Taking from the poor; giving to the rich?
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, November 7, 2016
It's all about the bottom line.
Despite the hot air expended by politicians or how much rational sounding baffle-gab by various officials, the amount of money families on income assistance actually get to live on is all that matters.
So it's with some concern we watch another messy roll-out of a GNWT program in which we are left to either believe the minister in charge or the people lining up against him.
In the Oct. 31 edition of News/North (Perpetuating Poverty? Page 11), critics called changes to the income assistance program nothing more than clawbacks.
"It's just the opposite of Robin Hood," said David Poitras, former chief of the Salt River First Nation. "Robin Hood robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but this way here, they're robbing from the poor and giving it to the government, I guess."
Poitras said he has had discussions with people afraid to voice their complaints.
However, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green raised the issue in the legislative assembly and also with News/North.
It all started back in August when the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) eliminated the program's food and clothing allowance for children under the age of 18. The change was the result of increases to the federal Canada Child Benefit (CCB) program, according to the department.
The CCB program changes came into effect in July and replaced the former Canada Child Tax Benefit, the national Child Benefit Supplement and the Universal Child Care Benefit.
Green said while the new CCB payments do increase overall household incomes, that doesn't mean low income families no longer need the income assistance food and clothing allowance.
"The rationale for the government to provide Canada Child Benefit was to alleviate poverty among children," she said. "So what has happened here is that those same children who live in poverty are not getting the full benefit of the federal money because the territorial government has reduced its funding to them. So the federal government gave with one hand and the GNWT took away with the other."
ECE Minister Alfred Moses countered Green's claims, stating the NWT hasn't reduced funding to families.
"When we restructured the program, the Federal Child Tax Benefit was included in the assessments. We took those assessments out ... the NWT's contribution, hasn't changed," Moses said according to Hansard.
"It does look like the funding went down for food and clothing, which, in fact, it hasn't. Actually, more families are getting more money."
Not so, said Karen Wilson, housing director for the YWCA, who noted the elimination of the food and clothing allowance for children has already had a devastating impact on NWT families.
"If the federal government deemed it fit to give extra to children for children's well being, why is the territorial government taking the food money out?" Wilson said.
Given the minister's statement that it could look like the funding went down, he would be wise to get his staff to figure out why that perception is there.
But if the perception is a reality for those on assistance, then a reversal of this policy is called for.
Because as of the writing of this editorial, we are left siding with the critics of the GNWT.
Most recipients of income assistance have nowhere else to turn. We remind the GNWT that the Trudeau Liberals were elected with a mandate to give more more to families with children.
To deny NWT families that extra money would be wrong.
The GNWT and Minister Moses need to fix this mess and demonstrate their new bookkeeping methods do not clawback cash from income assistance recipients, leaving them with less.
We call on Minister Moses to prove that "more families are getting more money."
'I don't beat around the bushes'
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, November 7, 2016
Cece Hodgson-McCauley has again been honored for her tireless work to improve the aboriginal condition in the NWT.
Oh, and to "build that damn road" - the Mackenzie Valley Highway extension from Wrigley to Inuvik.
For decades, her frank, unvarnished columns in News/North and its predecessors have both encouraged average people to "get on with" making their lives better.
She has called for better use of our resources, both large and small, and better connection between the communities in this vast territory.
In the Oct. 31 edition of News/North ("She's a big force to be reckoned with," page 3), readers learned of the latest accolade to come her way.
Hodgson-McCauley had won this year's Indspire Award for politics. Indspire is an Indigenous-led registered national charity that invests in the education of Indigenous people. It is the largest non-governmental funder of Indigenous education.
The annual Indspire Awards "recognize the success of individuals who have the discipline, drive, and determination to set high standards and accomplish their goals."
That describes Cece to a tee. Oh, and did we mention she's 94 years old?
Congratulations and we look forward to many more columns.
Problem is teachers can't speak Inuktitut
Nunavut/News North - Monday, November 7, 2016
Inuktitut in classrooms is a hot topic in Nunavut this month but the real problem is being ignored.
Last month, South Baffin MLA David Joanasie told legislators a constituent complained to him that a Grade 8 student in one of his constituent communities was told not to speak Inuktitut. The excuse? The student might be bullying but the teacher can't understand the language.
Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik backed him up, saying he heard similar accounts of teachers banning Inuktitut in Iqaluit classrooms.
