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Way over the top
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, December 16, 2011

Crimes against humanity - it's hard to think of a more sinister indictment.

According to Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, the territorial government fits the bill. The government is guilty of "crimes against humanity" because the GNWT's Greenhouse Gas Strategy concedes that carbon emissions will rise 100 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

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That Bromley is surprised the floor fell out from beneath him as other MLAs around him shuffled in discomfort speaks to the gulf that exists between him and most other people on this issue. He may find broad meaning in the term but for most people crimes against humanity are synonymous with only one thing: being a war criminal.

Yes, people are worried about climate change, but they are also worried about the economy and their ability to cope with rising costs.

The Conference Board of Canada added to the worry this year with its gloomy forecast showing the NWT economy shrinking by 2.3 per cent as our territory's ageing diamond mines begin to wind down. It's a big brush stroke of black paint in the middle of an otherwise rosy picture, with relative boom times ahead for the neighbouring territories of the Yukon and Nunavut. Every worker we lose to them will cost us $27,000 in desperately needed per capita federal grant money.

It was only prudent that Premier Bob McLeod announce his government's intention to focus on the economy at the start of his term. For taking that apparently misguided direction, he and his government are committing "crimes against humanity."

But really, what does Bromley want the territorial government to do? When he states in the legislative assembly: "the actions required of government to reverse this impact (of climate change) are also clear and not debated," they are in fact anything but that.

Will a two cent carbon tax, as proposed by Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger last year, suffice or does the government need to punish energy consumers more? How about limiting medevac flights to reduce our carbon footprint? Or demand diesel communities halve their fuel use?

We're guessing now because while Bromley was quick to accuse the government of atrocities last week, he was a bit more circumspect about what sacrifices are needed to join the law-abiding. If such thoughts follow some of the more radical of the climate action ideas floating around out there - mass sterilizations, restrictions on travel, suspended democracy - he should say so.

Bromley's rash pronouncement will no doubt be viewed as bold and courageous by those committed to the cause of fighting climate change. For everybody else who expect calm and measured statements from our leaders it has diminished his credibility.

That's too bad because until last week Bromley was doing a pretty good job silencing doubts that he might be just a one-dimensional voice for the environment.

In fact, he was one of the most effective MLAs last term. He held the government to account on sole source contracts handed to former cabinet ministers, led the way on legislation to make "payday loan" companies fully disclose their interest rates, and brilliantly penned a critique of the proposed Wildlife Act that went on to defeat, in part, because of the strength of his arguments.

Bromley is passionate about the environment, we know. But he's not going to get a lot of cooperation or much accomplished making accusations best directed elsewhere in the world.


Putting meaning back into elections
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monday was voting day in many municipalities in the territory as residents made their way to polling stations to help decide who will be at the helm of their hamlet for the next term.

In Fort Providence, however, the turnout for the election was incredibly low. According to the official results from the hamlet's returning officer, only 98 people voted out of the possible 567 residents on the voter list. That means only 17 per cent of voters made it to the polls.

Low voter turnout is not a new issue. It's a problem at many different government levels.

For example, the number of people who cast ballots during the Oct. 3 territorial election decreased by about 1,500 compared to the territorial election four years ago. The turnout was at 48 per cent compared to 67 in 2007.

In Yellowknife, the turnout was particularly low with just 34.2 per cent of voters casting a ballot in six contested districts, compared to 60.6 per cent turnout in the rest of the territory.

However, 34.2 per cent is still considerably better compared to 17 per cent. That percentage should be ringing alarm bells somewhere.

There are a number of reasons to be concerned. Firstly, 98 people chose five members of the hamlet council for the rest of the community. Ninety-eight people out of 567 is hardly enough to form a representative selection. If more people had voted, the outcome of the election could have been much different and, therefore, the council's direction for the next two years.

Another troubling question is why did so few people choose to vote?

If there is any election that people should make an effort to participate in, it's the one for the level of government that is closest to them and, therefore, most likely to have a direct impact on their daily lives. That answer, however, may touch upon the very reason voter turnout was so low.

