Editorial page

Friday, October 01, 1999

Guess who's coming to dinner

The new Indian Affairs minister probably won't be able to get a lot of sightseeing in during his first visit to Yellowknife.

Robert Nault will spend today and tomorrow meeting with territorial officials, aboriginal groups, business and labour leaders. Throw in a dinner with Premier Jim Antoine and he's going to be a busy boy.

Among our list of hopes is that Nault gives a commitment on the above-ground cleanup at Giant mine.

Territorial minister of finance Charles Dent is challenging Nault's department over the responsibility of the surface cleanup. While DIAND is responsible for the cleanup of the estimated 270,000 tons of arsenic trioxide dust stored underground, their office claims the GNWT is responsible for the cleanup of everything else.

Meanwhile, all you have to do is look at the GNWT's recent inventory of Giant's hazardous waste area to realize the cleanup can't wait.

With hundreds of barrels, some containing the deadly arsenic trioxide, some carelessly tossed aside without lids, we agree with the GNWT that these barrels have to be moved to a secured area as soon as possible.

It's a matter of public safety. We can't afford to wait while the two governments let this get bogged down in a court challenge. With 300 workers expecting layoff notices next Tuesday, we couldn't think of a better time to get this started.

The Deton'cho Corp., owned by Yellowknives Dene, was hired to conduct the inventory and would be a good choice to oversee this contract. As, the feds control the subsurface rights for all property in the city and reap enormous royalties from the mining sector, it only makes sense that they should be the ones forking out the estimated $13 million for a job that clearly can't wait.

Let's hope Nault delivers.

Costly error

One has to wonder about the logic involved in DIAND's environmental study into the Diavik diamond project.

A federal government report released last month shows that the feds spent about $1 million funding various organizations. The lion's share of funding, $726,620, went to aboriginal organizations. The next highest cost was $150,000 to a DIAND appointed project secretariat overseeing the environmental review. The rest went to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the NWT Status of Women Council.

While the level of funding seems adequate, the division of the money indicates all of the political bases were covered, but were the environmental concerns equally addressed?

A joint request for funding by the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, the NWT Wildlife Federation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and Ecology North totalled $228,500. They were offered $46,000, which they turned down.

Exact figures on how much Diavik spent on environmental assessments are not available. We do know that as of Aug. 25, it had spent roughly $180 million -- much of it on reports and assessments into environmental impact. Yet the Dogribs want a full panel review and environmental groups are threatening court action.

While no one has come forward with specific hazards the mine may create, the process has been toxified by the funding imbalance.

Had the environmental groups been granted the funds they required, the integrity of the review process would have been maintained.

We just don't know whether division of funding was based upon bad politics or bad judgement. Either way, it was a costly mistake for the North.

Pump up the volume
Editorial Comment
Daniel MacIsaac
Inuvik Drum

The Mackenzie Delta Hotel Group and E. Gruben's Transport must be commended for the successful Blue Rodeo concerts staged in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk last weekend. The band is a world-class act and clearly enjoyed themselves as much as the fans did who came out to hear them play. Blue Rodeo also provided the perfect back-drop for the Gruben employees' annual year-end bash.

I was struck by the contrast between the hotel group's very public, public-relations coup and its recent lack of will to provide Inuvik residents with details on its plans in the town, and beyond. Rumours circulated around Inuvik for quite some time this summer before it became apparent that all three of the community's hotels were involved in the partnership. Even then, the proof only came in the form of matching room-rate hikes.

Town council and the Tourism Department have expressed concern over what adverse effects the hikes may have on tourism and business travel and on the Midnight Sun Recreations Centre's success as a convention centre. The hotel group chose to remain silent instead of publicly addressing these concerns.

The latest talk around town is of a van service operating between the hotels and the airport. The Mackenzie Hotel's Marty Verbonac said Tuesday that the plans haven't been finalized, but concern has already been raised as to the effect this could have on United Taxi's business -- at a time when the Inuvik taxi situation is unusually stable.

Understandably, the partners wouldn't want to risk a potential deal by talking prematurely, but there comes a time when they should speak out. Before other concerns rise or existing concerns prove well-founded, it's time the hotel group nipped those concerns in the bud.

