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MLA digs herself a deep hole
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, January 30, 2017

A healthy democracy demands a strong opposition to hold government's feet to the fire.

While we don't have adversarial party politics in the NWT – and our chilly climate makes warm feet a positive image – we still need diverse opinions in the our consensus government at the legislative assembly.

As the 11 regular MLAs act as an 'opposition' to the seven members of cabinet, we can expect some strong ideas to emanate from that group.

Such as in recent weeks, when MLA Julie Green spoke out against a major infrastructure project and also lambasted the entire cabinet for travelling en masse to a mining trade show in Vancouver.

The Yellowknife Centre rep has taken some pretty good heat herself for her comments in News/North and on social media.

And rightly so.

While her leftist ideology might fly in her constituency – and resonate with a significant demographic across the territory – we applaud Min. Wally Schumann for publicly stating what had to be said.

He was speaking about Green calling the cabinet on the carpet for flying to Vancouver for AME Mineral Exploration Roundup 2017, a leading trade show and networking event for the mineral exploration and development industry.

We have no problem with the entire cabinet – and MLA Cory Vanthuyne, chair of the Standing Committee of Economic Development and Environment – attending the event in a show of force and to provide a one-stop shop for industry contacts. But we do bristle at the estimated $75,000 price tag that taxpayers will be stuck with as a large contingent of government staff also went along for the ride.

However, Green was adamant that the entire cabinet should not have gone, just a small contingent of ministers and the premier.

The first-term MLA was equally perturbed a couple of weeks earlier when she penned a guest column for News/North, ("Roads aren't a good investment," Jan. 16). In it she suggested Whati Chief Alfonz Nitsiza and the Tlicho Government were "sold a bill of goods," on the benefits of a 97-kilometre all-season road from Highway 3 outside of Yellowknife to Whati.

Quoting an unnamed mining industry veteran, Green also questioned the viability of Fortune Minerals' NICO deposit located 50 kilometres northwest of Whati.

The following week she was blasted in public for those comments in News/North, ("Bumpy road to Whati," Jan. 23), with Fortune Minerals, the NWT/Nunavut Chamber of Mines and Chief Nitsiza taking her to task.

Fortune Minerals president Robin Goad said the company plans to mine cobalt, gold bismuth and copper in the area at the NICO mine.

"The road was a critical enabler for our project. Without the road there's basically nothing more we can do," said Goad, adding that the company has already spent $116 million on the project.

"Ms. Green's statement that the Tlicho have been, 'sold a bill of goods,' is condescending and implies the Tlicho don't understand the importance of socio-economic connectivity to the public highway system, or the economics of roads, power development, and resources, or the benefits they bring,"

Ouch. We're sure MLA Green will weather the withering backlash in style. However, while we do encourage and support dissenting views in our consensus government, we also hope those handful of very outspoken MLAs – we'll add Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly's name here as well – weigh their words carefully.

As Minister Schumann stated, we can't just be a social welfare state relying on federal government transfers. We need to show the world that the NWT is indeed open for business, especially when it comes to key industries such as mining.

Bad math equals substandard health care
Nunavut/News North - Monday, January 30, 2017

This week, The National Post reported that The Privy Council Office has told the federal government it is not meeting its objectives in two departments: democratic reform, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

It's a recognition the feds are not doing enough for Canada's indigenous people, and for the North

This is no surprise to Nunavummiut.

Last week, we reported on the Nunavut government's complaints about getting less than a fair shake for health care funding.

Premier Peter Taptuna and his fellow premiers grudgingly agreed to a bad deal that sees health funding delivered on a per capita basis. Each Nunavummiuq gets the same per capita health funding – about $1,000 in health transfers per year – as someone living in any southern province.

Which might be fine, if health outcomes were equal for all Canadians. As it is, the Conference Board of Canada gave Nunavut a mark of D minus for health outcomes in 2015, while British Columbia got an A grade.

The territory ranked worst for life expectancy, premature mortality, infant mortality, self-reported mental health, mortality due to cancer and respiratory diseases, and suicides. According to the report, the health of our people is not only worse than other provinces, it's far worse.

These outcomes are ignored in the funding math.

