Editorial page
Monday, April 27, 1998

Welfare reform

Government is predicting that welfare reform, initiated in the NWT in 1997, will lead to people living productively and will ultimately enable them to get off social assistance.

While government proposes to do this by implementing changes that include turning over more power to the local authorities, there are still some problems.

For starters, there has been no mention of income-support workers receiving more resources to implement these changes.

Caseloads are already high and it's unclear how workers will find the time to look at whether or not recipients are demonstrating they are searching for work, volunteering in their community, going to school, or caring for their children in order to qualify for assistance under the new requirements.

If welfare reform is implemented arbitrarily and those making the decisions aren't given sufficient resources and time to treat each case on an individual basis, the statistics that are on the rise will continue to skyrocket.

Already, the trend is troubling. Over the past two years, the National Council of Welfare has tracked 1,000 additions to the income-assistance roll in the NWT.

That kind of growth will be hard to keep up with, as the entire territorial population isn't growing much faster. Merely transferring control over welfare to local authorities doesn't address increasing costs associated with increased caseloads.

Other pieces of the Northern economic puzzle will have to change as well. Subsidized housing, for example, is now so generous, that some NWT residents find it makes more financial sense to quit their jobs and sign up for welfare. While their income plummets, their rent falls even further.

Similarly, public and private employers will have to ensure that wages and salaries keep pace with the cost of living. Welfare does need some fixing, but not in isolation.

Railway ties

Establishing a solid railway terminus in Hay River can do nothing but benefit Northerners.

Integrating a railway line from the south with barge service to the North means increased access for Northerners to heavy goods.

Building solid transportation links with the south is important for creating reliable lines of supply for businesses and industries developing the North. And development in the North means jobs for Northerners.

The costs of moving goods around the North are high and the geography and climate pose real challenges. Any increase we have in our options is welcome.

Goodbye MAI

What some people are calling the greatest threat to the Canadian way of life, most of us know very little about.

It's called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). The idea is to make the rules for global investment and business the same all over the world. That way, if a business from Germany invests in a mine in the NWT and runs into some rules that aren't covered under the MAI, they can change the local rules or sue for compensation.

It sounds like a good idea for multinational corporations and a bad idea for people.

Taking a break

You could tell by the smiles that a recent trip made by four Gjoa Haven youngsters was just what the doctor ordered.

The Northerners got a chance to take part in the Kids Explore '98 program in Vancouver. They had an opportunity to enjoy things they had only dreamt of, including a ride in a stretch limo and visiting Stanley Park.

All four children had lost a parent.

The trip was arranged by Glen and Debbie Lahey of Williams Lake, BC. who set up Kids Explore as a non-profit program. Northern corporations such as the Explorer Hotel and NWT/First Air pitched in with donations.

It's efforts like this that make a difference and we applaud them.

Toonik tops

You might blame it on the fantastic weather, but the real credit for last weekend's successful wrap-up to Iqaluit's Toonik Tyme has to go to the enthusiastic fans and participants who turned the community into a giant party.

The hockey players who did their best at the arena, the snowmobile demons who raced to Kimmirut and back, the seal hunters and skinners who dared to test their skills against their peers, and the hundreds of others who simply turned out to watch the weekend's events proved that community spirit is alive and well in the Baffin.

The timing might have been better, since the schools were on a break the week before Toonik Tyme, but next year's festival should be even better, especially if it is tied to Nunavut celebrations April1.