How many people actually have a clear idea of what their municipal government, whether it is a hamlet or a village, is responsible for? How many people ever take the time to attend a hamlet or village council meeting to find out more about its role?

The answer to both questions is, likely, very few.

The incredibly low voter turnout in Fort Providence could be a sign the hamlet needs to launch an education and awareness campaign about what it does and the plans it has for the future. Increased communication with residents would probably benefit the other municipalities in the Deh Cho as well.

Like so many things in life, people have to be interested to participate. Elections are important, but it takes an effort from both the body that is being elected and the residents to ensure the process is meaningful.


Old-time dances every weekend
Editorial Comment
Samantha Stokell
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saturday night in Fort McPherson. Location: Community Hall. Purpose: An old-time dance.

Inuvik's Good Time Band is on the stage, water and pop are for sale and chairs surround the dance floor. Cornmeal is spread on the floor to prevent slipping and as people come in and grab seats, people switch from clunky, -40 C-rated winter boots into beaded slippers all the better to jig in.

The crowd ranges in age from toddlers and babies right up to the oldest and wisest elders in town. Teenagers, young adults, parents and grandparents are there all ages have come out for this wholesome event. About 100 people prepared to jig, waltz and square-dance and do they ever.

Newcomers don't feel too embarrassed by their lack of skills, while experienced dancers quickly move their feet and grab their partners' arms, guiding them around the floor in circles and all over. Jigging is a chance to show off, as couples take the floor on their own and girls have a chance to dance with any boy or man they choose.

It's a time to show off skills, to dance past midnight, to listen to music and display beautiful slippers. It's a chance to waltz with your loved one or spin with a friend, work up a sweat and learn something new.

For some reason, though, the old-time dances in Inuvik don't seem to draw the same crowds as in Fort McPherson. Maybe it's the larger population or the different options for what people can do on a Saturday night.

Shouldn't there be more dances, though? Back in the day in Inuvik, maybe 10 years ago, old-time dances were held every weekend, with 100 or more kids, teens and adults having a safe and fun family environment to go to. There's stories of teens who attended the dances and went home tired at the end of the night. When the dances stopped happening every weekend, the drugs and alcohol filled the gap. What else is there to do on a Saturday night? Maybe if there were more old-time dances, everyone could have fun in a good, healthy way.

Sure, some people may have snuck out for a drink or two at the McPherson dance, but they're certainly not getting wasted. Let's take it one step at a time. Bring back weekly dances or even monthly dances and let the community, youth, elders and all in between have good, wholesome fun. It's not outdated.


Time to clean up the street
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Through the progression of time, right before the eyes of Yellowknifers, the downtown core has been lost. Some people are startled by the reality of the situation.

Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Doyle was walking past the parking lot next to Centre Square Mall on a recent Tuesday afternoon when he said he saw a group of adults leaning against a building, openly drinking alcohol as if it was normal.

"I'm not quite sure when this became accepted as a normal, socially accepted way of doing things," Doyle said. "It's time to stop sort of looking around and pretending it's not happening; it is happening. It's driven our retail sector out of the downtown core."

The downtown core has become a haven for the homeless, panhandlers, those with addictions and people who are suffering from mental illness.

The result is that businesses have packed up and relocated to a safer part of the city. Even the 50 Street entrance to Centre Square Mall has been boarded up. Ordinary citizens who walk the streets are sometimes stopped by people asking for money. Apartment building lobbies have become home to vagrants during cold weather and some condominium corporations have posted alerts to residents asking them to be vigilant about unsavory people trying to sneak into the building.

Doyle and members of city council plan to host a round-table discussion in the new year in an effort to find solutions. Invited are MLAs, agencies that make up the Yellowknife Homelessness Coalition, city councillors, representatives of the business community and people from within the GNWT. It's an idea with promise, but it's essential that the RCMP, who deal with the fallout from social ills on a daily basis, have a prominent seat at the table. They know as much as anyone the complications of trying to get people off the streets.

