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Nurse practitioners vital to NWT
NWT News/North - Monday, February 21, 2011

Next year, funding to the nurse practitioner -- master of nursing -- program at Aurora College expires. The Department of Health and Social Services is not committed to renewing the funding, some $511,000 -- $460,000 from the GNWT, the remainder from the feds.

According the department, the future of the program will be reassessed in 2012 based on its priorities. Statistics point to a serious need for more physicians in the NWT, a need that nurse practitioners -- who can perform many the same duties as doctors - have the ability to fill.

A 2011 report by the Conference Board of Canada's Centre for the North calls the NWT's doctor situation critical - there were 65 physicians in the territory as of the 2006 census, 16 per 10,000 people.

On the other hand, the Canadian Nurses Association puts the number of registered nurses per capita in Nunavut and the NWT -- stats are combined -- at the highest in Canada at one for every 62 people as of 2008.

Despite that ratio, the NWT still struggles with nursing vacancies around the territory. At present, 50 of the 65 community health nurse positions and 15 of the 25 nurse practitioner positions in the territory are filled, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

With more graduates from Aurora College's bachelor of nursing program every year there is a real opportunity for the GNWT to develop a workforce to fill those vacancies from right here in the territory. Students graduating from Aurora College have already proven their willingness to stay in the North. Of the 14 graduates from the nurse practitioner program since it began in 2009, 12 of them are working in the NWT.

For that reason alone it makes sense the nurse practitioner program remain in place as a natural progression to their careers. If we can continue to educate these health care professionals in the North it is more likely they will stay and work in the NWT.

The GNWT should do everything it can to fill the vacancies in the health sector with permanent staff. Every vacancy means money spent on expensive locum or agency nurses who do not reside in the NWT; it means communities sometimes go without certain services, and it means patients are not necessarily seeing the same health care provider every time, which can be frustrating.

On the bright side, the GNWT has made a real effort in reducing its costs when it comes to agency nurses. In 2009-2010 the department spent $183,000 on agency fees to find southern nurses for various communities on a temporary basis. Instead, the health department is now maintaining its own list of potential locums.

By hiring the nurses directly, the department filled positions without paying the agency fees. The result was a savings of close to $168,000 in 2010-2011.

That is fiscal responsibility and it's good news. Hopefully, savings such as that will give the nurse practitioner program a fighting chance when the government looks for funds to continue the program in 2012.

At the cost of $500,000 a year it seems a small investment for big returns -- more nurses with a connection to and understanding of the NWT, money saved on agency nurse fees and a consistency of care.

Sewage and power fixes urgent
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 21, 2011

Water use inspection reports recently released by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada detail problems across Nunavut with leaking sewage lagoons and dumps improperly storing hazardous waste.

The reports often target the Government of Nunavut for the lack of water licensing compliance and for dragging its feet in tackling the bigger cleanups. But the Department of Community and Government Services says it never received copies of the reports from the federal department until after they were released to the media.

Indian and Northern Affairs is responsible for enforcing compliance with the regulations, yet its own inspection reports state the same violations persist year after year. This doesn't sound like enforcement.

What the inspections do show is that the capacity of Nunavut's dumps and sewage lagoons aren't keeping pace with ever-growing communities - and ones that are increasingly trying to accommodate mineral exploration camps - resulting in leaks, spills and other hazards.

The federal government wants industry and resource development to flourish in the North, but that can't happen in communities where power plants and waste management systems are 40 years old and already functioning well beyond capacity, if and when they function at all.

The dump at Baker Lake was singled out by an inspector as needing to refuse to take any more waste from exploration and mining camps until the current state of its hazardous waste area is dealt with.

Indian and Northern Affairs should consider investing in basic community infrastructure as economic development surges, otherwise future cleanup costs will spiral exponentially and it's likely the feds would wind up paying for that.

