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Grading our MLAs
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 11, 2011

To say it's been a tumultuous three years in the legislative assembly since the last election is perhaps an understatement.

With clashes over proposed job cuts, board mergers and changes to supplementary health benefits, not to mention Premier Floyd Roland's personal problems, it's been a bumpy ride for the territorial government.

MLAs are back in the legislative assembly for their last budget session before the territorial general election this fall. It seems an opportune time to grade our seven Yellowknife MLAs.

Sandy Lee: The Range Lake MLA was in tough as Health and Social Services minister but it's the portfolio Lee wanted in her two terms serving as a regular MLA prior to this one, so it's a job for which she should have been well-prepared. Alas, she wasn't and it showed almost immediately. Whether backpedaling (twice) on proposed changes to supplementary health benefits for seniors and persons with chronic illnesses, or all too often, hiding behind bureaucrats in her department when controversy arises, the minister was on unsteady ground several times. That said, there have been successes. Lee helped establish the homeless day shelter and opened a dementia centre at Aven Manor. It's been a rough ride for Lee, perhaps she's due for a rebound. Grade: C-

Dave Ramsay: The Kam Lake MLA has been a perennial thorn in the side of cabinet since his first election to the legislative assembly in 2003, and there's been no love lost in this term. He was one of Premier Floyd Roland's harshest critics during the debacle over the premier's extra-marital affair, and has dined on the Deh Cho Bridge fiasco in the legislative assembly for three years. Ramsay has made no bones about his desire to be a cabinet minister, and was disappointed he wasn't given the finance portfolio in this government. He should therefore be wary of the cautionary tale exemplified by Sandy Lee, who he replaced as Yellowknife's barking attack dog in the legislative assembly after she was promoted to cabinet. Grade: B

Bob McLeod: Much like his brother and cabinet colleague, Michael McLeod, the Yellowknife South MLA has flown largely under the radar. The Industry, Tourism and Investment minister has drawn few complaints during his first foray into territorial politics, even while numerous issues facing the NWT affected his portfolio: complaints about too much red tape in mineral exploration, Yellowknife's flagging diamond cutting and polishing industry, the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. A former bureaucrat, McLeod's lack of knowledge on certain issues - he didn't know that the Ontario government had rejected the shared use of the GNWT's Canadian diamond brand, for instance - is troubling. As was his pledge for "cabinet solidarity" when cabinet colleague Michael Miltenberger wanted to do away with our elected school boards. Grade: B-

Wendy Bisaro: The Frame Lake MLA was a fence sitter while on city council, and is a fence sitter in the legislative assembly. "I'm a firm believer in the autonomy of school boards," she said in response to auditor general Sheila Fraser's 2010 report on NWT education. "That said, I agree the department needs to play more of a leadership role as recommended by the auditor general. The department needs to provide more direction and more guidance."

She wasn't very inspiring either when she railed against GNWT spending at last year's Winter Olympic Games and then joined a MLA junket to attend them, or in her comparison of social problems between the NWT and Kenya from the comfort of her posh hotel in Nairobi. She gets points for helping to push through legislation to make it easier for people to donate food. Her predecessor Charles Dent once rated himself a B+, we'll give her a C-

Bob Bromley: Regardless of one's opinions on global warming, it's hard to ignore the influence the Ecology North founder exacts over cabinet and regular MLAs.

Whether it be getting the government to set aside $1.3 million a year to establish a biomass industry, or tightening up conflict of interest rules for former cabinet ministers, the Weledeh MLA has proved to be one of the most effective politicians in the legislative assembly. Any bets on who will be minister of Environment and Natural Resources next term? Grade: A

Robert Hawkins: Possibly one of the worst public speakers ever elected to represent a Yellowknife riding in the legislative assembly; hopeless in his pursuit of a cabinet seat; shameless in his self-promotion and ceaseless campaigning. Still, the Yellowknife Centre MLA has developed a reputation as being one of the most accessible politicians in the legislative assembly. Few birthday parties, weddings, funerals and bridge games go by without his attendance. He is also apparently on call for his constituents day and night. Grade: B

Glen Abernethy: The first-term MLA representing the Great Slave riding has put in a solid performance. He was instrumental in getting a review of the Child and Family Services Act and bold in his questioning over proposed changes to supplementary health benefits.

Regardless, out of all the MLAs representing Yellowknife ridings, he is the least known and likely the most vulnerable come election time this fall. Grade: B+

A brighter future
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011

While driving down Fort Liard's main street it's hard to miss the new display board in front of the community office and the message it's communicating.