We'd also like to see ordinary residents be part of the discussion, along with people who live on the street or hang out on 50 Street. Let's get as many ideas on the table as possible to find meaningful, long-term solutions.


Bylaw officers' approach could clear the way
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bylaw officers have a duty to enforce a bylaw designed to keep downtown sidewalks smooth and safe for pedestrians.

Property owners and residents in the city's central business district are required to remove ice and snow from the sidewalks in front of their properties, or face a warning and then a $50 fine for residential properties and $100 for commercial properties.

The city is being extra-vigilant in its enforcement of the bylaw in an effort to educate residents about their responsibilities early in the season, said Mayor Gord Van Tighem.

However, some downtown residents have complained about the tactics officers are using to enforce the bylaw, including patrol cars driving slowly up and down residential streets, sometimes with lights flashing.

Although the law is on their side, bylaw officers should be perceived as professional and using as much decorum as possible when enforcing it. Property owners don't have the right to ignore the bylaw but our municipal enforcement division should remember that maintaining good public relations means using discretionary powers of persuasion rather than a display of humiliation outside someone's home - unless a courtesy call to the front door doesn't bear fruit.


The greedy and the punished
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh, how I long for my first few years in the Kivalliq when sports conversations centred on great saves, beautiful goals, hot hitters and cool pitchers.

Regional sports fanatics still spend a lot of time talking about the pros, but now the vast majority of the conversations swirl around what player is going to get suspended for how many games in the NHL's crackdown on physicality - the league would term it dangerous hits - and which island or small country the latest star player just might buy after signing a ridiculously large contract.

The funny thing is, although hard-core fans are as quick to lament the surreal levels of today's professional sports contracts as anybody, it's not the actual money that bothers them.

It's more what the crazy dollars are doing to the games and the players themselves.

With the exception of precious few class acts like Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings, gone forever are the days when a fan could cheer for the same star player on their favourite team for almost the entire duration of his career.

Now it's all about the money, and the latest irrefutable evidence of that was baseball superstar slugger Albert Pujols turning down more than $200 million over 10 years to remain with the St. Louis Cardinals in order to accept a 10year $254million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Pujols's is the secondlargest contract ever awarded in baseball, trailing only the $275 million the New York Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez for a 10year period. ARod also inked a 10year deal earlier in his career with the Texas Rangers for $252 million. Yeesh!

Pujols leaves one of the moststoried franchises in baseball, where he'd played his entire career, for a franchise with one championship in its 50year history.

He gives up having his image added to the statues of past Cardinal greats outside Busch Stadium, and forever being embedded deep within the hearts of St. Louis fans for the almighty dollar.

In hockey, NHL owners will look for a penalty-free-buyout period when they negotiate, hopefully, a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Player's Association before the start of the 2011-12 season.

The owners want to rid themselves of big contract mistakes so they, presumably, can make a bunch more.

But, how do you motivate someone guaranteed insane amounts of money over the duration of their contract?

The NHL landscape is littered with such players: Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, Vinnie Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Roberto Luongo and (gasp) Alex Ovechkin.

Players today talk more about how a development will affect their escrow payments back to the league, rather than their chances of winning Lord Stanley's mug.

Just as disconcerting is NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan going hog wild with suspensions, but still incorporating the league's rich-man's, poor-man's law.

A player like Milan Lucic gets nothing for purposefully drilling Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, while Rankin's own Jordin Tootoo gets two games for making contact with the same goalie while driving to the net on a scoring opportunity.

Looks like another week ahead of sports talk on big bucks and suspended pucks (sigh).


Industry must cover all bases
NWT News/North - Monday, December 12, 2011

Chief Louis Balsillie's protest against other First Nation and Metis groups' involvement in negotiations over Tamerlane Ventures Inc.'s Pine Point lead/zinc project, although intended to serve the best interest of the Deninu Ku'e, might actually put his people at a disadvantage.

We understand Balsillie's desire to maximize the project's benefits for members of Fort Resolution's Deninu Ku'e First Nation, but the best way to achieve that goal might be to work with the other groups instead of against them.

