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NWT liquor rules don't make sense
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 29, 2017
The NWT Liquor Licensing Board is moving toward more transparency in the wake of complaints from Yellowknife businesses about its decision-making process and that deserves applause, but there is still a long way to go to create liquor rules that make sense.

Last week, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod, whose department oversees liquor legislation in the territory, gave Yellowknife North MLA Cory Vanthuyne vague answers on the future of the board in the legislative assembly, suggesting its decisions might be made more public in the future.

But, the board had already beat him to the punch, telling Yellowknifer days earlier that the board has "recently" initiated actions to publish all orders, licenses, permits and reasons for decisions.

The board appears to be responding to public criticism of a decision to not allow the NWT Brewing Company to sell its beer directly to local establishments - a decision that was not made public.

Hopefully the minister will catch up to what the board is doing, because right now, in the transparency race, it is leaving him in the dust.

Despite his vague answers last week, McLeod did commit to reviewing the liquor board's guidelines and the legislation the board functions under -- the NWT Liquor Act. This is goods news. Hopefully, as his department opens the fridge door and starts poking around among the forgotten Tupperware and fossilized fruit, it will have the chance to look at some of the other problems with the way alcohol is managed in the NWT.

For instance, the board sometimes travels for meetings. Travelling to Yellowknife for a liquor compliance hearing in 2015 - one board member came from Inuvik, another from Fort Smith, and a staff member came from Hay River - the board spent $7,500 just to levy a single $100 fine. This is an outrageous expense in the era of Skype. Conducting all hearings by video-conference would cut down on the board's operating costs and perhaps free up some government funds for other needed projects.

Another archaic holdover is the board's insistence on limiting sponsorship from local companies selling alcohol to a cap of $1,500, while major corporations down south, such as Big Rock Brewing, can sponsor the Folk on the Rocks festival because they're based in Alberta and not under the thumb of NWT liquor regulations.

And at the risk of indulging our self-interest, while the wide open, yawning maw of the Internet and cable television belches endless beer commercials into the territory, local print and radio is banned from doing any advertising at all.

Transparency is a good first step, and the liquor board and minister should be applauded for taking one toward more sensible liquor licensing rules.

But, there is much more work to do in order to fix a system that needlessly wastes money while applying unfair rules to NWT businesses.

Legalization is not an endorsement
Editorial Comment by Stewart Burnett
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 28, 2017

Legalizing marijuana is a great move for freedom in this country, but that doesn't make it an endorsement of using the substance.

Cannabis has received a lot of positive promotion in recent years. In an effort to counter the negative stigma and create a path to legalization, this is a good thing. But talk of the drug's benefits has gone a little overboard.

Sure, it can be used to help some cancer patients or assist people with stomach problems, but it can also be a major contributor to depression and anxiety.

Just about everyone smokes weed during their youth in this day and age.

For most, it is an exciting new world, a relatively innocent change of perspective and a bonding opportunity among friends. However, time proves for many that regular use of the substance can be a limiting factor in personal progress. It can go from a fun way to spend the night once in a while to the only way to have fun every day.

The less time one spends sober, the more that person's problems can compound and seem insurmountable. It's not a coincidence that marijuana use and depression often go hand in hand.

The public perception pendulum has swung a touch too far in promotion of marijuana. It's often recommended for depression, anxiety or other problems, and this seems like poor advice.

It is a recreational drug, just like alcohol. It's not especially healthy just because it's a plant. That's a crazy baseline to judge health by in the first place.

But allowing people to smoke weed, which can be only a personal crime and does not impact anyone else, is the right move for liberty.

People will find their highs no matter what. Banning substances only opens black markets, increases allure for what is off limits, and punishes people for crimes that hurt no one but themselves. We see how effective "dry" communities in the North already are.

There are all sorts of deadly legal addictions. Policing people's bodies is a fruitless and damaging pursuit.

Moral laws, not legal ones, are what need to be promoted.

Books of rules, no matter how violently enforced, will never resonate as deeply as the innate sense of right and wrong that is fostered through generations of positive upbringing.

Legality doesn't carry with it moral authority to use.

The federal government's legalization of cannabis is a good change, but the focus needs to be less on the celebration of a drug and more on the gift of freedom and the responsibility that comes with it.

Cashing in on a new cash crop
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

As the prospect of legal marijuana looms ever nearer, the territorial government is weighing options on how to regulate a brand new market - and the public has a lot to say about it.

As of Sept. 13, 1,111 people took a GNWT survey on marijuana that gauges how the public feels the drug should be legalized. This is according to Mark Aitken, assistant deputy minister for the Department of Justice, who was speaking to a room of more than 100 people who came out to voice their opinions in person at the Explorer Hotel, Sept. 14.

The options being considered could make up any combination of three models - a liquor-store model that would create specific outlets where marijuana is sold; a tobacco model - where businesses could apply for licences to sell the product; and a mail-order/Internet sales model, where people would buy their weed online.