In bold black letters against a white background, one side of the sign currently reads missing school is missing out. Ideas don't get much more straightforward than that.

The Fort Liard District Education Authority and the Youth Justice Committee, which partnered to install the display board and sponsor the related poster contest, were ahead of their time. School attendance, which has always been lurking as a concern, has recently moved to the forefront primarily because of the territorial government's Aboriginal Student Achievement Initiative.

According to information provided during the Deh Cho's Aboriginal Student Achievement forum, it's estimated the average aboriginal student in the NWT misses more than 41 days of school each year. By the end of Grade 9 that adds up to two years of missed classes. Non-aboriginal students miss half as much school.

Clearly attendance, or rather the lack thereof, has to be tackled if student achievement, aboriginal or otherwise, is to improve. Students who miss classes not only hurt their own education, they also slow down the education of their classmates. Teachers have to spend extra time helping students catch up on the lessons they missed so they can advance with the rest of the class.

Students in the Deh Cho are almost on par with their counterparts in the rest of the territory when it comes to truancy.

The Deh Cho has, on average, approximately an 85 per cent attendance level. The percentage ranges from close to 80 to more than 90 in different schools in the region.

Territory-wide the average attendance was 86 per cent for the 2009-10 school year, the equivalent of a student missing one and a half days of school every two weeks. The average rose slightly above the 2008-09 number of 85.5 per cent.

The Fort Liard District Education Authority and the Youth Justice Committee deserve credit for taking steps to help combat the problem of low attendance. By partnering to develop a poster contest with a public display board, the two groups are targeting everyone in the hamlet to ensure the message gets out.

Attendance, after all, isn't just the responsibility of students. Parents, caregivers and even concerned community members play a role in ensuring students attend classes every day.

As Robert Firth, the project's organizer, pointed out, a display board and some posters are a small step to combat truancy, but they are a step. If communities come together to create enough steps, improved student attendance and student achievement will be the reward.

A manly North
Editorial Comment
Kira Curtis
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day girls! That's right, according to a report by The Conference Board of Canada's "Boy Oh Boy" map, the North is more male than female in comparison to southern Canada.

That should mean we women have the pick of the litter this Valentine's, so to speak. Like a game of musical chairs: when the song and dance is over, some guy's going to be left standing without a date.

There's a couple reasons why this statistic swings in our favour, one being that the world over, more boys are born than girls every year. In fact, in Canada there's about five per cent more, so that already tilts the scales.

But the other, more obvious reason, is that males tend to migrate to places where there's more heavy industry, like the oil sands in Alberta, the logging industry along the north coast of mainland British Columbia and the diamond mines of the NWT.

There are 10 per cent more men up here vying to stand out and win over a lady.

This is great news to any single woman in the North, especially in comparison to women living in some of southern Canada's heavily female populated cities. This yang of the statistic leaves southern women fighting over men's affection, which I'm sure is very lovely for the guys, but I am not a guy and fighting for attention is a battle I'd rather avoid.

Now I don't know whether we women are drawn to the beaches, or that the gruff and manly industries of coastal Canada have died, taking the men with them, but both eastern and western shores are a hot spot for women. Each tip of Canada's wingspan has the lowest concentration of men, from Cape Breton, N.S., to Victoria, B.C. - or as we from Vancouver Island refer to it: "Chicktoria."

Oh yes, the capital of British Columbia has one of the least favourable population demographics for single females in Canada, with about seven per cent more gals than guys.

So moving straight from what should be my least favourable population in to what should be my favourite was exciting. Yellowknife has around 400 more single lads than lasses. Of Norman Wells 765 residents, 405 of them are guys leaving only 355 girls, and even the smaller hamlet of Aklavik, our closest companion, has 315 men to 275 women.

So why then, of all the places I choose to settle down throughout this massive territory, would I decide on Inuvik - the only town in the NWT where the women outnumber the men. I guess you can take the girl away from "Chicktoria" but you can't take the "Chicktoria" away from the girl.

Talk is cheap
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It's easy to "support" something when you don't have to pay for it.

Yellowknifer spoke to four Yellowknife MLAs last week concerning the city's proposed Con Mine community energy system and all, save Kam Lake MLA Dave Ramsay, spoke enthusiastically of the $60 million project.

"There's a lot of safeguards built into this, that way we just don't run out and get a $49 million loan and realize it will never work," said Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins of the city's plan to seek voter approval to borrow money that would in all likelihood pay for the lion's share of the project should it proceed.