Foster families needed
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 21, 2011

There were 288 children in foster care in Nunavut the week of Jan. 21 and many more foster homes are needed, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.

Homes are most needed in Iqaluit, and in the other regional centres such as Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet. In the south Baffin region, they are most in need of placements for children under the age of five. The situation is so desperate, the department got $89,000 from Health Canada for a marketing campaign to recruit more foster families in the territory.

The more homes that are available, the better the department will be able to match children to an environment that meets their unique needs.

There's no question that becoming a foster parent is a daunting challenge. The financial part of the burden is lessened by the per diems paid by the department but otherwise it is essentially a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week volunteer position.

It takes a special person committed to giving kids their best start in life to step up to the plate - and the department must see to it that they are completely fit for the task - so the more people who volunteer, the better.

An unfit sentence
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 18, 2011

When was the last time you heard of a criminal asking a judge for more time in jail?

It actually happened in a Yellowknife territorial courtroom on Feb. 8, and the Crown prosecutor is largely responsible.

A 49-year-old man being sentenced for assault causing bodily harm and mischief was disenchanted with his 16-month sentence.

The offender wanted at least two years because that would have put him in the Alberta prison system, where he said the programs for inmates are superior to what NWT corrections has to offer.

This offender had punched a woman he was drinking with three times in the face. He also did $1,360 worth of damage to a motel door in his fit of rage.

The man was not new to the justice system, not at all. He had been convicted 16 times previously for violent crimes.

That's an ugly record and one deserving serious punishment.

The problem is Judge Bernadette Schmaltz was not even presented the option to put the offender behind bars for much longer than her 16-month sentence.

Crown prosecutor Janice Walsh chose to seek a summary conviction instead of an indictable one, which would have entailed a harsher penalty. Schmaltz was puzzled by the move.

Walsh offered no explanation in court for her decision.

Should she, or any other Crown prosecutor, again be inclined to give a repeat violent offender an easier road, she should at least be prepared to make it clear why.

Nothing wrong with asking questions on Con energy
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 18, 2011

Asking tough questions doesn't necessarily mean one is against the Con Mine Community Energy System.

City councillor David Wind isn't, although he did vote against a bylaw Monday that would allow the city - contingent upon voter approval in a referendum March 14 - to borrow up to $49 million to complete the energy project.

Wind said he thinks a district heating system for the downtown is good idea and would like to see it proceed, but like this newspaper, he finds too many questions have remained unanswered so far.

City hall has put residents in a difficult position: It's asking us to trust the city to borrow an amount equivalent to almost an entire year's budget with our tax dollars as a guarantee of repayment should the project falter. No customers have been signed on yet, nor has a private partner been contracted to help fund and build the project.

The city says a referendum is needed in order to obtain a $14.1 million grant from the federal government, but that's to pay for harnessing geothermal energy from Con Mine - something proposed to occur after the city builds an enormous wood pellet-fed heating plant and tears up our streets to lay circulating pipes connected to downtown buildings.

The fact the city has pushed Con Mine geothermal onto the sidelines in recent months after originally using it as the project's selling point is a troubling development. For many, that's what made the plan so appealing in the first place.

City administrator Bob Long's insistence to the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that any agreement with a private partner will be made public is a positive sign, including assurances that Northern companies will be hired to do the work if council asks him.

Nonetheless, this project remains an intriguing but nebulous proposition. Whether or not you're in favour of it, now is not the time to stop asking questions.

Building a future with trades
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 17, 2011

If the power goes out in your house, you call one. If your sink refuses to drain, you call one.

>Electricians and plumbers are just two examples of the many apprenticeship trades available in the territory and throughout the rest of Canada. After a year that's so far been filled with lacklustre news about the state of education in the Deh Cho and the territory apprenticeships have cast a recent bright note.

Tyra Moses, an electrical apprentice from Fort Simpson, was honoured on Feb. 11 for earning three awards related to her apprenticeship. They included two Top Mark Awards for receiving the top marks throughout the territory for both electrician level two and three and the Keith Houghton Memorial Award.

