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Armchair critics unite!
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 16, 2011

If all goes well for Bob McLeod, he will slip into the NWT premier's chair without planting a single campaign sign, or going door-to-door to talk issues with constituents, or having one solitary vote cast in his name - at least not in a voting booth.

The Yellowknife South MLA, one of three incumbents acclaimed for another term to the legislative assembly last week, let it be known he's willing to take on the premiership if other MLAs are willing to give it to him.

So we may have a situation again where 19 voters -- the sitting MLAs -- will choose the leader for the remaining 43,000 or so residents of the NWT. This is exactly what happened with Premier Floyd Roland and former Premier Joe Handley before him.

While a Premier McLeod may be a good thing for Yellowknife -- he lives here and understands well the role the capital plays in the territory -- it's not good for democracy where the majority of ALL voters are supposed get to choose either the party and leader or in the case of the United States, their leader by direct vote.

When asked whether he supported changes to consensus government following news of his acclamation, McLeod said: "If people don't like it and want to see real change, they have to start earlier rather than wait for the writ to be dropped."

Judging by the volume of comments on social media websites, people are becoming increasingly frustrated by the method in which MLAs select the premier and cabinet, which is done behind closed doors after the election. Criticism of consensus government itself is nothing new either.

For most of the critics of consensus government, whether they complain in the coffee shops or the media, party politics is the solution for fixing the undemocratic nature of electing our premier and the perceived problems with consensus government. We say 'perceived' because any observer of politics as it plays out either in Ottawa or Washington would be treading on thin ice holding those squabbling institutions up as models of efficiency.

The point is, there is nothing stopping individuals living in any number of NWT communities from declaring themselves members of a party, putting together a platform of policies and running as candidates in separate ridings. All they have to do is win enough ridings and, providing their chosen leader wins a seat, vote that person in as premier and others in the party as members of cabinet.

Under present election laws, there is no provision for party affiliation to be noted on election ballots alongside the names of candidates so it's not allowed. But as the legislative assembly has the power to change the law, it need not be a problem for long.

So, Yellowknife's contender for NWT premier has put the ball squarely in the court of those who want to see party politics erase the evils of consensus government: Get out of your armchairs, get organized, stay committed and run for office

You have four years to do it.


The green capital of the territory
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fort Simpson is about to have another achievement to add to its list of accolades.

If a proposed solar panel installation is built, the village will have become an unofficial alternative energy testing ground within the territory. The village was put on this path last year when the Northwest Territories Power Corporation site for tested an in-stream hydro-kinetic turbine on the Mackenzie River near the community.

The turbine was the first of its kind in the NWT. The solar panel installation would be another first. Reaching up to 100 kilowatts, the installation would be the largest of its kind in the NWT. Once again, the power corporation, backed with funding from the GNWT's Energy Priorities Framework, is behind the project. Some may question why being the location for these two projects is something for Fort Simpson to be proud of. After all, the solar panels like the turbine won't result in a decrease in local power bills.

The answer is that the village is helping these two technologies reach a stage where they could decrease power bills and be an economically viable alternative, not to mention one better for the environment than diesel-generated power. At the moment, Fort Simpson has the dubious distinction of being the largest diesel-powered community in the territory.

The hydro-kinetic turbine was installed last year to test the design and functionality of the technology. Its first season led to the corporation learning a number of lessons, including changes that needed to be made in order to help protect the turbine from debris. Despite being guarded by a deflector boom, a log hit the turbine shortly after it was installed, putting it out of commission until the end of August.

As well, low water levels in the Mackenzie River over the testing period led to low flow rates which in turn decreased the amount of power the turbine produced, which reflects the importance of placement.

With last year's lessons under its belt, the corporation re-installed the turbine this year. When it is taken out of the river next week, new information is sure to be gathered.

The solar installation will undoubtedly undergo the same process. Problems discovered within the first year will allow changes and adaptations to be made to improve the facility's performance.

The protection of the land and the environment are always voiced as priorities Deh Cho residents believe in. By providing a location for alternative energy projects, Fort Simpson is taking a concrete step to support those priorities.

Someday, lessons that are learned in the village may allow Fort Simpson and the rest of the Deh Cho to benefit from these technologies.


Housing and homelessness
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 15, 2011

With the announcement of candidates on Sept. 9, the battle now begins.

As Premier Floyd Roland vacates his seat in Inuvik Boot Lake, four men have put their names forward to take his seat. Robert C. McLeod was acclaimed to his seat, giving him a month free from responsibilities to relax and listen to the rhetoric.

Those four former "regular" members of your community Grant Gowans, Chris Larocque, Alfred Moses and Paul Voudrach have announced their interest in Inuvik and your concerns. What a brave step to take. Good luck to all of you.

In this week's Street Talk, many people voiced their concerns about the state of Inuvik and though they didn't all appear in the newspaper, the majority listed homelessness and housing as top concerns. Although the homeless shelter returned to business thanks to the community involvement through the Inuvik Interagency Committee, homelessness is still a major issue.

Despite this new and improved shelter, people still live on the streets and as the weather turns colder, the situation will become worse. We all see it, but who will do something about it? And what will these candidates think are the solutions?