There have been cases in the NWT when regulatory and approval processes have been bogged down as various groups stake a claim on the land being developed and cry foul over poor consultation.

Last year, North Arrow Minerals Inc. had its development permit for a lithium project near Alymer Lake revoked by a judge after the Lutsel K'e Dene Band and the Yellowknives Dene won a court challenge. The groups claimed they were not consulted on the project and the judge agreed. Not only was the ruling a major setback for the project, but the Akaitcho communities were also awarded $80,000 to cover legal fees.

With examples such as those fresh in the minds of companies wishing to explore for and develop resources here, it makes good business sense to consult with any group that might later claim rights to the land.

Balsillie might be right about his people having sole rights to the area, but his assertions will not spare Tamerlane Ventures the court costs and a possible lengthy delay if the company is legally challenged.

Whether negotiating alongside the other aboriginal groups will reduce the value of the Deninu Ku'e's impact benefit agreement is not clear. What is clear, however, is the most effective way to ensure the approval process moves quickly is to sit at the table.

Fort Resolution's claim to the land the Pine Point Project is on should ensure the Deninu Ku'e receives its fair share of jobs, contracts and compensation. It is highly unlikely, though, that Fort Resolution alone will have the ability to supply all the human resources and services to accommodate Tamerlane during Pine Point's construction phase or its production phase. With that in mind, Balsillie's hope should be that additional resources are drawn from the NWT first, before Tamerlane looks south and that is where negotiating with other groups would be beneficial.

For all parties involved, ensuring the consultations process is airtight will bring the project to fruition sooner rather than later and bring a much-needed economic boost to Fort Resolution and the broader NWT.


Hearing and listening not the same thing
Nunavut News/North - Monday, December 12, 2011

When the Beverly caribou herd was found calving at the Queen Maud Gulf in November, in line with a theory elders and hunters had been maintaining, it proved yet again the necessity for environmental officials to heed traditional knowledge.

Biologists in the NWT and Nunavut were at a loss when field surveys in 2009 suggested the Beverly herd, which normally roams near the border of the two territories, had rapidly declined in population. The Government of the Northwest Territories and the Beverly-Qamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board speculated loss of habitat, mining and industrial development, climate change, overhunting and disease may be behind it. A mixing between Beverly and Ahiak caribou was also a possible explanation.

Baker Lake's Thomas Elytook, also a member of the caribou management board, suggested the herd just moved to let the vegetation in their Kivalliq/NWT area regrow. Elders in the NWT said the same thing. This ended up being the case.

A sky-is-falling approach can sometimes be the initial reaction of governments to any change in wildlife populations or in our environment. But with tight territorial budgets that also have to support the heavy demands of health and education, government money isn't always there for intensive and ongoing monitoring of wildlife. Development and climate change are often the first suspects when something seems off, and while these factors certainly should be watched closely, jumping to conclusions isn't a replacement for good science or traditional knowledge.

Luckily, traditional knowledge gained from generations of hunting and travelling still exists in the minds of Nunavut's elders and those lucky enough to have had the knowledge passed down to them.

The Piqqusilirivvik school in Clyde River, which teaches culture and traditional knowledge, is just getting off the ground, but any such initiative to preserve and enhance traditional knowledge ought to be embraced. When it comes to wildlife management, traditional knowledge can fill the gaps scientific monitoring doesn't have the money or historical data to fill.

Another example came in 2008 when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had to drastically revise its bowhead whale population estimate. Despite Inuit hunters' insistence that the number of whales had risen steadily, the federal government still insisted Inuit could only hunt one bowhead every two years. Then a population study moved the number from 345 whales - the last documented number in 1996 - to an estimated 14,000. The Inuit were right.

Right now, narwhal and polar bears are under the microscope of scientists trying to decide how healthy the populations are. These scientists must take Northern traditional knowledge into account, and take seriously the opinions of Nunavummiut hunters and elders. They and their ancestors have monitored wildlife for generation upon generation, and passed on that information - it was for a long time necessary for their survival.

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