But a Department of Education investigation found the alleged incident never happened. The Cape Dorset district education authority also says it's not happening, that teachers are not banning the language.
The DEA says that if the story were true, Joanasie should have told them - not all of Nunavut - so they could deal with it before it became public. There's a communications protocol and Joanasie should have stayed quiet.
Did it happen? Was it a lie? A rumour? A misunderstanding? Whatever the case, Joanasie and Okalik were quick to raise their voices, as the tales told to them were reminiscent of a not-so-distant past.
Residential schools were designed to assimilate students - remove children from their families and their culture. The government policy and teacher practice was to prevent Inuit students from speaking their language, both to satisfy the policy and maintain discipline.
Today, the school system is disciplining David Joanasie for defending his language, and the incident is a distraction from the real problem.
The Government of Nunavut's role is to strengthen Inuit culture and the Inuit language. Yet in our classrooms, Nunavut is failing.
NTI vice-president James Eetoolook expressed his concern last month in an interview with Nunavut News/North's Michele LeTourneau, saying the government is not doing enough to change the fact that the vast majority of teachers do not speak Inuktitut.
Start with the fact that the government's budget for advertising teacher jobs is spent mostly in the south.
Add in Nunavut's abysmal high school graduation rate - which is linked to the amount of Inuktitut learned in school - and it's hard to see how Nunavut Arctic College will grow its teacher education program. At the current pace, the program will need decades to graduate enough Nunavut-trained educators to tip the balance from an English school system to an Inuktitut system.
By then, it may be too late. The territory's teachers are not only teaching students to be English, they are teaching young parents to be English. When young children speak English at school and home, how does Inuktitut stand a chance?
It will require real efforts to find Inuktitut-speaking teachers - and substitute teachers! - real power for community leaders in administering education, and real faith in students. Let's start by accepting that staying silent - or telling our students and MLAs to do so - will not develop the knowledge needed to win this fight.
Homelessness money well spent
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 4, 2016
The price tag associated with the 11 recommendations found in the Yellowknife Homelessness Road Map Action Plan might strike some as scary.
Initiatives proposed within the plan are a sobering centre, managed alcohol program, more bed space at the city's overnight shelters, a street outreach program, more money for Housing First, a committee to help frontline agencies collaborate and the creation of a 10-year plan to address homelessness.
Pulling off all of these recommendations will likely make this a multi-million dollar project. The report itself identifies the need for approximately $1.8 million in funding but there are a few recommendations - such as a central intake location for at-risk people and the sobering centre - with costs to be determined.
It might be tempting to focus on costs but there is a different set of numbers that might be more beneficial to see - a cost-benefit analysis for programs such as these. What do they save our government in policing, ambulance, hospital and court costs?
When there is no safety net for at-risk people, they end up cycling through the courts and health-care system again and again. It's expensive to use ambulances, emergency room beds and hospital resources as shelter for people who are found passed out in the cold. Same thing goes for the court system. Many at-risk people end up in the court system for one thing or another, do their time and are eventually released with conditions - such as abstinence from alcohol or scheduled to check in with a parole officer. But if these people don't have access to treatment programs or other life-management programs, they are only being set up to break those conditions. Breaking conditions leads to more charges, taking up more police time, court time and jail space - all of which is very expensive -- when really what these people need is help.
There are no hard numbers to determine how much money could be saved through this new homelessness action plan but it's not difficult to see how money spent on it is a great investment.
Time to turn the page with the police
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, November 4, 2016
It was an agonizing 15 months for Yellowknifer reporter John McFadden but on Oct. 21 he walked away from the Yellowknife Courthouse a free man.
He was arrested in July 2015 for obstruction of justice for taking photos of police searching a van with stolen plates. He wasn't taking those photos with the intent of obstructing justice. He was taking them because police activity on public streets is in the public interest. Considering the police are publicly funded to enforce laws and keep the peace, it is fair to expect any reporter would be curious about any police activity he or she sees on the street.
The pages of any Yellowknifer newspaper will likely include multiple stories involving RCMP. A good 90 per cent of these stories are positive. Yellowknifer prints stories about liquor and drug seizures, drug busts and results of drunk-driving blitzes. It also helps the police do their job by printing notices about missing people and the RCMP tip line.
But none of this means Yellowknifer has any intent of shying away from controversy. If, like McFadden discovered in March 2015, the police don't properly warn the public about a serial sex assaulter attacking people in the city, the newspaper is going to ask tough questions in order to get that story. This isn't because the newspaper has a vendetta against the police, it's because the public deserves to know when it has been put at risk.
