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Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Like howling at the moon

If there's one thing the Northwest Territories needs to help a significant segment of its population, it's an effective alcohol and drug abuse treatment centre.

For some time, this newspaper has called on the government to get moving.

Now we have the spectacle of all the MLAs -- the ones not sitting in Premier Joe Handley's cabinet -- leaping up to decry the lack of just such a treatment centre.

The sad thing is, we have a treatment centre that should do the job. But the Somba K'e Healing Lodge, located in Dettah, is closed. There's also the Nats'ejee K'eh centre on the Hay River Reserve, but back in 2003 it was decried as inadequate as a detox and treatment centre for the NWT's needs.

The Somba K'e facility was a $3.04 million cure-all that, when we last heard about it in June 2003, was operating as a make-work project to keep a security guard busy protecting the still-functioning iced tea machine.

Now the non-cabinet MLAs stand up in turn to reveal stories of people damaged by a life of drug and/or alcohol abuse.

We hope Health Minister Michael Miltenberger was listening hard, but we doubt it.

He didn't move much when an April 2003 coroner's report recommended a detox facility for Yellowknife.

Unless the MLAs facing the cabinet do more than make political points -- put the cabinet's feet to the fire on this issue! -- their voices are as effective as dogs howling at the moon.

Smile and wave at our school bus drivers

All of us have some kind of complaint about our jobs: the stress, pay, unpleasant co-workers or hard-to-please bosses.

But compare your workplace to what can only be described as the tumultuous daily routines of Yellowknife school bus driver Joanne Sigurdson. Her column in the Nov. 5 edition of Yellowknifer was a play-by-play of what it's like to be responsible for the safety and well-being of 60 youngsters.

Tales of out of control, rowdy children, unsympathetic parents and disrespectful motorists no doubt made most of us thankful bus drivers have a sense of both humour and duty.

Bus drivers like Sigurdson do their best to ensure our children arrive at school and home safe and sound. They don't have to do the job -- they want to do it. They enjoy it. And thank God they do.

It wouldn't hurt for students, parents, teachers and impatient drivers to let them know every now and then how much we appreciate them.

Council should be focusing on direction

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The new Rankin Inlet hamlet council may find itself fighting a battle it can't hope to win if its members don't heed the words of Mayor Lorne Kusugak after the upcoming municipal elections.

An obviously exasperated Kusugak told members during the Nov. 1 regular council meeting that council has to start focusing more on policy and direction, and far less on the day-to-day operations of the hamlet.

It was the third time this past year the mayor made the remark, which followed yet another council meeting spent almost entirely dealing with operational matters.

Kusugak's remarks were right on the money -- no pun intended -- and should serve as a warning to incoming council members.

An effective hamlet council, while certainly up to speed on the operational aspects of the municipality it serves, should be far more concerned with its collective vision for the future in terms of economic growth and improvement in the areas of services and infrastructure.

Knowing where you want to go and how you're going to get there is not as easy as it sounds.

That is especially true for a hamlet council at the helm of a non-tax-based community that is already feeling the pinch of government cutbacks.

Mapping a fruitful path for a municipality to follow takes a lot of painstaking research, hours of not-so-light reading, proposal writing, the asking of literally thousands of questions on a variety of subjects and countless hours of discussion, just to name few.

In short, it's a lot of hard work by a relatively small group of people who truly believe in the potential of their community.

Once that group of people find themselves continually discussing stray dogs, broken garage doors that don't seem to get fixed, signs that refuse to stay upright and broken Zambonis, the chances of success in developing policies for a brighter future begin to slip away.

Need for support

Rankin's new council will have to demand far better support from the hamlet's supervisors and employees in the upcoming year.

One doesn't hire a mechanic for $80 an hour and then have to hang around to show them which tool to use, and neither should council.

Council showed a lot of promise during the past year.

Rankin stands to benefit from a number of initiatives it has set in motion -- but only if the councillors are free to focus on the tasks at hand and not have to worry about solving every little problem that comes along.

If not, the election notices should go out with a job description attached -- a number of trouble shooters and general fix-it-up types required by the hamlet.

Some babysitting required.

Development money tree

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

The NWT Business Development Fund paid out more than $1 million last year, filling 137 requests for financial assistance for various endeavours.

In Canada, the tradition of government grants and funding to private citizens and organizations is as long as the grant sources are numerous.

To the seasoned grant proposal writer, the ability to live entirely from grant money is an achievable feat, not just an idealistic fantasy.

That said, with the territorial government in financial difficulty, one might wonder why the requests for business development funding are not more closely scrutinized. Savvy grant proposal writers need to be matched by equally skilled grant distributors.