The math gets worse when the higher costs of health care – especially the cost of staffing, medical travel, and operating costs – are not included as part of the formula.

It's worth noting that the math has not gotten better as Nunavut's population has grown, now almost the same as the Yukon's. The federal finance department's website shows Nunavut's proportion of the Canada Health Transfer used to be larger than the other territories, and only started diminishing when Leona Aglukkaq was removed as Minister of Health in 2013.

It stopped being a priority for the Harper government, but it appears the Trudeau government has simply followed Harper's lead on this.

As Premier Taptuna points out, this transfer is only 11 per cent of the territory's health budget, but how many lives could be changed – or saved – by an additional one per cent?

With another $3 million or so, could we reduce the number of suicides? Could we help more people stop smoking? Could we keep more babies alive?

If Justin Trudeau and Carolyn Bennett are serious about the North and reconciliation, they need to remember that the job of the government is to provide help to those who need it.

Looking at the health outcomes, it's no mystery Nunavut deserves more help than it is getting.

Status quo no reason to shut out the mayor
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, January 27, 2017

When Yellowknifers went to the polls more than a year-and-a-half ago, they faced a selection of candidates for the position.

Presumably the fine voters of this fair city cast their ballots based on their confidence in each candidate's integrity, leadership and experience.

We expect few people realize, once elected, the mayor is shut out of debates and excluded from casting a vote on the matters of the day except in the case of a tie vote in council.

The mayor does have the option of excusing him or herself from mayoral chairmanship by switching spots with the deputy mayor and voting on a matter, but it rarely happens.

Heyck told Yellowknifer he has been frustrated by rules which prevent him from contributing to debates during council sittings. And frustrated he should be. Heyck, a person of considerable experience in city matters, was elected to lead, not to sit silently while others debate and vote on the matters at hand.

Sure, the mayor could swap chairs with the deputy mayor more often, but why make such a fuss every time the mayor wants to be heard? The chair swap could also be seen as an infringement on the rights of the councillor standing as deputy mayor, so it's hardly a solution.

All councillors and the mayor were voted in to represent citizens in city matters. The average Jill and Joe wants to know where the mayor stands on the issues of the day, and may assume the mayor stands with however council voted on a matter. But at times nothing could be further from the truth.

An external report also supports extending mayoral power, pointing to jurisdictions in the rest of Canada where many towns and cities have already moved to allow their mayors to vote.

But regardless of what external auditors may or may not recommend, extending the mayor's powers only makes sense.

Did Yellowknifers vote in their mayor because they felt he or she would make a great chairperson who would silently keep council meetings on track like some kind of rules-of-order geek?

No, the mayor is the first round pick in a hockey draft, and nobody benches their number one pick. Yet on council, "benched" is an apt description of the mayor during council deliberations.

He's a sideline player by virtue of unquestioned and outmoded traditions that are already abandoned in many other municipalities across the country.

Council has struck up a committee to study the idea of extending the mayor's power, as well as extending council terms from three years to four.

On the question of extending the mayor's power and making the role more significant to city governance, we wholeheartedly stand behind the idea. Both for this mayor and future ones.

A little appreciation goes a long way
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, January 26, 2016

The level of commitment it takes to be on Fort Simpson's fire department is high, and that's why the department is celebrating receiving the 2015 NWT Fire Services Merit Award. In 2016, volunteers for Fort Simpson's fire department logged 2,000 hours and responded to 164 ambulance calls.

They meet every two weeks and participated in numerous training exercises.

According to assistant fire marshal Travis Wright, even the awards committee was blown away by the amount of work fire volunteers do in Fort Simpson.

Fort Simpson's fire department is one of the last ones in the territory to tackle both fire and ambulance, Wright said.

That in itself is impressive, especially considering how busy Fort Simpson's ambulance is and the fact the majority of calls the department receives seek ambulance services.

Although Fire Chief Roger Pilling and deputy fire chief Pat Rowe make it as easy as possible for volunteers, those volunteers are still effectively on-call all the time. It's not a job that has set hours or gives you weekends off, either - when the radio buzzes, someone has to respond.

