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Friday, March 4, 2005
New northern industry

In October 2003, Yellowknifer reported the diamond cutting and polishing factories in town were contributing $13 million annually to the city's economy. This figure was similar to the payroll at the previously closed Con Mine.

Since that time, two of the factories - Deton' Cho Diamonds and Sirius Diamonds - have gone through some rocky financial times and their future remains unclear.

Two other factories - Arslanian Cutting Works and Laurelton Diamonds - are up and running, cutting Northern diamonds and employing about 100 workers between them.

The success of Arslanian and Laurelton proves that the secondary diamond industry is viable in the North. The key ingredients are a guaranteed supply of rough diamonds, good management and an experienced workforce.

It's also evident from recent experience that the less government involvement, the better. That government and business don't mix has been confirmed time and again, although in the North such partnerships are sometimes a necessary evil.

Once Sirius Diamonds, which is now in government hands and losing taxpayers dollars, is either sold or closed, the government's role should be more clearly defined.

Where the territorial government was particularly effective was negotiating the commitment from the diamond producers to supply Northern diamonds to Northern cutting and polishing factories. This is much like a lucrative crab quota on Canada's east coast, regulated by government, coveted by entrepreneurs.

The point is, a guaranteed supply of rough diamonds has its own value and will attract business to the North.

It's up to the government to scrutinize and maintain the integrity of the Northern diamond supply. It's up to the private sector to turn the supply into profitable businesses.

Government has a further role of training Northerners who wish to get into the diamond polishing business and this is happening.

Bringing cutting and polishing expertise from other countries is of direct benefit to the NWT, especially if these people stay and have families.

The largest problem to date has been public perception and expectations. Those who believed the cutting and polishing industry could escape the trials and tribulations all new businesses face may feel disappointed.

Those who wanted to diversify the territorial economy and were in it for the long haul have reaped solid rewards for their efforts. Cutting and polishing diamonds is here to stay.

Attitudes must change for boozing to stop

Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News

The problems with the combination of booze and sporting events in the Kivalliq are starting to rear their ugly heads once again.

While the 2005 Johnny Kook Memorial adult recreational hockey tournament is scheduled for later this month in Whale Cove, it's no secret that a number of residents are wondering if the price paid by families each year is worth it.

During each of the past few years, alcohol coming into the hamlet during the tournament has caused a number of social problems for the community.

And they're not alone. The Rankin Inlet detachment of the RCMP were kept busy this past weekend during the Avataq adult recreational hockey tourney.

The majority of the problems dealt with by the RCMP were liquor related.

There are many who feel the answer to the problem is to have local RCMP officers search as many of the athletes coming in for - or returning home from - major sporting events as time and available manpower permits.

While this approach does meet with occasional success, it has its downfalls.

First, the police have no authority to start searching people's bags simply because hamlet council or a group of concerned citizens would like them to do so. There must be probable cause, or, the bag owner must consent to an officer's request to look inside.

Second, such tactics can have a less-than-desirable effect when homecoming teams are involved, especially those winning a championship title.

There's precious little that can kill the atmosphere of friends and family members welcoming their champions home quicker than a handful of police officers going through their luggage.

And, of course, in communities accessible by snowmachine, those determined to bring liquor in for the weekend are fully adept at sneaking into town undetected.

One method that may act as a bit of a deterrent was suggested this past weekend by Rankin police.

The police could provide the name of anyone locked up due to an alcohol-related offence during a sporting event to the host committee which, in turn, could immediately disqualify that person from further competition.

If this were to become standard practice, there's no doubt it would dissuade a few from running afoul of the law, but it certainly wouldn't solve the entire problem.

Ultimately, attitudes must change before the actions of a few ruin everything for the majority.

Those who travel for the love of the sport have to find the resolve to speak out against those who use their big events as nothing more than an excuse for a drinking binge.

If the alcohol abuse continues, it's only a matter of time before communities start cancelling events and, once again, the benefits to the many will be lost due to the selfishness of a few.

Road to riches or ruin?

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

If the mood at Monday evening's Mackenzie Gas Project regulatory review process meeting was any indication of what the Joint Review Panel can expect later this year, it's safe to say there will be a myriad of social and environmental impact concerns voiced.

Billed as an "information session" to let people know what stage the review process is at, several attending the meeting wasted no time in bringing social and environmental issues to the forefront of the discussion.