Overwhelmingly, at the meeting at least, people who showed up supported some sort of private-sector involvement. This doesn't surprise Yellowknifer.

The private sector will be able to handle sales more efficiently than the public sector. Private retailers will respond to market demands and will be better equipped to keep prices lower than the black market.

There are safety concerns to take into account. Keeping marijuana - especially the edible kind that can be packaged to look like candy - out of the hands of children is one of those concerns.

Yellowknifer is confident the GNWT will be able to draft regulations that protect children while allowing the private sector to cash in.

And cash in it certainly will. There is a gigantic financial opportunity here. If the government creates so many regulations that the private sector can't or doesn't want to get involved - by going with the mail-order only option, for example - the government runs the risk of snuffing out a fledgling market before it has the chance to grow and allowing an illegal black market to continue when people can't wait to get their marijuana in the mail.

In the legislative assembly last week, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart echoed these concerns during question period with the Justice Minister Louis Sebert. While the minister wasn't able to say exactly what demand might be in the territory, he did say it "might be considerable."

In response, Testart urged the minister to "let Northern entrepreneurs take the lead on this file."

Yellowknifer agrees with Testart - marijuana legalization is going to come with a lot of hard work and planning on the government's side but it's also a huge opportunity for Northern businesses to cash in on a whole new market while putting unregulated pot dealers out of business.

The GNWT needs to keep this in mind when drafting regulations.

The path to economic prosperity
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The economic health of the Northwest Territories is intrinsically linked to the amount of precious stones mines pull out of the ground.

Mining and oil and gas extraction counted for roughly one-quarter of the territory's GDP in 2016, and considering there was no oil and gas extraction in the territory that year - and the only operating mines in the NWT are producing diamonds - it's fair to say an entire quarter of the GDP is diamond driven.

So if the federal government were to invest in any transportation project, the Slave Geological Province Access Corridor would make the most sense. Putting in an all-weather road to the diamond mines will make it that much cheaper to truck supplies in and out, year-round. That should make it more financially viable for existing mines to either expand or push back closing dates, and encourage more exploration in the area, including other minerals.

The revenue generated from these mines can be spread across the territory. If the feds want to invest in a project that will give back to the territory, the road to the mines is the way to go.

A wondrous time
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Graduation 'season' across the Kivalliq in August and September is one of the few remaining times of the year when it's actually possible to put aside all thoughts of what ails Nunavut - a job in itself at the best of times - and allow yourself to grow a tad optimistic about the future.

From our smallest schools to our largest, emotions run high as pride, accomplishment, and optimism surround those who receive their Grade 12 diplomas.

Yes, it is often easy to use numbers and averages as a means of throwing a damper on the occasion - as is the case in some corners - but Nunavut already suffers too much from those who only see the glass as being half empty.

Heck, with a little effort, one can easily wait until at least late September before reminding oneself that all the hoopla and grandeur took place while more than 60 teaching positions across Nunavut sat vacant.

And among the communities now growing desperate to fill those vacancies sits Arviat, where, you know, just a year ago it was determined by the Government of Nunavut the community had too many teachers for the number of students who attended school regularly.

This year is even shrouded in a bit of mystery, as the voices complaining this past school year that we have too many southern teachers in the Kivalliq - who are taking jobs away from local, trained educators - seem to have disappeared along with a number of those they were talking about, at least for the time being.

When principals take it upon themselves to passionately put out the word on vacancies that exist in their school - with a complete rundown of all the benefits that go along with said position - one has to wonder if the reputation and allure of some of our Kivalliq schools and/or communities has been diminished when there are still no takers.

But grad season has a way of pushing such concerns to the back burner, especially as we learn the post-secondary plans of a number of the region's newest graduates, ranging from trade school to Arctic College, various other community college programming, Nunavut Sivuniksavut college programming, and a number of university campuses across the country.

The promise of the young minds who make up the region's collective Class of 2017 further brightens the shine on the Kivalliq's future, as they join the grads before them in working toward trade tickets and all forms of degrees in business, health, education and law, among many others.

It's a time when their promise draws one away from such distractions as Bill 37 being dismissed without debate, due to the belief it held the promise to hasten the demise of the Inuktitut language by delaying the full implementation of Inuktitut language instruction in Nunavut schools until 2029 (and lowering it to Grade 9 from Grade 12), despite the realization the government has absolutely no chance of implementing the current 2008 Education Act requirement by 2019.

Normally one would have to wonder why the Inuit way of public debate would have done anything but expose the bill for its alleged numerous weaknesses, but one mustn't dim the promise of grad season with such trivial concerns.

It is, after all, the most wondrous time of the year.

So what's the alternative?
Northwest Territories/News North - Monday, September 25, 2017

The second session of the 18th Legislative Assembly reconvened Sept. 19 in the capital and will run until Oct. 4. But this isn't just another short work shift for our elected officials.

