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Let them drink safely
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
It's a scourge that weighs heavily on our health care system, justice workers and the economic well-being of our city. Homeless addicts fill up our drunk tanks and emergency rooms. These down-and-out individuals have chased businesses, particularly in Centre Square Mall, away from downtown into the suburbs.
The Salvation Army and various levels of government have done much in recent years to address this problem, including the construction of Bailey House - a transitional home for homeless men, and the establishment of a day shelter where addicts can stay warm during winter.
But the transitional home is not for hardcore addicts, and the day shelter only diverts them, temporarily, from the streets.
During his visit to Yellowknife early this month, Dr. Jeff Turnbull, president of Canadian Medical Association, suggested a method of treatment involving a combination of housing, 24-hour medical care, and moderate but regular doses of alcoholic beverages as a means to keep our homeless addicts from harm and lower the number of arrests and emergency room visits.
It seems like strange advice: offering booze to those it harms most, but Turnbull - who helped found the program in Ottawa - argues at least addicts won't be turning to hairspray and hand sanitizers for their alcohol fix. Eight years after it began, the Managed Alcohol Program is treating 200 Ottawa-area patients a day.
The program is not designed as a cure, but rather to keep the alcoholism of the most hardcore addicts in check. A 2006 report found a 51 per cent reduction in the number of police encounters among its study group of 17, and 36 per cent fewer visits to emergency rooms.
Some people can be cured of their alcoholism. For others, as Turnbull and other physicians have discovered, such a goal is not realistic: the best option is to ensure they are safe and not over-burdening the system. It's certainly food - or at least drink - for thought.
The right to know
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
The free flow of information is an important part of an open and just society. Governments that meet requests for information from the taxpaying public and the media show they have nothing to hide. By being open, our governments spark discussion and debate healthy to the progress and strength of any democratic society.
Yet this is a far-fetched notion for the federal government. Ranked dead last in a study on freedom-of-information practices among five nations - Australia, United Kingdom, Ireland and New Zealand - Canada lacks openness surrounding its affairs.
Last year, Yellowknifer asked the federal government whether it had conducted mercury testing of fish in lakes near the city.
Passed from one official to another and back again, it was a full month before the question was finally answered. A simple question like that shouldn't take a month and it's hard to imagine how long it would take for a larger request.
However, unlike federal officials, the territorial government has a better track record of making information available, although timeliness stands to be improved for some departments. It's important for the GNWT to remain open and transparent and not fall into the habit of hiding behind access-to-information requests in order to drag out the process, like the feds too often have.
Being co-operative and providing information to John Q Public shouldn't be a scary thing. After all, we have a right to know what our government is up to.
No executive class on new president's gravy train
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 16, 2011
From a journalistic point of view, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) president Cathy Towtongie is among the most interesting of all political entities to observe.
Those who support Towtongie believe in her power-to-the-people approach, while those who oppose her view it as smoke and mirrors.
The naysayers are easy to spot because they're usually still scratching their heads in bewilderment months after she emerges victorious from an election.
They just don't understand her appeal to the working masses, the middle class and those less fortunate.
True, she may not be the most-refined politician in NTI history, but a couple of her predecessors were pretty dapper and we know where that got them.
Towtongie can be abrasive at times, but sometimes leaders need to be abrasive to get someone's attention, especially when it's someone silly enough to believe if they ignore her long enough, she'll just go away.
Not going to happen. And that's part of her appeal.
You can bet card-carrying members of the old boys club, and those who have succumbed to the lure of the public trough, will do everything they can to turn sentiment against her before the next NTI presidential election in 2012.
Those groups don't like presidents who slash executive salaries, refuse company cars, and prefer to live in apartments rather than a company house that borders on mansion status in Nunavut.
Not too many free gourmet meals and nice seats to a Senators game coming their way with Towtongie in charge.
One of the mistakes Towtongie made her first time as NTI president was to let her heart get ahead of her brains.
That would lead to her attention being divided on numerous issues, rather than focused on the task at hand.
In short, she was trying to right every wrong - real or perceived - and prop up every shortfall in one term as president - sometimes in a single week, if you can believe some insiders at the time.
Unfortunately, that approach, although somewhat admirable, is always ineffective.
It would also lead to the aggressive side of her personality spending too much time in control and her charm, intellect and persuasion being too often neglected.
And that can lead to alienation and a loss of votes.
It will be interesting to see if she learned from those mistakes this time around.
Towtongie has the ability to give hope to those trying to improve their quality of life because she comes across as genuinely caring.
And, her periodic aggression aside, most Nunavummiut - both Inuit and non-NTI voting non-Inuit - are fairly comfortable around her, which can be a magical key to continued political success.
The tools are there, and Towtongie has enough time left in her present term to convince Inuit she knows how to use them properly.
Based on what we've seen so far, the one tool we don't expect to see in her hand is a gravy ladle.
And that's a smooth change of pace, as NTI gravy often has far too many lumps that someone, ultimately, has to pay for.
Deh Cho change of heart
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Before the pipeline's approval and during the Joint Review Panel process, this was a sound strategy, providing aboriginal groups in the region with solid leverage when negotiating.
