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Wildlife Act hunt continues
NWT News/North - Monday, September 5, 2011
Wildlife and land protection is one of the most sensitive and pressing issues in the North. As the territory seeks to streamli ne its development guidelines, protect threatened species and boost tourism, the Wildlife Act is an over-arching document outlining our approach to those pressing areas of concern.
Due to the significance of this act, it is understandable that the GNWT would take its time to ensure the legislation is effective and will stand the test of time. However, after more than a decade, the level of opposition to the draft document is damning.
Criticism for the GNWT's consultation processes is rampant. Whether it's devolution, revamping board structures for health care, education and housing, changes to extended medical benefits, the government has faced vehement opposition from the public, the business community, other levels of government and aboriginal groups.
During his time on cabinet, Michael Miltenberger has been at the centre of the controversy, accused on several occasions of overstepping his authority by foregoing or ignoring public consultation to push through decisions that will affect the territory. He was forced to backstep on an idea to amalgamate education, health care and housing boards and faced backlash for adopting a caribou hunting ban that was unveiled to the public while he jetted off to Copenhagen to attend an international climate change conference. That ban underwent extensive revision weeks after.
In the latest show of lacking the support he needs, Miltenberger had to pull the long-awaited Wildlife Act off the table after he failed to garner enough votes to pass the legislation - he said he was one vote short.
Normally it would be commendable to withdraw a bill for further consultation when it faces heavy opposition, but this is a case of a minister trying to save face after failing to draft an acceptable act with more than a decade of time behind it. Had cabinet not been short one member following the departure of Sandy Lee earlier this year, we expect Miltenberger - a politician that some are speculating is a favourite to be our next premier -- would have pushed the act through with the backing of cabinet.
Considering the pressure placed on NWT lands and wildlife related to development, climate change and harvesting, a decade is far too long to wait for updated legislation to protect our sensitive habitat.
The Wildlife Act has been part of Miltenberger's portfolio since part of 2005. His inability to piece together a document that can gain enough support to pass into law represents a failure on his part as environment minister.
Economic development requires job training
Nunavut News/North - Monday, September 5, 2011
When it was announced Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be popping into Meadowbank for a photo opportunity during his brief visit North this summer, that got hopes up he would announce a commitment to fund the Kivalliq Mine Training Society for a few more years.
"Canada's North is full of economic potential and innovators continue to unlock development possibilities that bring with them real economic benefits and long-term jobs for local residents," he said, according to his own press release.
However the prime minister came and went from the region without renewing funding for the mine training society, which has helped 350 Inuit gain employment, and now has more than 600 people on its waiting list for training. Now there's no money to train them.
Touting the benefits of developing Nunavut's mineral resources without committing to developing the territory's human resources is a real and telling oversight. These "real economic benefits" and "long-term jobs for residents" of which he speaks are only possible when people in the region have the skills mines and their contractors are looking for. Otherwise the money flows south, into the pockets of workers who fly in for their two weeks then fly out.
Training programs are essential if Nunavut is to take advantage of the opportunities mines and resource exploration present. We hope the federal government realizes this sooner rather than later.
Head of her class
Nunavut News/North - Monday, September 5, 2011
Juggling going to school and raising small children is a common dilemma for young people in Nunavut. Many view such circumstances as obstacles or even barriers to living their dreams.
For Kelsey Apsaktaun, although motherhood initially derailed her education, it was her wish to be a good role model for her son and provide for him the best she could that drove her to not only finish high school but graduate at the top of her class.
During his visit to Kugaaruk last month, the Governor General of Canada presented her with an academic medal for being the graduating student with the highest average at her school.
Obstacles need not keep you from the life you want to live. Obstacles can be overcome.
We hope she serves as an example to every student in Nunavut, especially now, at the opening of a new school year, that nothing is impossible and there are no limits to what you can achieve, except those you place on yourself.
Unhealthy lack of funds
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 2, 2011
Harper was at Stanton Territorial Hospital to announce $60 million in health funding to be split among the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories over the next two years. The cash boost means programs in jeopardy, such as midwifery and Aurora College's master of nursing program, will likely continue.
This is good news but there are far greater challenges facing the NWT's health-care system, starting with the enormous money pit about to open under the 23-year-old Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Health Minister Michael Miltenberger announced in July that Stanton was in need of upwards of $200 million for "some very, very critical" renovations to begin in just two years time.
Undoubtedly, like the Deh Cho Bridge - another major project affecting Yellowknifers that was met with silence in Ottawa -- staying on budget will be a tall order for this one.
Capital projects typically cost more in the North, and take longer to complete as finding materials and workers is a never-ending problem. The federal government is content to throw us a couple of small bones while falling deaf to the GNWT's pleas to raise our debt wall - nearly maxed out at $575 million with a laundry list of other desperately needed capital investments on the horizon.
The North cannot be viewed as some kind of second-rate, have-not province. If the federal government is serious about developing the territories, it must make some serious investments above and beyond what it delivers to provinces that have had decades and centuries to develop.
Next time the prime minister thinks of choosing Stanton for a photo op, he should be prepared to deliver.