It's curious how none of those MLAs thought it necessary for the GNWT to step in and offer some money toward what essentially is the city's biggest capital expense undertaking ever.

The federal government is contributing between $10 million and $20 million toward the project. A substantial sum, but the city - and its ratepayers - are potentially on the hook for the remainder of the cost as long as private backers remain lacking.

Last week, Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger announced $2.7 million will be set aside in this year's territorial budget for energy projects that reduce the use of fossil fuels, like hydro, biomass and geothermal.

Why aren't Yellowknife MLAs chasing down some of this money for the city's downtown district energy system?

Questions still remain on whether the Con energy plan is even viable, but it would be reassuring to know that our territorial government was willing to help out with the enormous costs associated with this plan, and not just tepid assurances that territorial government buildings will be signed on as energy plan users.

Yellowknife represents one half the territory; our MLAs sometimes seem unable to remember that.

Full disclosure essential in democracy
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The public discussion of Yellowknives Ndilo Chief Ted Tsetta spending with the band's credit card should be welcomed by Ndilo and Dettah band members.

All politicians must be held accountable for the way they spend public money, from mayors to chiefs to MLAs and premiers.

The main problem with the debate over the chief's spending is that the facts have only been revealed in a secret meeting of the band council.

This is a mistake. Band members are now being asked to evaluate the actions of their leaders with only sketchy information. Dettah Band Chief Ed Sangris accuses Chief Tsetta of misspending. Tsetta denies it, insisting the money was spent properly. Sangris refuses to reveal exactly how much was spent and for what.

So now band members are left in the dark. Who are they to believe?

Maybe both chiefs are half right. Perhaps band members, if they knew how the money was spent, may agree some of Tsetta's expenditures were legitimate and some were not.

The public discussion could lead to new policies based upon direction given by band members.

But that discussion isn't going to take place because of secrecy. Who does that serve? Not the band members, not democracy.

Band members should insist the credit card charges be laid on the table at another special meeting. Let the people decide the right and wrong based on the facts.

Maybe we haven't come so far
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

It wasn't all that long ago when a woman, assaulted by her boyfriend or husband, could expect to

be blamed for the beating she took.

After all, she must have said or done something to bring such fury her way, right? When all was said and done, she probably got just what she had coming to her.

But we've come a long way since then, and now we expect people to be accountable for their actions, especially ones of violence.

That is, unless you happen to be a Kivalliq teacher or a young offender.

The teacher in our region who was assaulted in his classroom recently by a male student, has been left alone to deal with the emotional scars the incident left in its wake.

He has the support of family members, of course, and a number of fellow educators phoned with well wishes, but the system he's served so well has abandoned him.

There have been no calls from the Government of Nunavut offering any form of counselling in the wake of the beating the teacher took.

There's been no understanding. No support.

And the teacher, like the women of so long ago, has been asked numerous times what he said or did to tick the student off.

The teacher feels like he's being blamed for being a victim, and is left to deal with the insinuation that it was his fault the student lost control.

Peering through blackened eyes over his swollen face - knowing he's always done his best in his classroom - who could blame him for feeling there's no empathy left in the world and no accountability for a person's actions?

Thankfully, he had a stand-up boss who went to the wall for him when the local district education authority met over the incident, convincing it to expel the student.

And some in the community did approach the teacher to express their heartfelt concern, but one wonders if more would have come forward if the teacher was a homegrown educator.

Hey, we all know the problems when something like this happens in our region.

Some don't show support or speak out because they're scared of retribution, especially when violence is involved.

Others ill-advisedly feel it's better to side with the local person, even if he or she is in the wrong.

And, still others look for excuses to justify the action, as in the person must have done something to provoke it.

All three responses deprive a town or hamlet from ever truly becoming a community.

Communities support each other through difficult times, have the courage to separate right from wrong, and take steps to make things right when a wrong has been committed.

When we ostracize someone for being a victim of violence, we become a community in name only.

We open a dark place where we can go to create a false sense of security by convincing ourselves the person probably had it coming and if we just ignore what happened, it will go away.

Maybe we really haven't come all that far after all!

Squabbling nation
NWT News/North - Monday, February 7, 2011

Devolution has been in the works for decades.

Yet, despite generations of negotiations and planning, the GNWT and aboriginal governments cannot seem to reach consensus on an agreement that will undoubtedly affect everyperson in our great territory.

The crux of the argument: who should be making the deal?

We understand that aboriginal leaders must protect their people's rights under the treaties and the best way to do that is to hold Canada to its obligations whenever possible. Sometimes, refusing to negotiate or going to court is the best strategy. However, this may be an instance where such stubbornness will do more harm than good.