In some instances, money was given to companies closing shop. An accountant I'm not, but when a company closes down, isn't giving that company free "development" money to aid in that process a sort of oxymoron? Nothing developing here except an empty storefront.

While the criteria for receiving money includes bailing a business out of financial difficulty, a business development fund should not be paying for poor business decisions.

Funding of artistic projects was also another category that the business development fund was big on throwing money at. A carving studio here, a record production there. Perhaps it should be noted that while supporting the territories' artistic community is vital, until the carvings and CDs start selling, such ventures are not businesses. Not to mention that there are already several other avenues for such funding to be had.

Serious limitations on the procurement of business development funding must be implemented. A person putting together a business plan should not be a reason to dole out $5,000.

Last time I checked, a prospective entrepreneur puts his or her own time and resources into formulating a business plan, then heads to the bank to find financing. And when one's plan reaches the stage of hitting a bank up for money, then would be the opportune time for a $5,000 or a $10,000 cheque to come rolling in.

Feasibility studies should fall into this questionable "business plan" category, as well.

Checking up on grant recipients' progress should also be built into a new policy for the business development fund. If a person or organization did not come through with what they requested the funding for, all or a portion of that funding should be paid back.

It is amazing how up-in-arms everybody got when an MLA made a questionable housing allowance claim to the tune of $10,000, but nobody seems to mind when the government throws $13,000 at a business that wants to hire an accountant to conduct a financial review. Anywhere else in the country that "accounting review" cost would be swallowed by the company hiring the accountant.

But until any changes are made, the only course of action would be to get your pencils sharpened for the next season of business development funding fun. I've got a great idea for selling snow to tourists that might be worth a few thousand bucks.

The root of all evil

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

Money issues could become the Dehcho First Nations' (DFN) Achilles' heel.

There would appear to be a sizeable windfall on the horizon with self-government agreements and resource development (presumably in a controlled fashion). How all that coin will be divided is anybody's guess.

Anyway, that remains a ways into the future. In the meantime, a formula has been agreed upon to disburse funds through the newly-created Aboriginal Skills and Employment Program (ASEP). It's a relatively small pot of money -- $413,698 for the region this year, to be exact -- designated for oil and gas training programs.

It would take too much space to explain the complicated formula here, but suffice it to say that there was some grumbling at last week's leadership meeting in Fort Simpson about who's getting what. Now, to be fair, not everyone was up in arms. It was primarily Liidlii Kue First Nation Chief Keyna Norwegian who was upset. She expressed dismay at the $44,256 allotted to her band. That's not nearly enough, she said. Then, Norwegian opened an old wound by stating that the smaller Deh Cho communities seem to benefit most from the formula, if only for the simple reason that they are smaller.

West Point Chief Karen Felker responded that formulas should hinge on community needs, rather than on a per capita basis.

It didn't turn into a prolonged debate as it has in the past, but leaders from the smaller communities have made it clear that they often feel short-changed when the bucks are being doled out.

Behind the scenes, some people have also expressed concern about the one-quarter ASEP share that will remain with the DFN office to cover administrative and program start-up expenses. Again, to be fair, few of the leaders at the table had any problem with the regional office's portion. Yet some folks apparently view the Deh Cho office as gradually becoming a bloated bureaucracy, reflecting most other governments. Alternatively, one could look at it as the creation of jobs one way or the other. Keyna Norwegian remains adamant that her band is not getting what it's due. She wanted budgeting and fund allocation procedures to be revamped, but received no support from her fellow chiefs at last week's leadership meeting.

When a dispute occurred over inclusion in the pipeline working group, Norwegian said things are too contentious and should be dealt with behind closed doors. She said the Deh Cho should continue to project an image of solidarity, especially to industry. There are indeed some rifts, as may be expected among 13 member organizations.

Fort Providence Metis delegate Richard Lafferty's response to Norwegian should be duly noted. He said contentious discussions are unfortunate, "but it only helps us grow." As for holding closed meetings, he argued that the Dehcho Process is a public process, and it proves that leaders can work through issues even while under fire.


In the Nov. 3 edition of Yellowknifer inaccurate information was published in the First in line for permits story. Prospecting permits north of the 68th parallel last for five years. Permits south of the 68th parallel are good for three years.

Also, in the literacy photo feature, Aldo Orsi was misidentified in a photo at the bottom-right of the page.

In the Oct. 29 edition, it was reported a personnel review of the North Slave Correctional Centre was being carried out by the Department of Public Works that is instead being done on behalf of the Department of Justice by employees outside of the department. Yellowknifer regrets these errors.