Layton knew the North well
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, September 2, 2011
During the federal election earlier this year, Premier Floyd Roland unveiled - as per tradition - the responses he received from federal party leaders to questions he asked them concerning Northern issues.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May didn't send anything, and instead relied on her Western Arctic candidate Eli Purchase to answer. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff faxed a four-page, badly photocopied form letter that offered mainly bland assurances that the NWT was on the party's radar while not committing to much of anything. Prime Minister Stephen Harper sent a detailed, 12-page response, but that ought to be expected from a long-reigning incumbent with all knowledge of government at his fingertips.
Jack Layton's response - all 11 pages of it - impressed, for it showed insight and attention to detail not typically demonstrated by a career politician in Ottawa.
On giving Northerners a say on land decisions and park development, Layton pointed specifically to Edehzhie on the Horn Plateau and pledged his party's support to consulting with Northerners on land matters if elected to government. He was almost as prescient in committing to monitoring water quality in the territory.
Layton died last week so we will never know if he would have been a good prime minister for the North.
He certainly had a lot of support in the NWT. Western Arctic MP Dennis Bevington is popular in his own right, but Layton hardly did him any harm.
His party has vastly improved its standing in the House of Commons - built on the strength of Layton's leadership and charisma during the last election campaign - but it has some tough choices to make as it goes about selecting a new leader.
The party will be hard pressed to find one as engaged with Northerners and their issues as Layton was.
Making the fall hunt mean more
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, September 1, 2011
One of the chapters outlined by the chief negotiator for Dehcho First Nations, while talking about the agreement-in-principle that is being negotiated, was on culture, language and heritage. The chapter states the Dehcho government will establish a Dehcho Languages Board to provide advice to the government on the preservation and promotion of the languages of the Dehcho Dene.
The Deh Cho leaders' response to this chapter was nearly unanimous. Those who spoke said the creation of the board can't wait for the completion of the Dehcho Process. Language and culture are disappearing fast, was the message.
It's true things are looking grim for languages traditionally spoken in the Deh Cho including Dene Zhatie, also known as South Slavey.
Members of the older generations are fluent but the level of fluency decreases steadily with each generation. School-age children are taking Slavey classes but very few can manage to do much more than string a few words together.
Is the Dehcho Languages Board needed? Absolutely, but it's important to realize that creating a board won't solve everything. Small steps taken at the grassroots level by communities are just as likely to promote the continuation of Dene Zhatie as is any overarching strategy.
Some groups like Deh Gah School are already taking steps to ensure the language isn't lost. The school's efforts are unique within the region and should be both applauded and copied by other communities.
Deh Gah School is entering its sixth year of having a Dene Zhatie immersion program. The program, however, only runs from kindergarten to Grade 3.
To serve the older students the school is running a six-week immersion camp that recently started at Willow Lake. Twenty-three students, along with teachers, elders, parents and other adults are at the camp.
Isolated at the lake, the participants will share in cultural experiences and strengthen their knowledge and use of the language together. It's hard to imagine a better way to teach Dene Zhatie.
Deh Cho leaders are right to be concerned about the future of Dehcho languages. There is also, however, cause for hope. If every community implemented one program, such as the immersion camp, to promote Dene Zhatie, part of the work of any future board that is created will already be done.
Stop drinking and driving
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, September 1, 2011
In the past, doctors and researchers alike have said a drink or two during pregnancy can't hurt the baby. The thinking has now changed. Because those same doctors and researchers cannot pinpoint a safe amount or a safe time to drink while pregnant, there's a new rule.
No amount is a good amount. No time is a good time.
No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is a good amount. No time during pregnancy is a good time to drink. The best thing expectant mothers can do for their children is to avoid alcohol for the entire time they are pregnant.
Rumours float around about how "I had a drink once while pregnant and my baby was fine," but that is not true, doctors are saying. While the condition used to be called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and was associated with certain physical and mental defects, the name has now changed to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) to better represent the real range of effects of drinking while pregnant.
Less severe cases of FASD find children who have problems with learning, memory, problem solving, judgment, behaviour, vision and hearing. Because of these problems, the children may be seen as problematic or disruptive and not as children with a condition.
While Health Canada outlines a four-part process for prevention including building awareness, discussion of alcohol use and related risks, holistic support for pregnant women with alcohol problems and post-partum support for new mothers, there is not enough support for mothers who need it.
It's estimated that nine in 1,000 babies born have FASD, but research suggests the number will increase when you look at aboriginal, rural, remote and Northern communities.
What's needed for pregnant women is support.
Whether it's an Alcoholics Anonymous-type support group or simply the fathers supporting the women by not drinking or bringing alcohol into the house, more support needs to be given to women who may opt for a cocktail instead of a mocktail while they are pregnant.
The main message ,though, is don't drink while pregnant.
Give your baby the best chance you can by giving it a healthy start inside your womb. Don't drink any alcohol while pregnant.