As for the NWT Housing Corporation, something needs to change, not just in Inuvik, but across the entire territory. The way the system is set up now, when people get jobs, their monthly income lowers while their rent skyrockets. What incentive is there for them to continue working when it puts them further in debt?

Housing should help people up to the next level, to gain independence and the possibility of beginning a career, not make their lives more miserable by putting them further in debt or unable to save any money.

Local communities can only do so much, as demonstrated by the Inuvik homeless shelter, but there comes a time when the government will have to provide solutions for housing in the North.

With most recent housing minister Robert C. McLeod acclaimed in his riding of Inuvik Twin Lakes, one hopes that even though he doesn't have to campaign, he will still hear the concerns of his constituents when it comes to housing and homelessness.

As for the new candidates, keep this issue on your minds while campaigning. It's an important local issue, but could have implications across the territory.


Bye, bye plastic
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The absence of single-use bags at close to 370 businesses in the NWT has changed the way people run errands, forcing them to be more conscious of the environment.

A year and a half since a 25-cent surcharge on disposable shopping bags took effect in the territory, stores such as Canadian Tire and The Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op have lowered the cost of reusable bags and created plastic bag-free zones.

Despite only 41,000 people living in the Northwest Territories, the GNWT's single-use retail bag program has eliminated up to 5.7 million single-use retail bags since June 2010.

The NWT is not the first jurisdiction to have these bans in effect. Leaf Rapids, Man., has been a plastic bag-free zone since 2008.

Alberta is hoping to reduce the number of bags used by 50 per cent by 2013; South Africa banned plastic bags in 2003.

Different locations are using different methods to decrease the use of single-use bags, either by introducing surcharges, fining retailers who hand out the bags or by allowing only reusable bags to be available for purchase.

These methods are effective ways to reduce the number of bags blowing around in the streets, filling our dump or littering our lakes and forests and endangering wildlife.

According to the federal government, Canadians take home an estimated 55 million plastic bags per week, for a total of 2.86 billion per year and with three quarters of those ending up in the landfill.

Bringing bags from home doesn't take a lot of effort. It is changing people's behaviour and the numbers are a telling sign that we're doing a great deal of good for the environment.


Balance key in education
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Yk1 school board is looking at ways to engage its Dene students through expanded aboriginal programming.

While this is admirable, the focus should be kept on cultural lessons and Northern history, not on an aboriginal language. There are nine official aboriginal languages in the NWT, so how would the school board chose among North Slavey, South Slavey, Tlicho, Chipewyan and others? There is no standardized aboriginal tongue, so it cannot be compared to French lessons.

Instead, efforts should be devoted to aboriginal culture and history, like the meanings of place names in the North.

On-the-land camps are already a reality in some schools. These camps serve to help students learn traditional skills like fishing, identifying plants and making shelter. While this knowledge is valuable, it has to, of course, be balanced with academics.

Although statistics are improving, there is still a long way to go: in 2009, 44 per cent of NWT aboriginal students graduated from high school compared to 70 per cent of other students. Expanded aboriginal programming may bring more Dene students into the schools, but literacy skills and sciences cannot be allowed to suffer.

This is not to dissuade the board from examining ways to further engage students, just to advise that balance must be its foremost principle.


A request for respect
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, September 14, 2011

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 having just passed, those who often make the ultimate sacrifice in the performance of their duties were back in the headlines once again.

It's human nature to sometimes take for granted the services provided by our military, firefighters, policemen and other emergency-response professionals - and the price they sometimes pay.

And often, their sacrifices -- past and present -- seem to go almost unnoticed.

There was a group of people in the Second World War whose death rate was about one in seven; an astoundingly high number.

In fact, they suffered the highest casualty rate among our entire military during the conflict.

There are no movies glorifying their storming of the beaches at Normandy, nor are there any of them sailing around Europe in search of a surviving brother to bring home to his grief-stricken mother.

In fact, it took our government almost 50 years to recognize their efforts in the war and grant them official veteran status in 1992.

Yet, without their perilous efforts, many of our troops may not have reached Europe at all, let alone carry on the war effort once there.

They are the surviving members of Canada's merchant mariners, an unheralded group of more than 12,000 who were responsible for bringing troops, food, fuel, weapons and other supplies through U-boat infested waters.

Today, the Canadian Merchant Navy Veterans Association is trying to have a silver bar (a badge of pride identifying them as merchant mariners) added to the volunteer service medal which all former military personnel received for completing 18 months of voluntary service.

One of the first barriers the veterans must get past is the fact, to date, the Governor General's office hasn't shown a whole lot of interest in the proposal, and its chancellery controls issue of the medals.

Maybe Gov. Gen. David Johnston has more important things on his agenda these days, like trying a little Kivalliq seal meat for posterity's sake, but surely the recognition isn't too much to ask from a group of people whose war contributions were sadly overlooked for almost five decades.

All of us, as Canadians, owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men and women of our military who made such sacrifice to keep our country free.

And the same rings true for our modern military operations of today.

But, the truth of the matter is, in retrospect, we, as a country, may owe these veterans a little more.