Not to downplay the significance of such concerns, these meetings are becoming little more than re-runs of previous gatherings.

They tend to go something like this: speakers finish their presentations (whether about the technical aspects of the project or, in the case of Monday's meeting, the review process), the floor opens to questions.

If the questions aren't about previous industrial exploits ravaging the landscape, they are voicing worries about the downside of a boom economy piling more social ills on top of the ones already affecting the region.

"I wish people would quit complaining about all the problems that will happen if the pipeline comes," a local resident complained to me one night at a local watering hole.

"It will bring jobs and money here so what's so bad about that?"

Not so bad, if you're the one with the job and the money.

Too bad this person wasn't at Monday evening's meeting.

Then, perhaps, there could have been some real debate about the pros and cons of the proposed mega-project.

Instead, representatives from the National Energy Board, Joint Review Panel and Northern Gas Project Secretariat politely thanked people for airing their concerns and invited them to present them at the Joint Review Panel hearings, tentatively set to kick off in late-summer or early-fall.

Regardless of whether or not the pipeline gets the go-ahead, the coming public hearings will be a good thing.

Media attention - from the North and the South - will be focused on the hearings. Without a doubt, the ghost of the Berger Inquiry will be a presence, not unlike Monday evening when it was evoked in the context of social problems then and now, which are apparently still much the same.

As the Joint Review Panel's assessment is to be incorporated into the body of evidence the National Energy Board's body will examine before making a final decision on the project, the big question is will potential economic prosperity - for this region and the nation - trump environmental and social concerns?

And can there be a middle ground?

As the official from the energy board admitted Monday, this independent federal body can make conditions on any certificate it gives the proponents regarding environmental standards to uphold in any pipeline construction.

However, the NEB is not equipped with any policy to attach or enforce social impact conditions on such a certificate.

This, we are told, is in the hands of the territorial government. Hopefully, somebody down there in Yellowknife is listening.

Back in the bush

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh cho Drum

After a lengthy hiatus since my last excursion into the bush with Willy Sake, I was overdue for another trip out on the land.

I had never been on a trap-line. Luckily, Philip Bonnetrouge offered to take me along.

Back when I met Willy Sake near the edge of the highway in the fall of 2003, I was somewhat ill prepared. One of the first questions he asked was whether I had gumboots or "rubber boots" with me. Of course I was wearing only hiking boots and wound up with soaking feet by day's end, but it was an otherwise excellent experience.

This time, I thought I was properly outfitted. I had my parka, Sorel boots, ski pants, mitts, toque and a face mask. It wasn't long before Philip asked me if I had goggles. What? Goggles?

Fortunately, he had an extra set and lent them to me. Although the trails are well cleared, there are still some small branches that could easily take out an eye, especially if you're standing on the back of the sled being towed by the snowmobile, as I was.

That was a four-hour, very jarring return trip that I won't soon forget. The only thing to hold on to was the rounded wooden handle. I didn't have a death grip on it, I swear, but my fingers were getting pretty darn stiff and cramped as we went along. The other thing that became painfully obvious was that the handle was about groin height, making it very hazardous when some of the bigger bumps were encountered.

Philip was very cognizant of my overall predicament. He thoughtfully checked over his shoulder every minute or two as he operated the snowmobile. He drove slower than usual to reduce the chances that I'd be left behind in a heap.

I actually made it all the way to the trap line without getting thrown from the sled. On the trip back, however, I got dumped into the pillowy snow twice - none the worse for wear.

It was a -10C afternoon. With the windchill from the ride, it must have been closer to -25C. My face mask was quickly frosting from the warmth of my breath.

But Philip was absolutely right, it is beautiful country. We spotted lynx, caribou and marten tracks in the snow and admired the trees cloaked in puffs of white.

The trails are marked with all kinds of coloured, ribbon-like tape, mostly orange, which marks the spots where traps have been set.

At first I was a little dismayed that we returned empty handed. It would have been nice for Philip to have brought back some marten pelts to peddle - and I would have gladly shot some marten pictures - but it wasn't meant to be. It's just like when a fisherman spends a day on the lake and returns without even having had a bite on his line. It happens!

It was a worthwhile outing nonetheless. A big mahsi to Philip for being willing to let me slow him down.

It's now time to head south to visit family until the end of March, so my next bush adventure will have to wait. In the meantime, Andrew Raven has returned to assume the editorial duties here at the Drum as he did last year.