Devolution is a complex issue and who makes the deal isn't as important as the deal itself. It's not in the interest of aboriginal governments to accept an agreement that leaves anyone worse off. But refusing to sit at the table or threatening court action will not stop a deal from being signed.

Unfortunately, the territorial government has not been very approachable. Instead of telling aboriginal governments they can't access their share of the money until they sign, Premier Floyd Roland should have agreed to hold their share in a trust account until they decided to come on board.

Such an action would have at least demonstrated a willingness to work with the aboriginal governments. It would have also shown an understanding of the aboriginal government's treaty position.

How do we explain the divide that exists between aboriginal governments and the members of the legislative assembly? Many MLAs are also land claims beneficiaries. Settling a land claim does not erase the NWT citizenship. Nor are aboriginal governments completely independent of territorial government support. For now, and likely well into the future, the fates of both the NWT and aboriginal governments will be intertwined.

This is not the time to butt heads. The future of the territory is at stake and going to the negotiating table united will ensure a stronger package.

Ultimately, regions with a settled land claim will see the most benefits of a devolution deal. Not only will their people share in money paid to their aboriginal governments directly from resource development, they will also enjoy the benefits of resource dollars spent on territorial government programming.

Fort Smith councillor should apologize
NWT News/North - Monday, February 7, 2011

People make mistakes and it's what we do afterwards that defines our character. Fort Smith Councillor Sheila Sauteur-Chadwick is facing one such defining moment.

Late last month she was convicted of alcohol related offences, made worse by the fact there were children involved in the incident.

According to legislation, her actions are not considered unbecoming a town councillor, so her seat at the table is not in jeopardy. However, Sauteur-Chadwick's actions were definitely unbefitting a public figure.

Aside from community governance, elected officials also carry the burden of upholding the image of their hamlet or town, and serve as role models. It's a tall order served with plenty of pressure, and it takes strong character not to bend under the stress.

Only Sauteur-Chadwick can decide if she is up to the task, especially now that she will be under heavy public scrutiny and will need to earn back the public trust.

Regardless of whether she chooses to remain on council, she owes her community an apology.

Why aren't students in class?
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 7, 2011

Lack of attendance at school can be the biggest obstacle to learning, passing and eventually graduating. Not graduating can be the biggest obstacle to employment, income and housing.

Ask any teacher or principal in Nunavut and they'll acknowledge getting students to class is a challenge.

Attendance rates at Nunavut schools range from 49 to 93.1 per cent, reflecting the spectrum of approaches individual schools use to attract students to attend on a regular basis, with varying levels of success.

Kugluktuk High School, for example, requires students to achieve certain attendance rates to participate in the Grizzlies sports teams. Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit recently set up a video games room. Many schools have breakfast programs to feed students before classes start for the day, and some schedule fun activities for Fridays, such as Grise Fiord's Ummimak School's recent pyjama party. Some schools hand out prizes for steady attendance in the form of gift certificates, bikes or iPods.

Ask any teacher or principal in Nunavut why they have to go to such lengths to get students to attend school and you'll get as many answers as there are educators, such as there are no immediate penalties for not attending school; many children sleep in the morning and arrive late, missing half of each school day; parents distrust schools as agents of assimilation, residential schools being a prime example of an educational system targeted for this purpose; and attendance drops as students get older because teens find entertainment elsewhere more alluring than algebra.

That's just for starters.

However, Nunavut has made great strides in adapting its curriculum to teach traditional skills and instil cultural pride. Certification of elders as Innait Inuksiutilirijiit - a recognition of their role in the education of Nunavummiut youth - and on-the-land programs are ways Inuit knowledge is present in the classroom.

Just having secondary school classes available in the communities, instead of sending children to regional centres for high school has made a Grade 12 diploma more accessible. But, again, students have to attend to graduate.

The scope of the problem is difficult to ascertain as the regions collect their attendance statistics in different ways, making comparison difficult. How can we know if one Kitikmeot school's approach is working better than that at a Qikiqtani school if they count absences differently?

The move to establish a standardized attendance tracking system across the territory will provide valuable data on the scope of the problem and the efficacy of possible solutions. It will cost $210,000 to establish and $40,000 a year to maintain, but if it can help us educate our kids more effectively it will be money well spent.


The freezing process for arsenic trioxide underground at Giant Mine is not expected to be fully in effect until March. Incorrect information appeared in the story "It's getting cold down there" in the Feb. 9 edition of Yellowknifer.

We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

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