That could be at 3 a.m. on a Sunday or in the middle of the workday.

But beyond the topic of the hours volunteers put in, it's also important to remember the kind of people who are taking on this work. Many of the department's most dedicated volunteers are teachers and business owners who genuinely want to make a difference.

Most have other full-time jobs, and heavy demands on their time but that doesn't stop them.

But in order to see where these volunteers get their dedication, all you have to do is look to the top.

Under the guidance of Pilling, the ranks of the department swelled this year to the biggest it has ever been.

He has been a staunch advocate of more funding and proper equipment for the department.

Of course, if you were to ask Pilling yourself, he'd most likely lay the credit for the department's success at the feet of the volunteers themselves.

But the truth is that the decades he and Rowe have spent dedicating their time to the fire department have built up a structure that gives volunteer firefighters opportunities for training and the ability to pick up skills they can't get anywhere else.

They take their volunteer work as seriously as any job and thanks to that, the fire department has flourished.

Often, volunteering can be a thankless job. But it undoubtedly makes the community a better - and, in this case, a safer - place to live.

Onus on individuals to manage alcohol
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, January 26, 2016

Prohibition doesn't work.

Throughout the town hall meeting on whether to allow The Mad Trapper an extra 16 Sundays to serve alcohol or not, I started to wonder why we don't just ban alcohol completely.

Most people against the Sunday bar openings seemed to demonize alcohol and name it the great plague of Inuvik.

Alcohol may indeed be a generally bad thing, but I don't think four months of Sunday openings at one place in town is the straw sitting precariously on the camel's back.

If these people believed what they were saying, surely they would want to ban alcohol completely. 

Unfortunate as the North's history with alcohol may be, the dialogue in the town hall was at a superficial level.

It was focused mostly on "alcohol is bad." Okay, agree there - moving on to the question at hand now.

When laws are made, there are direct effects and unintended side effects. The direct effect here would be the Trapper can't serve on Sundays. The unintended effects are much harder to see, but just as real.

Here are a few possibilities: people who desire alcohol instead load up on other days, potentially leading to more binge drinking; people who want to feed their addiction on Sunday turn to alternative, more dangerous measures; and demand for booze on Sundays still exists, fuelling the black market to supply it.

The future is hard to predict, and anything could happen. Government can't control human nature, and no law operates as simply as its stated intended effect.

I was glad to hear some voices toward the end put the onus on individuals themselves.

If Inuvik wants to be a community where alcohol is not an issue, the onus is on the people to pursue that goal, not the heavy and clumsy hand of government.

The opinions of the people opposed to this issue are just as legitimate as any. It is heartbreaking to hear of the effects alcohol has had in the North. We all should preach and practise a life of moderation, civility and good health.

But we must search deeper into the question of human action and consequences, instead of relying so heavily on feelings. 

Human rights ruling is about dignity
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In September of last year, Elizabeth Portman won a Human Rights Adjudication Panel decision against the city which charged users of its accessible transit system more than users of regular city buses.

Portman, who has multiple sclerosis, was awarded more than $8,000 - a reimbursement of the amount of money she had payed over what a regular transit user would pay between the dates of Feb. 12, 2014 and Dec. 1, 2015. Buried in the panel decision is a statement one would hope Yellowknife's city administration takes time to think about.

"(The city's) not making this service available to (Portman) at the same rate as the regular service made her feel like a lesser person," stated the decision. "As a result it affected her self-respect and dignity."

Unfortunately, the city didn't give this line much thought because the fare structure continued to be unfair, causing Portman to bring the city before the human-rights panel again last month.

Now, the panel has ordered the city to reimburse these unfair charges to all users of accessible public transit. Getting dinged twice in two years for discriminating against people with disabilities indicates there is a lack of understanding within city bureaucracy of what fair accessibility means.

It's pretty simple: The city has a responsibility to make sure its infrastructure is accessible to all Yellowknifers. When looking at the fares to use this infrastructure, one should not be able to tell the difference between who has a disability and who doesn't.

This isn't just about money. This case is about dignity and self-respect. The city now has another chance to think about the impacts having a discriminatory fee structure has on its residents.

