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Monday, July 11, 2005
A cork on supply

If Nunavut's liquor distribution system was designed to limit consumption, it's working perfectly.

One might even suspect the goofy way you have to buy booze was designed by someone who's had one too many.

People who want to buy liquor legally in Iqaluit have to order it from Rankin Inlet. People in Rankin have to order from Iqaluit.

If we're so concerned about over-drinking, let's take this one step further. As part of decentralization, move the liquor warehouses to Resolute and Grise Fiord and make people pick up their cases of Molson or 40-pounders of vodka on snowmobile.

In all seriousness, however, Nunavut's well-documented trouble with alcohol is no laughing matter. According to the Nunavut Liquor Commission's financial statement for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004, $123 worth of booze was sold for every person in the territory. In comparison, sales in the west were worth $854 for every NWT resident.

We don't believe that this is a true picture of alcohol consumption. There is a thriving bootlegging industry in our communities. But it does seem the convoluted liquor distribution system discourages drinking. Any changes considered should keep that in mind.

Get in the game

And then there were six... After three years, four political masters and plenty of talk, the NWT Sport and Recreation Council is in the game.

This council oversees five other organizations involved in sports and recreation in the NWT. Officially, its goals include improving and adding programs, especially in the communities, and reducing administrative duplication.

Really, it was designed to break the stranglehold Sport North and larger centres had on sports funding and sports policy.

Now that the first meeting is complete and all the self-congratulation is over, council members need to get down to work.

The biggest challenge will be to live up to its lofty goal of reducing administrative burden. We're not convinced a new council will do anything more than suck badly-needed dollars away from kids and teams into the bureaucracy.

Representation needs to be addressed. Council members were too quick to dismiss concerns that no-one from the Deh Cho was appointed. To be truly representative, the council and its political masters must ensure that every region and aboriginal group has seats on the board.

And it all has to happen quickly because there are likely plenty of naysayers on the sidelines waiting for the council to fumble the ball.

Health warning

People concerned about healthcare in Hay River should use the search link on the top of this page and submit the keyword Stanton.

They will find stories from 2002 on budget deficits and cutbacks at the Yellowknife hospital, stories similar to the one in last week's News/North headlined: Nine hospital workers laid off in Hay River.

In both cases, hospital administrators cut staff to meet budget targets set by the territorial Department of Health. In both cases, the health minister was Michael Miltenberger. In Stanton's case, the cuts caused a full scale political scandal involving doctors, nurses and the public. Policies were reversed and the Stanton board was dismissed, along with the hospital administrator.

It was painfully obvious both the board and administrator were following orders from Miltenberger to balance the hospital's books but the minister deflected all the heat back on them. The lesson learned was all the cutbacks did was shift costs to medevacs and increased (often unwanted) overtime.

Inefficiencies and duplication can creep into any organization and a shake-up is sometimes warranted. But past experience has shown quality of healthcare can take a back seat to balancing unreasonable budgets. Miltenberger has remarkable immunity to public criticism and a rapid recovery rate as he is back in the same health portfolio.

It will be up to the people of Hay River to ensure health history is not repeated.

Union dues and don'ts

The 2,700 members of the Nunavut Employees Union should be asking questions, very loud ones, as to where their dues are going and what services they are entitled to.

The union the represents the territory's government workers has been in existence for six years. Recently, its parent organization, the Public Service Alliance of Canada questioned "NEU's ability to implement convention decisions and fully represent members."

Because of that, the national executive vice-president is in Iqaluit to audit the Nunavut union's finances and practices. While no improprieties are suspected, members need to be kept informed of the workings of their union.

They are entitled to know how the money entrusted to the union is used, and that it is used for their benefit.

Fuel mistakes need consequences

Editorial Comment
Brent Reaney
Kivalliq News

There is no denying the problems caused for Kivalliq residents over the past few years by that sweet, indispensable nectar of crude oil, better known as gasoline.

Clearly, the blame for spills and problems with our gas supply should be aimed at the companies providing the service or product.

But with snow machines and ATVs now an important part of many Kivallimiut's livelihood, we need the Nunavut government to be more cautious in its renewal of agreements with companies we've had problems with.

Few here need reminding the region was worst hit by the first bad gas problems in 2001, which stranded numerous people on the land with broken down snow machines.

And this past winter, the Kivalliq dealt with a slightly less serious - though at times still debilitating - fuel supply problem.

Then last week, after months of investigating, Transport Canada said it will pursue four charges against a vessel owned by Woodward's Oil Ltd. in connection with three separate Kivalliq fuel spills.

At less than 1,500 litres each, the spills were small in comparison to other environmentally destructive dousings, though the charges could end up costing the company a total fine of more than $300,000.

GN representatives were quoted in this newspaper last fall as saying a three-year contract would not be signed before the conclusion of the Transport Canada investigation.

But some time prior to the department's filing of the charges on June 28 - and with an agreement in place for the upcoming re-supply season - the pact was renewed.

Last week, deputy minister Tom Rich said he is still comfortable dealing with Woodward's because the company has made important operational changes to help ensure the spills will not happen again.

We understand this reasoning, though the changes should have been made after the 2003 spill in Coral Harbour.

And according to Shell Canada, the renewal of an agreement to supply fuel to the Kivalliq is being negotiated as you read this. Now we don't think Shell should necessarily lose its fuel contract with the GN, but after what happened this past winter, other suppliers should definitely be investigated.

Finally, we ask Woodward's to call us back.