Death by a thousand cuts
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Environment Canada announced earlier this month that 776 positions will be affected by a budget slashing exercise, and a spokesperson for the department told Yellowknifer about 300 jobs would be cut nationally, not saying how many would be cut in the NWT. Then, federal bureaucrats -- acting without permission from their superiors, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- shut down 21 of the territory's 23 water monitoring stations, which detect long-term trends in water quality, and it's from these water bodies where many Northerners get their food and drinking water.
Those monitoring stations have since been ordered reopened, thanks to an uproar from the territorial government. The stations need to stay open. Our health is at risk already, especially in Yellowknife where more monitoring is needed.
Fish from Great Slave Lake are tested annually for contaminants, but only from areas around Hay River, Fort Resolution and Lutsel K'e, not near Yellowknife. Other lakes close to Yellowknife are not tested either.
Fish from three lakes in the Deh Cho contain levels of mercury -- a neurotoxin -- high enough that the NWT's chief public health officer warned people earlier this month limit what they eat from those lakes, and to only eat smaller fish.
The many people eating fish from lakes around Yellowknife don't know what is contained within their catches. It's not right.
In addition, much of our weather service for the NWT is provided from Edmonton.
Many here feel it would be more accurate if it was based in the North, but the Environment Canada jobs remain in the south.
Federal cuts can be found elsewhere, as there are bound to be redundancies in its massive bureaucracy, especially in Ottawa.
Jobs can be cut, but the health of Canadians should never be put at risk.
Territorial Environment Minister Michael Miltenberger said he wants to get in writing promises made by federal Environment Minister Peter Kent that water monitoring stations will remain open.
Get them in writing, Miltenberger, and demand more.
Driving requires your full attention
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The NWT will start the new year off with some new and important road rules.
Residents have about four months to wean themselves off using hand-held devices while driving, thanks to legislation passed by MLAs last week.
The NWT is joining Canada's 10 provinces and the Yukon with this common sense piece of legislation, leaving only Nunavut without it.
Use of a hand-held device while driving, for those who get caught, will mean a $100 fine and three demerit points. Motorists who reach 15 or more demerit points, through any driving offences, will lose their licence for a month.
The wheels have been turning on this amendment to the Motor Vehicles Act since 2009. Just a couple of years ago, Transportation Minister Michael McLeod said driving with cellphones was primarily "an issue in Yellowknife" since more than 20 of the territory's 33 communicates did not have cellphone coverage at the time. Regardless, this view should not have held up this piece of legislation, which should act as a deterrent for drivers who attempt to dial while they should be watching the road.
Cellphone use is increasing in the NWT. As well, people from more remote communities make their way through areas with cellphone service on a daily basis and hand-held radio devices can be used almost anywhere on the roads, making the legislation a territorial issue.
Drivers talking on cellphones are four times more likely to get into a crash, according to the Canada Safety Council, while those who text while behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.
A second of distraction while driving at 50 km/h equals about 14 metres of travel. The message is clear: get in the habit of keeping your eyes on the road and your mind on the task at hand. A lot can happen in a second or two, and it can impact the rest of your life.
Time to change the education system
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Nunavut's education system needs to stop hindering its students.
Offering high school students a list of elective courses and only a few academic courses isn't assisting them in gaining the basic knowledge or requirements they need to further their education. It's actually placing a barrier between them and post-secondary school. It forces graduates to take extra exams or upgrading courses just so they meet the admission requirements for degree, diploma or certificate programs down south.
This isn't news. In 2009 Nanulik MLA Johnny Ningeongan told the legislative assembly that his constituents were concerned a high school education in the territory isn't adequately preparing students for post-secondary school. At that time, he called on Nunavut's government to take immediate action.
Well, it's two years later and still students are struggling and so are their families. Parents are now either forced to send their kids south to get a proper high school education or they're paying for upgrading, since it's not covered by Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students. In other cases, parents don't know the difference and their children aren't going on to post-secondary school at all.
In June, First Canadians, Canadians First: The National Strategy on Inuit Education was unveiled in Ottawa. One of the 10 strategies outlined in the report is to increase the success of students in post-secondary school.
It's a great plan, but in order to get students to the point of even entering school, you have to provide them with courses that meet the admission requirements. After providing the academic courses needed for admission into colleges and universities, high school teachers and administrators need to encourage their students to pursue the academic route.
They shouldn't be allowed to do the bare minimum because the bare minimum isn't helping anyone.
Students that are really passionate about furthering their education will jump through the extra hoops to upgrade or do the necessary entrance exams - although they shouldn't have to, they will. But the students who are on the fence about post-secondary likely won't go that extra mile. They'll decide it's not worth their time, and that's a huge loss to the territory.
Although post-secondary school in most cases requires students to leave the territory, it also means that those youth have the opportunity to return home with new skills and knowledge they can use to better their communities.
Whether they study to become teachers, engineers, nurses, doctors or social workers, they will be able to make a meaningful contribution to the territory.
An educated territory is a successful territory.
It's time the Government of Nunavut and the Department of Education take a closer look at the education being provided in Nunavut, so the territory's youth get the proper education they both deserve and need to move on to post-secondary school and a successful future.