Hopefully, administrators will heed the message and avoid getting hauled in front of the Human Rights Adjudication Panel for a third time, causing even more expense and embarrassment.

Explore the amazing Northwest Territories
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The number of people using territorial campsites has reached the highest levels since 2003, according to Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

In total, 29,158 people camped out overnight in NWT parks last year. These soaring numbers have consequences for Yellowknifers as most of these campers are staying at Fred Henne Territorial Park.

So anybody interested in a stay-cation this summer might be dealing with a bit of a bottleneck.

But hopeful happy campers shouldn't fret. The department has offered some pretty good advice: Why not explore some of the other campgrounds across the territory, where numbers sagged last year?

Within driving distance of Yellowknife are the beautiful Lady Evelyn Falls, Twin Falls Gorge, Sambaa Deh Territorial Park and Little Buffalo River Falls Territorial Park, to name a few campgrounds. Some of these places are a pretty good day's road trip away, which makes for the perfect weekend getaway.

Consider taking this sage advice and, instead of staying at same-old Fred Henne park, head off the beaten track to see some of the more remote wonders this spectacular territory has to offer.

Final hurrah nears for grand old lady as tournies begin
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Well, once again, it's that time of year in the Kivalliq for the hockey-crazed among us.

The official start of the Kivalliq tournament season was scheduled to launch in Arviat last weekend with the annual Jon Lindell Memorial (JLM) Calm Air Cup, quickly followed by the Arctic Atoms in Rankin Inlet this coming weekend.

During the next two months, fans will pack arenas, especially in Rankin Inlet, for numerous tournaments, featuring the Powerful Peewees, Polar Bear Plate, Terence Tootoo Memorial, midget territorial in Arviat, senior men's in Coral and Kivalliq Cup old-timers in Baker Lake.

The Rankin Inlet Minor Hockey Association has been renewing its efforts to launch a regional bantam tournament, with bantam being the only age class without its own tournament in the region.

Naujaat usually brings the puck madness to a close with its Arctic Circle Cup senior men's event, and a rotating all-ages female championship also takes its turn being hosted by a Kivalliq community.

The 2017 Challenge Cup junior 'C' championship is scheduled for Iqaluit this time around.

With time running out on the grand old lady on the hill in Rankin, with the new arena finally looking like it's going to become reality, it's now more important than ever for hockey fans in the region to show their class while cheering for their favourite teams.

If ever there was a barn that deserved to go out with dignity, it's the Rankin Inlet arena.

I have long lost count of the number of incredible hockey games I have both been a part of on the ice and watched from the stands in that cold, old barn.

And every time I think I've reached the pinnacle of how good a game can be in our region, another one comes along that's even better.

Yes, there have been moments in other barns.

I will never forget the overtime image of Amaujaq Lindell, playing for the family team in the JLM, the Karetakers, with his glove on the top of his head, looking up to the rafters in Arviat after Rankin goalie James Merritt robbed him of a sure goal with an incredible glove save.

I also will never forget two Arviat players in Whale Cove, diving to try and stop a deflected puck from slowly sliding across the goal-line in overtime in the championship game, only to come up a half-second short.

Nor will I ever forget one of those players trying to hide the tear sliding down his cheek, after playing his heart out and coming oh so close.

But the memories in the grand old lady in Rankin are vivid and many.

I have watched 10-year-old boys play like men in double overtime, players put their team on their back and carry them to a championship, refusing to lose, goalies for a team being outshot five to one make incredible save after incredible save, refusing to bend, and rivalries play out far, far above what many in the south think the level of hockey should be here.

And through the vast majority of the (figuratively speaking) hours of highlight-reel film going through my head, the almost ear-shattering din of the Rankin crowd is a constant companion.

I've been in many a nicer, more modern arena than Rankin's in my day, but, NHL barns aside, I've never been in one anywhere near as special.

I have a folder of photographs taken in the Rankin arena during the past 18-plus years, and I know there will be numerous times in my old age I will thumb through them and relive the memories.

And, as tournament season begins and the grand old lady nears her final hurrah, I'm equally sure there's at least one more awesome memory awaiting me at the top of that hill.

She hasn't disappointed me yet...

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