For far too long have their contributions and sacrifice during the Second World War been belittled by their lack of official veteran status.

Now we have a chance to make up for a bit of that by bestowing the same recognition upon our merchant mariners as was given to those who fought at Dieppe and the Battle of Hong Kong.

The gesture would fill the hearts of these brave veterans with pride and, just maybe, finally have them truly believe Canadians from coast to coast to coast respect -- and will always remember -- the vital role they played in the war effort.

The recognition is deserved, and we could even supply traditional food for the unveiling ceremony to get the Governor General's attention!


The bus stops here
NWT News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

Hay River MLA Jane Groenewegen's push to have the GNWT assist in maintaining a passenger bus service link between the NWT and Alberta might demonstrate a concern for her constituents, but too few of them are actually using the service to justify such a costly endeavour.

On Oct. 24, Greyhound's Peace River, Alta., to Hay River route will be axed along with 12 other under-used routes. Will the passenger bus service be missed in the NWT? For a handful of people, possibly. The truth is, Greyhound isn't ending its passenger service and leaving hundreds of travellers stranded.

According to the company's most recent ridership numbers, an average of 6.4 people were using the service per trip - and that's on a 54-seat bus.

Victoria Lynn Enciso hit it on the head when she spoke to News/North after getting off the bus -- which carried a mere five passengers -- on Aug. 24. She said although she thinks the bus service should be saved, it won't affect her because of inexpensive flights to the south.

The difference between flying and busing to Edmonton from Hay River is approximately $330.

For a round-trip ticket that difference might seem hefty at $660. However, usership, or lack thereof in this instance, is what's telling.

Ensuring people have affordable options to travel, considering our vast distance to other points in Canada, should be a government priority, but when choosing to assist or subsidize private business we should target services with high usership. Such a subsidy or incentive would make more sense targeting people from fly-in only communities.

Unfortunately, in this case to passengers taking the bus south it seems like a nice service to have and not a necessity. Perhaps a private business will step in to fill the void and offer a route to Peace River that will connect to Greyhound's service.

No one wants to see fewer travel options in the NWT but, in this case, a solution should come from private business and not the GNWT: the usership just doesn't justify it.


Motorized vehicles under scrutiny
NWT News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

Garth Wallbridge, a Canol trail enthusiast, wants all-terrain vehicles banned from the historic 335-km route that goes from Norman Wells, through the Mackenzie Mountains and onto the Yukon border.

Considered by many as one of the most challenging trails in Canada, the Canol Trail was originally built by the United States military as a service road to construct and maintain an oil pipeline during the Second World War.

When the effort came to a halt, the trail was left littered with abandoned vehicles, supplies and equipment. Considering its past nature, it seems ironic to want to keep motorized vehicles off the trail. However, there is an argument for preservation.

This is definitely a situation where a concrete management plan for the region must be drawn up after consultation with people who live in the area.

We imagine the solution won't be as easy as simply banning all-terrain vehicles on the trail, especially if hunters are using it to access traplines and hunting ranges.

We agree that our historical sites should be protected and maintained but let's not take a knee-jerk approach to management based on tracks left behind by southern and irresponsible ATV riders.


Empty shelves, empty calories
Nunavut News/North - Monday, September 12, 2011

According to a representative of the food bank in Iqaluit, perishable food has "unattainable" status for many Nunavummiut.

For most it's a matter of fresh food being priced beyond what they can afford.

But the experience of four hamlets that endured food shortages this summer shows the how unattainable fresh food is, often due to it simply not being available.

In Iglulik in July, a breakdown of the community freezer coincided with a delay in the arrival of old-age security cheques due to a postal lockout. Elders lost country food to spoilage, and didn't have the money to buy food at the store.

Then Resolute's Co-op ran low on food due to a breakdown in communication - food shipment orders weren't being placed while a manager was away from the community.

In August, Cape Dorset ran out of perishables when flights were cancelled for eight days straight due to fog. Luckily that community had just received its sealift and was well-stocked with non-perishables.

And in recent weeks Grise Fiord's co-op had its own headaches trying to get food into the community after the plane crash in Resolute, the airport through which all of Grise Fiord's shipments are routed.

The freshest food is found locally and keeping community freezers in good repair is important to maintaining a supply of country food year-round. Earlier this year the Government of Nunavut committed $1.1 million to upgrade, repair or replace community freezers.

But fresh food from the south, the milk and fruits and vegetables experts urge people to make the mainstay of their diets to stay healthy, comes on airplanes. And what's been exacerbating the consequences of late orders and disrupted flights - a common enough occurrence in the North - is the current lack of priority for food cargo, priority it had under the old Food Mail program.

Now under Nutrition North cargo is cargo is cargo, and cargo can get bumped for a variety of reasons, regardless if it's perishable. The longer pallets of fresh food sit at the airport, even after the weather clears, the worse its condition when it finally gets where it's going.

Getting fresh food to Nunavummiut communities by air while it's still edible is a challenge at the best of times. Classifying food as cargo instead of as food is hindering these efforts instead of helping.

The members of the Nutrition North advisory board would be wise to take note of this, and add it to the list of things that aren't working with this new program.

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