No shortage of opinions
Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

There was a mouthful said about the proposed pipeline north of Fort Liard last week, and then some. It was refreshing to hear people speak out about something that affects them so closely, whether positively or negatively.

The unfortunate part was that only a small fraction of the population was represented at the public hearings in Fort Liard and in Fort Simpson.

Joanne Deneron made the point that things are generally quiet in Fort Liard and when people aren't up in arms -- and the majority of people in the community weren't last week -- things are good. It's a valid point. If most of the people in Fort Liard are opposed to the gas activity, they are the silent majority. Then again, regardless of how many people are currently employed due to the gas activity, you could count the number of vocal defenders of the industry on one hand as well.

The impact that the industry has had on Fort Liard has been tremendous. The facts and figures are astounding for a community of its size. Hundreds of jobs created, tens of millions of dollars in corporate revenue and millions of that directed into wages. Yet there are resulting social effects as well, and those cannot be discounted.

One of the burning questions is how long can this employment rate be sustained? If industry representatives willingly admit that employment is intense during the construction phase but jobs are minimal when everything is installed, then it's not unreasonable to ask "What's next?" Chuck Blyth made a good point when he suggested there will invariably be pressure to continue opening up more land to prolong job activity.

On the other hand, there's the option of having nothing. No gas industry, no short-term or long-term benefits. The Acho Dene Koe have, at least, been actively pursuing joint-venture partnerships on the pipelines, which will see them generate fee income during the active lifespan of the pipeline. Collecting royalties, although it's something the federal government hasn't been willing to give up, would be of even greater benefit.

The level of risk is obviously another major consideration. The existing Amoco plant and the pipeline at Pointed Mountain have existed for close to 30 years. Has there ever been a rupture or a subsequent evacuation of the community? The chance of a significant gas leak may be minimal, but still a concern. It's very likely it could be contained before it does much harm, but nobody can guarantee anything, of course. Theories about increased cancer rates and other adverse effects due to gas activity are speculative. An in-depth study would mean a lot of money and, undoubtedly, take a number of years, but if health fears are that heightened, it may be worth the investment.

To their credit, the gas companies were able to provide reassuring responses to most of the questions asked during the hearings. Their research has been quite thorough. What the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board recommends in the terms of reference will certainly be interesting.

If you missed out on the public hearings but still have something you feel compelled to convey, you're in luck. The environmental impact board is accepting written submissions until Friday, Nov. 26.

It's well worth the time and effort to let your opinion be known.

Quantity will follow
Editorial Comment
Dane Gibson
Kivalliq News

There are changes on the way for the Northern Teachers Education Program (NTEP) which should make the program a better one and increase the quality of teachers graduating from its ranks.

Graduates of the NTEP have become the target of some sniping from disgruntled parents of late and, from what we can ascertain, some of it is warranted, some isn't.

There can be doubt in the world the NTEP is a wonderful initiative and a program much needed across Kivalliq and the rest of Nunavut.

However, that being said, the worst mistake which could be made with such a program would be to graduate teachers for the sake of numbers.

It is to absolutely no one's benefit, not the least of which are the young, eager minds of our students, for teachers to be in our classrooms who are less than capable of doing the job.

Conversely, the entire NTEP should not be condemned if, indeed, a few of its graduates are not up to par.

Coral Harbour's Sakku school principal, Ken Beardsall, was quick to defend one of his NTEP teachers this past week when that teacher came under fire from the family of a former education council chairperson.

Beardsall talked about testing procedures in place to evaluate teachers and such procedures should play a major role in the NTEP's future.

If it is shown there are teachers struggling in our classrooms, testing and evaluation should be the vehicles to gently and diplomatically remove them for retraining without any embarrassment to them or their families.

Everyone wants a strong Inuit presence at the front of our Nunavut classrooms, which, with time, will become the rule rather than the exception.

However, this can't happen overnight. In the meantime, it is imperative we not sacrifice our children's education for the sake of the numbers game.

In the grand scheme of things, any teacher told they need further instruction themselves, who is truly dedicated to their profession, should embrace the opportunity to upgrade their teaching abilities.

After all, it's a small price to pay for a rewarding career which pays such high dividends to our territory by turning out bright, eager and well-educated graduates.

As much of a cliche as it may be, our youth are, indeed, our future.

And that future starts in the classroom.