On Oct. 5, Premier Bob McLeod and his ministers will make speeches in the House defending their records.

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of our consensus form of government - the mid-term review. It's a chance for the regular MLAs to air their grievances - sure, something akin to the Festivus ritual on Seinfeld - and then have a secret vote that could lead to the ousting of any under-performing, or simply unfavoured cabinet minister -- including the NWT's first minister, Premier McLeod.

Following what surely can be some fine feather puffery during the ministerial monologues, the regular MLAs will then be allowed to ask questions. Many, many questions. Some 10 days of them.

There is then the vote by secret ballot. While the results are non-binding, it would most surely mean ouster from cabinet.

Sounds great - kick the bums out, right? But perhaps we should be careful of what we wish for.

It must be admitted that consensus government is not the best democratic model to govern anything higher than the municipality level. It doesn't really provide the opportunity to form strong policies or to govern in a direct, open and clear manner.

It also allows weak ministers to slide under the radar, protected by their departments, only seen in the capital during session and even with some rarely seen in their home constituencies.

So what ministers are under the microscope?

Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses. Both the Junior Kindergarten and Aurora College files were bobbled, bungled and botched.

Justice Minister Louis Sebert, minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, and also minister for public engagement and transparency. His role is far more opaque than transparent and crime statistics remain abysmal. And the power corporation file continues to sap his energy.

Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy, also responsible for the Public Utilities Board. Not much good to say on the health file, except there is a shiny new hospital being built in Yellowknife that we're told is on budget. Abernethy needs to back up his words with actions.

Some ministers that have caught News/North's eye for performing well, or at least not walking into too many walls: Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs Caroline Cochrane, who is also tasked with status of women and homelessness; Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod; and Premier Bob McLeod, who while at times looks more like a committee chair than a premier, does run the place with a steady hand.

So is it time for a change? Should the existing cabinet be given a mandate to move forward? While there are certainly some very skilled and outspoken regular MLAs, others are not.

And those whose names you regularly see and hear in the media are dragging some special interest and political affiliation baggage with them that might not be a good fit in cabinet.

So before you strive for change, please consider the alternatives.

Decolonization will be long, expensive process
Nunavut/News North - Monday, September 25, 2017

This month, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. presented a commissioned report detailing the lost wages from the territorial and federal governments' failure to implement Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement, which calls for government staffing ratios to match that of the population.

Nunavut is 84 per cent Inuit but Inuit make up only 50 per cent of Government of Nunavut employees. The federal government sits at only 41 per cent.

The new report updates one from 2003, which noted that Inuit employment had fallen from 1999 levels of 45 per cent down to 42 per cent in 2002.

That year, the Nunavut government and NTI agreed to a target ratio of 85 per cent Inuit employment for public service employees in Nunavut. A doubling of the 2002 ratio was ambitious.

A review of the Nunavut government's own Inuit employment statistics, available for anyone to read on its website, shows the Inuit employment ratio surged to 50 per cent within a few years but has been stalled at that 50 per cent level for the past decade.

It's no wonder NTI sued the federal and territorial governments for $1 billion, eventually settling for $255 million. But perhaps NTI's new president (new since the settlement, anyway) is gearing up to fight for the rest, as $255 million won't go very far to train Inuit to take government jobs.

Premier Peter Taptuna touts the Nunavut government's success in doubling the number of Inuit working in the public service, but they have also hired a non-Inuit employee every time they've hired an Inuk. The size of government has certainly grown but not the percentage of Inuit employees.

Nunavummiut are fed up. It should be no surprise that MLAs, reflecting the mood, rejected the government's last-ditch effort to make amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act that would have relaxed timelines for language instruction in Inuktitut. The government is not hiring enough teachers who can teach Inuktitut to meet its own standards within the promised timeline, and Nunavummiut have heard enough excuses.

It will take a tremendous effort, and a substantial investment to achieve true parity, if that can ever happen. Where will these teachers come from? How do you train non-Inuit teachers to teach in Inuktitut if they stay a year, two, or three?

Housing, Environment, and Community and Government Services are all sitting well below 50 per cent Inuit employment. Education and Health, surprisingly, are actually fairly average by the government's standards.

The government is top-heavy with non-Inuit, who take up the upper management and professional roles. It's no wonder the government is investing in programs to train Inuit managers and professionals.

This top-down approach to government is a Western model that needs to be considered in any decolonization efforts.

In order to achieve parity, a Nunavut government must fully immerse itself in Inuit culture and traditions. This will remain a sticking point if education levels and cultural confidence don't grow.

Which leads us back to NTI. The government either doesn't have the money, the capacity, or the interest to get serious about training Inuit for the future of Nunavut's bureaucracy. It's time for NTI to push even harder, and aim for that $1 billion mark again.

It's going to take that amount - or more - to do this right, before Inuit language and culture disappear.

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