Moses also made the honour roll for apprentices with grades above 80 per cent along with Byron Blyth, a level 2 electrician and Clifford Antoine, a plumber/gasfitter B, both from Fort Simpson, and Jamie Lacorne-Tanche and Augustine Minoza-Lefoine, who are both carpentry level 1 apprentices from Fort Providence.

The performance of these apprentices is quite impressive. Achieving the top mark in the territory in an electrical apprenticeship is no small feat.

The success of these apprentices sends a message to students and adults alike across the Deh Cho that when you're mapping out your future education apprenticeships should be considered right alongside colleges and universities. Skilled tradespeople make successful livings for themselves and are important assets to the communities they live in.

That's why it's so important to recognize the successes of apprentices and other students continuing their education so people in the broader community can be inspired. As Moses pointed out, there are lots of educational opportunities for people in the North right now, it's just a matter of believing in yourself and taking the steps to make it happen.

Liidlii Kue First Nation is on the right path for promoting student success. The band held a breakfast in Moses' honour and presented her with a cheque. It was the first time the band had recognized a student in that way.

Across the Deh Cho there are currently 14 registered apprentices in trades ranging from a heavy duty equipment technician to an oil burner mechanic. Not all of the apprentices will do well enough to receive an academic award but each deserves to be recognized for persevering through their training.

If more positive attention is drawn to the trades, the Deh Cho will benefit as increased numbers of people register for apprenticeships.

In need of fibre optics
Editorial Comment
Kira Curtis
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 17, 2011

Somewhere in the small hamlet of Socorro, Costa Rica, Jonas Vargas is leaving his humble, tin-roofed abode.

He walks in the evening heat down the red clay road that descends along the river valley to where two roads intersect - making it the centre of town.

There are few things in Socorro, save chickens and cows, tucked high in the mountain canopies. It is unaffected by the obnoxious parasite that is the December tourism rush.

The road washes out in the rainy season, there are few vehicles and even fewer telephone land lines, but as he walks, Vargas reaches into his pocket, flips open his cellphone and calls his girlfriend - in Vancouver.

Yes, Vargas can do this easily, because unlike Canada's Arctic, the few hundred people living in Socorro have fibre optics and a 3G network.

Now this has been something perplexing me since moving to Inuvik at the beginning of the year, when my 3G version iPhone couldn't use the outdated cellular bandwidth, which is used here today.

Bell Canada told me that Inuvik was on the list of places to receive a 3G network, though no date was in sight.

Then I read a news release sent out by the GNWT discussing the "feasibility of running a fibre optics cable from the south of the Northwest Territories to Inuvik".

My first reaction, of course, was "My, that's brilliant." I mean, think of the communications reliability for emergency services alone, never mind being able to Skype my friend working in Nigeria (something that I can't do reliably at the moment as my Internet runs about as fast as molasses through a straw in winter).

But then I was struck with another thought: "Sorry, what? Is this 1998?" I mean I love the resourcefulness that comes from being this geographically remote.

I've always loved Albert Einstein's quote, "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

And that is so true, today human contact is being lost in the ether of iPhones and game consoles.

But some things, especially in communications, have become a standard in how we share, learn and keep in touch.

Rarely do we send a letter anymore - though they're personal and tangible, they take too long to arrive.

You'd laugh if you saw a messenger riding off on horseback to get taxes off to Ottawa - that is neither timely nor efficient.

So how come these fibre optics and 3G networks are still just ideas being discussed and analyzed? They're hemmed and hawed over cautiously like and alien technology. Keeping in mind Canada now works on the newer 4G system from Yellowknife south.

Let them drink safely
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The twin blade of alcoholism and homelessness has long been Yellowknife's shame, a blight we've tried to root out in futility for the most part.

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
Darrell Greer
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.

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