Now that the pipeline has passed the approval stage, it is prudent that Dehcho First Nations considers what actions will best support its members.
Obviously that should not mean compromising cultural, land, harvesting, social and employment interests, but taking a hard line against the pipeline might no longer deliver beneficial results.
Shifting gears, the DFN is now considering ways it can get what it wants while supporting the pipeline -- such as joining the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and building regional expertise to take advantage of associated contracts.
Grand Chief Sam Gargan is correct when he says aboriginal groups in the Deh Cho have to get themselves ready, and his leadership has been instrumental in the DFN's changing approach to the pipeline.
Regardless of DFN's new willingness to work with the pipeline, Gargan has not changed the First Nations' priorities in terms of settling land claims and negotiating impact benefit agreements.
Imperial Oil, the federal government and the GNWT should not mistake co-operation with complacency. First Nations in the Deh Cho still control a large segment of land required for the pipeline and their willingness to work with the those backing the Mackenzie Gas Project should be reciprocated.
Show us the money
NWT News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
The GNWT rolled out its 2011 budget on Feb. 3. At $1.3 billion in expenditures, the budget represents a marginal $40 million increase in spending over last year. Although the GNWT should be credited for not raising taxes, the need for more revenue cannot be hidden.
Our debt load is climbing -- expected to reach more than $500 million by the end of the year. Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger is proposing a strategy that will see capital funding cut by $75 million each year beginning next year and to cap spending increases by three per cent.
That does not leave a lot of room for new initiatives, but hopefully it won't mean program cuts either.
Regardless, we are in desperate need of more money. The list of wants from the communities is long: new police detachments, long-term care centres, addictions centres and roads, as well as additional investment in everything from health care to education.
Our debt repayment plan will make it difficult for the government to meet those demands. The need for reinvestment can't be ignored, even though it would seem prudent to reduce spending to pay off our massive debt - though some poor choices, Deh Cho Bridge mismanagement primary among them, have allowed that debt to climb too high.
Unfortunately, there is only so much revenue available in the NWT, obvious by the nearly $1 billion we receive from Ottawa each year. Yet, it's not enough, and any hope that devolution will bring us greater riches - some remain quite skeptical of whether we'll truly come out ahead - remains years away.
Canada constantly speaks about the need to increase our Arctic sovereignty, but its financial commitment isn't reflective of that importance. Indeed, there have been a number of funding initiatives in the past few years, but each has had a sunset clause. We need consistent funding year after year.
Waiting for our Territorial Formula Financing to be renewed in 2014 or a devolution deal isn't going to help people in our communities enjoy the quality of life they deserve.
An iron will
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Baffinland Iron Mines' Mary River site, 160 kilometres south of Pond Inlet, could produce 18 million tonnes of iron ore annually, for a mine life of 45 to 50 years.
On Feb. 4, ArcelorMittal and Nunavut Iron Ore bought more than two thirds of Baffinland's shares.
ArcelorMittal, based in Luxembourg, operates in 60 countries. In 2009, it had revenues of $65.1 billion and produced eight per cent of the world's steel output.
Baffinland, a small Toronto-based exploration company, had established relationships with businesses and organizations in Nunavut, especially in Pond Inlet. Though ArcelorMittal has the technical expertise and the financial clout to establish a mine at Mary River, as a massive multinational company there are questions how responsive it will be to the community's concerns and ambitions.
ArcelorMittal's best approach for establishing a good long-term relationship with Pond Inlet and the people of Nunavut should include, for starters, honouring commitments made by Baffinland prior to its takeover.
As well, the company should waste no time in meeting with Pond Inlet's leadership, as well as hold public meetings, to assure residents that their needs will not be trampled as one of the world's highest-quality iron ore deposits is exploited in their backyard.
Dry in name only
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 14, 2011
Thirteen hamlets restrict alcohol to some extent, and seven have decided removing alcohol altogether will help them make their communities safer places to live.
The statistics bear this out. Any RCMP officer in Nunavut will tell you the majority of calls they handle are alcohol-related.
But as Gjoa Haven SAO Enuk Pauloosie told the task force reviewing the Nunavut Liquor Act, dry hamlets are dry in name only. People still manage to get alcohol into the community, which finds its way into the hands and bellies of the people most desperate to drink. Those same individuals are often the most likely to cause trouble while drunk.
Also, the exorbitant cost of the bootlegged alcohol - hundreds of dollars a bottle - diverts money away from groceries and fuels crime. Bootlegging can wreak enough damage that people wonder if there's much point to declaring a hamlet dry.
Hamlets alone can't enforce alcohol bans. Keeping alcohol out of communities that choose to be dry requires a concerted effort by hamlets, the territory, police and alert residents. The task force should make recommendations to address these needs in the amended Liquor Act.
Grading our MLAs
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 11, 2011
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
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011
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
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 10, 2011
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.
An error appeared in the Feb. 9 edition of Yellowknifer in the article "Discovery Inn has new owners." Sally Kong was misidentified as wife and business partner to Jimmy Kong. Yellowknifer apologizes for any confusion or embarrassment this error may have caused.