Most of the time Yellowknifer stories will not negatively affect the RCMP's public image but every once in awhile, they will. And when these stories do get written, we hope individual members don't take it personally.
Dedicated few make big impact
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, November 3, 2016
As the face of Table Tennis North, and arguably its biggest advocate, Thorsten Gohl wears many hats.
He's a coach, a teacher, a marketer and an organizer.
That's the reality of many of the Deh Cho's most ardent recreational facilitators.
For Gohl, the past year of work in Fort Providence has finally culminated in the development of a territorial table tennis championship.
While that in itself is a huge accomplishment, Gohl's biggest impact is on the children and youth he has come into contact with over the past year.
Although he's been based out of Fort Providence, Gohl took table tennis all across the Northwest Territories last year, into the most remote communities in the Deh Cho.
Now, Gohl is leaving Fort Providence in order to focus on that tournament in Yellowknife.
The gap he leaves behind will be felt keenly by all the schools in the Deh Cho but most significantly by Deh Gah School.
Thankfully, one of the wonderful things about the Deh Cho is the passionate recreation staff it attracts.
And Deh Gah School has staff who are incredibly determined to provide opportunities for their students.
One such example is Beth Hudson, who has a helping hand in many of the community's activities.
Now that indoor soccer season is upon us, Hudson is helping to get students ready for an upcoming tournament in Fort Liard.
Another example is Nimisha Bastedo, the school's on-the-land teacher, who helps to run many hands-on programs for students at Deh Gah School. Some of those include canoe trips, culture camps and a bison hunt for high school students last winter.
These are just a few of the many people in Fort Providence who, with the support of their community, enrich the lives of everyone.
The mark Gohl has left can be seen in the table tennis talents developed by student-turned-coach Mikaela Vandell.
Vandell, who just graduated from Deh Gah School, has recently secured a position on Table Tennis North's board of directors, where she was voted on as a member-at-large as of Oct. 21.
With Gohl's help, Vandell started playing table tennis a few years ago and twice represented the Northwest Territories at the Arctic Winter Games.
She hopes to become a coach for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games that will be taking place in the territory.
Inspired by Gohl's encouragement, Vandell has gone on to become an inspiration to others.
"I wish I could do more for the Deh Cho region, especially Fort Providence," is what Gohl told me before he left.
But thankfully, the legacy he leaves in the region will be one that endures.
An easy star on your resume
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, November 3, 2016
It was a lonely scene when I stopped in at the open house for the Gwich'in Regional Youth Council Oct. 27.
Just community wellness intern Patricia Louie was there, with pizza and refreshments at the ready for any interested youth
Some of that could be blamed on the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada meeting happening that same evening in the Midnight Sun Complex.
I was hoping to talk to some young people set out on a leadership path, but it was not destined that night.
Hopefully, the turnout does not represent overall response Gwich'in youth council recruiters will receive.
It's a fantastic opportunity and should be jumped at by any Gwich'in youth.
What are the costs? Everything is paid for. You get to visit different communities, network with big shots, take free classes that improve your professional abilities and play a role in leading your community in the coming era of Gwich'in self-government.
It's about as much of a gimme on your resume as you could get. Anyone with a seat on a youth council like this will get a virtual gold star and special consideration in any future jobs they pursue.
The networking opportunities are as big as the resume, too. Want a big-time job in any of these Gwich'in organizations one day? These are the people you want to be rubbing shoulders with.
All of these benefits come in addition to the important role played by the council and its members in supporting Gwich'in culture.
I'm confident the council will find the eight members it seeks.
But I wish there would be a little more obvious competition for those spots and more of a desire from youth to fill them.
Maybe they just need to get the word out more.
At the end of the day, I hope that pizza didn't go to waste.
Pull the plug on the PUB
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 2, 2016
No matter who you believe in the war of words between Northland Utilities on one side, Energy Minister Louis Sebert and Northwest Territories Power Corporation on the other, most people would agree the Public Utilities Board is an incomprehensible beast.
In theory, the PUB's role is to make sure Northerners do not pay more for their power than they should. NTPC and Northland Utilities submit mountains of detailed paper on power costs, telling the PUB why they need to charge what they charge. The PUB then makes a decision to either accept or reject the applications.
Calculating costs and revenue is something all businesses undertake as a budgeting process and the differences between the two shows up as either profit or loss.
