor vehicles licensing office.
To be clear, there is ample evidence that the fee is woefully inadequate if the objective is to properly recycle vehicles once they have been sent down south to junkyard heaven.
Summerhill Impact, a non-profit group from Toronto that espouses environmentally-friendly energy programs, was forced to abandon its Tundra Take-back pilot project to remove cars from Nunavut after being unable to come up with enough money to do it. The group turned to crowdfunding in 2014, saying it needed $1,250 per vehicle for decontamination and $4,000 for recycling, but failed to draw enough interest to keep the project afloat.
Recycling issues aside, the proposed fee doesn't address the approximately 10,000 vehicles already on Nunavut roads or those filling the dumps.
At the very least, the fee should get new vehicles out of the territory once they have reached the end of their useful lives.
The $200 vehicle disposal fee currently being charged by the City of Iqaluit does nothing to accomplish that. In fact, it is really just a tax charged for the pleasure of being allowed to bring one's old vehicle to the dump and let it moulder there in perpetuity.
Alas, even that small sum appears to be too much of a barrier for some people, who would rather let their vehicles become eyesores in their yards than out of sight, out of mind at the landfill.
There are bylaws in place meant to avoid such unsightliness - in Iqaluit, at least - but they are rarely enforced.
The government says the $1,080 fee will be handed to the communities after it has been collected, leaving them in charge of disposing vehicles. The onus then will be on hamlet councils to preserve the proceeds of the fee for the purpose of disposing vehicles, as tempting as it may be to use the money for more pressing needs. Otherwise, it will amount to little more than a tax grab without solving the problem of rusting vehicles polluting the land.
If properly applied, the fee should stem the tide. It may not be enough to cover the cost of fully recycling vehicles but if it gets them on to a barge, it will be a far greater improvement over the current situation.
Better to have Nunavut vehicles in a junkyard outside Montreal, close to recycling facilities and an infinitely higher demand for spare parts, than sitting on the tundra here where there is absolutely no chance they can be put to good use.