Typing in the word "spill," along with the acronym "NTCL" - Northern Transportation Company Ltd., the Kivalliq's former delivery company of 27 years prior to 2003 - into the Northern News Services online archive calls up but two other documented leaks.

No matter how small the amount of liquid, your company is believed to have soiled Nunavut's shores four times within the past two years.

Kivalliq residents deserve to hear what your representatives have to say.

Unfortunately, it seems we will have to wait until the court circuit comes to Rankin Inlet on Aug. 15.

A cultural consideration

Editorial Comment
Jason Unrau
Inuvik Drum

Inuvik will play host to more than 50 artists when the 17th Great Northern Arts Festival kicks off next week. As in previous years, the event will feature not only artists in the visual disciplines but performances and, for the first time, a local filmmaking effort too.

As the longest running event in the town's history, it is unfortunate that this cultural smorgasbord does not have its own dedicated venue. Sure, the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex has the space, and for a hockey and curling rink the arts festival staff and volunteers have done a fair job in recent memory of making it look, well, not so much like a hockey and curling rink.

It's true that the petroleum show, a similar-sized event, manages to use the complex. However, staging a trade show on a hockey rink tends to go well with the industrial feel of tungsten lights and sheet metal. An arts festival is a little bit more of an organic affair, which demands a warmer, intimate setting.

So with new schools to be built - both elementary and eventually a high school - and a college dorm now in the capital plan, it might be difficult to justify building a regional culture centre on top of everything else. Or would it?

Which brings us to Sir Alexander Mackenzie School. Plans are underway to design a new building to replace the aging elementary school, thus sealing the fate of that titanic wooden structure fronting main street, destined to fall under the wrecking ball. While the argument not to renovate but replace it has convinced capital planners of the economics of starting anew, it would be a shame to erase SAMS without trying to preserve at least some of this historic structure.

Imagine if the large entranceway, right at the back of the gymnasium/auditorium was left intact and turned into a gallery and performance space.

Consider that the new elementary school will not include an auditorium, so why knock down the one we already have? Additionally, the entranceway contains offices - perfect for an arts society currently borrowing space from the town - and included in what would be saved in such a project is a library and woodworking room.

Not to mention the possibility of staging future arts festivals in a space designed precisely for this kind of event, the revamped SAMS could be outfitted with a proper sound system perfect for year-round film showings, concerts and old time dances.

Imagine spinning your partner while surrounded by art work rather than the sterile green walls and buzzing fluorescent lights over at the recreation hall.

Instead of completely tearing down a landmark building, it would make perfect sense to save even a part of it - a way of maintaining some of Inuvik's cultural landscape - in order to create a venue to inspire and showcase the region's ongoing artistic efforts.

But the time to act on a project like this is coming soon, before the corrugated steel and its "built-to-last" blandness consumes the skyline.

Short end of the stick

Editorial Comment
Derek Neary
Deh Cho Drum

As reported in News/North, Dehcho First Nations is ready to make its court case against the federal government go away.

In what is being termed a "settlement agreement," DFN is accepting $15 million in cash and a few million more for Dehcho participation in the environmental review of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline.

This is, by definition, settling.

It's settling because it's far from being what the Dehcho wanted.

Chiefs Keyna Norwegian and Lloyd Chicot pointed out that the money is desperately needed in this cash-starved region. The Inuvialuit and the Gwich'in have settled land claims and have fairly big bucks rolling in through their various ventures. Not so in Deh Cho.

Not only is the Dehcho Process far from being finalized, economic development remains on the back-burner. At the Dehcho Assembly in Kakisa last week, the Dehcho Economic Development Corporation was given short shrift. Over the course of four full days of talks, the economic development corporation representatives addressed delegates for only about 15-20 minutes. They were asked few questions. That was essentially it for any talk of building business.

Other aspects of the settlement agreement expose how the Dehcho has essentially bowed down to government demands. A clause forbidding DFN from launching any more court action against the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act to halt the pipeline is most damaging. Ottawa clearly viewed the Dehcho's litigious actions as an enormous hindrance and successfully sought to prevent a repeat of the situation in the future. The Dehcho acquiesced, and thereby has forsaken its greatest leverage - the pipeline - in trying to negotiate further gains in self-government.

On another front, DFN has pleaded for an independent Dehcho Resource Management Authority. The federal government has indicated that it isn't opposed to creating such a regional body, but would not commit to making it separate from the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. Despite getting only a "maybe," the Dehcho signed the settlement agreement anyway.

That means DFN may never realize true autonomy in fully managing its lands. Should a Conservative government come to power over the next several years, then the lack of a guarantee could harm the Dehcho's chances of ever realizing that provision.

In addition, any hopes of gaining more than one seat on the joint review panel have been forsaken.

By filing its lawsuit last year, the Dehcho had gone into the trenches. Its weapons were drawn and cocked. Regional aboriginal leaders spent the next several months quietly looking through the cross hairs. In the end, they never pulled the trigger.

Going to court to fight this case would have been a long and painful battle. Self-government initiatives would have been stalled indefinitely because the government would have refused to negotiate. Federal funding - which represents the bulk of DFN's operating budget - may have been pulled for months or even years.

Under enormous pressure and in return for a desperately needed $15 million, the Dehcho has waved the white flag in this standoff. We'll never know how much more they could have achieved.


A photo caption in last week's News/North incorrectly identified a person.

Laura Gargan-Sanguez of Jean Marie River is actually the person pictured talking to Thomas Berger at the Deh Cho Assembly in Kakisa (Thomas Berger back in town, July 4).

News/North regrets any confusion caused by the error.