Sounds useful and straightforward. Yet when a regular person not involved in the PUB applications looks at the figures, it is anything but straightforward.
In fact, everyone, from the minister to the CEOs of both NTPC and Northland admits you have to understand the calculations behind the figures to know what the figures mean.
And to understand those calculations, you have to have a very high degree of experience in the power industry, specifically the regulatory end to be able to speak with any competence.
That means you need very expensive consultants and lawyers who can only be found down south to explain the figures to the PUB who hires the same kinds of people to scrutinize the same figures.
That why these applications cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2009, Yellowknifer uncovered six-figure fees for lawyers hired to act as interveners in rate applications from power corp. and Northland (see fact file above).
Of course, lawyers and officials both spending and getting all this money insist they are saving taxpayers millions by their due diligence. This is where reality has left the room. These costs are added to our power bills and the whole process undermines public confidence.
In fact, the rate applications are fictional with projections and calculations based on past bad weather, varying water levels, maintenance problems and presumably human error, not to mention the price of oil on global markets.
These same factors will affect the rates set and if the rates don't cover costs, then "riders" adjusting rates to fit the real figures are put on with more experts involved.
It's important to remember, NTPC is owned by the GNWT. The PUB chairman and board is appointed by the GNWT and the GNWT can issue directives to the PUB telling it what to do.
And if the rates get out of control due to unforeseen circumstances, such as low water, the GNWT pumps cash in to the tune of $50 million to make sure rates don't get too high.
So why do Northerners need the PUB? We don't. The GNWT regulates the rates anyway.
While a PUB may be of value in a province with hundreds of thousands of customers if not millions, with the NWT's tiny customer base, it does nothing for Northerners beyond wasting money and confusing everyone.
As a body created to be accountable, it is through its complexity both unaccountable and uncountable.
The GNWT eliminated the NTPC board because cabinet is the real board. Pull the plug on the PUB for exactly the same reason: The GNWT regulates rates, not the PUB.
Still lots of attitude, little effectiveness
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Once again the shadow of disrespect reared its ugly head during a public Nutrition North Canada meeting in Nunavut.
While this time the outraged community may have been Pond Inlet, every Kivalliq community has its own story when it comes to the attitudes put on display by those administering the program.
In fact it's downright mind-boggling how often those in charge of the worst federal program still active in Nunavut can come off with so much attitude.
It still sends shivers of anger down my spine to remember that March night in 2011 in Rankin Inlet when Nellie Kusugak admonished then parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs Greg Rickford and program talking head Leo B. Doyle for rambling on in English without giving translator Henry Kudluk a chance to interpret properly.
Then again, Kusugak also gave me one of the best silent, only-between-my-ears laughs I'd enjoyed in years when she had her chance to address Rickford directly.
She spoke politely and elegantly in Inuktitut for the first five minutes as Kudluk sat silent, suppressing his own smile of point taken.
Fast forward to Sept. 28, 2016, and the feds are still throwing money at the program, stubbornly digging their heels in against the tsunami of negative public opinion that has dogged it since its ill-conceived inception.
In an effort to garner some good will, the feds send program reps out to consult with communities before introducing their long awaited reforms to Nutrition North.
Can you say window dressing, boys and girls?
You would think a meeting dressed up as part of a consultation process would be prime time for members of the program's so-called advisory board to get a handle on what people who live here think it needs to become just the tiniest bit effective.
But, nope, not one board member appeared in Pond Inlet. No one. Zilch. Nadda.
Nunavummiut continue to lend their voices to the chorus still being sung by all Northern folks affected by Nutrition North (except those with shares in the airlines and our major retailers, of course) that it remains a major step backwards compared to the old food mail program.
And still, years and millions upon millions of dollars later, the only thing they continue to get in unlimited supply is attitude.
The only entity that takes the advisory board's advice less seriously than Nunavummiut is the federal government, itself.
A point alluded to by Tununiq MLA Joe Enook shortly after the ridiculous, and downright insulting, meeting was held in Pond Inlet.
If it wasn't for the fact the Nutrition North program has cost all of us who call the North home a lot of money, the ongoing Keystone Kops approach to bureaucracy would be at least mildly entertaining.
But there's simply nothing funny about the minimal benefits the program has provided (average food basket price be damned) since being launched.
Nor is there anything funny about still having to swallow the attitudes of those who administer the program.
People are fed up with both, which, coincidentally, is the only thing Nutrition North has been able to fill people with during its run.