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Time to wash dirty laundry
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, December 2, 2011
To get an idea of how badly things can go off the rails, we need not look further than a proposed diamond exploration project around Drybones Bay, approximately 45 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife.
The odyssey began when Consolidated Goldwin Ventures Resources (now Encore Renaissance Resources) applied to the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board in January 2003.
In February 2004, the board began its environmental assessment on the small project.
In November 2007, after a long and heavy exchange of paperwork submitted by 10 different parties and some public hearings, the exploration project was approved by the review board under certain conditions and sent to the minister in Ottawa for final approval.
In April 2010, INAC Minister Chuck Strahl told the board the approval requires "further consideration" and offered suggestions of what to consider. By then the review board members were largely new and a decision was made to hold more public hearings.
On November 16, 2011 the review board sent a letter and documents to the new minister John Duncan containing the substance of the "further considerations" intended to mitigate the project's potential environmental damage which amounts to approving the project a second time.
But that's not the end of it of course. Minister Duncan has the final say and the last time it took over two and a half years for the minister's office to say "maybe."
That story appeared in last week's Wednesday Yellowknifer. Hot on its heels in Friday's Yellowknifer, the front page headline "Blame game over mining delays" detailed the complaints Avalon Rare Metals has with its Nechalacho project going through the review board's process.
The board responded with complaints of its own about the problems with Avalon's paperwork and an unexpected logjam of projects coming into the system, namely Fortune Minerals' NICO project and Tyhee Gold Corp's gold project.
Avalon president Don Bubar, who doesn't question the need for environmental protection, has been increasingly vocal about the uncertainty of the review board process, which he views to be driven by the personalities of the staff.
The absence of firm time-lines seems to be one problem.
The lack of time-lines not only disguises the problems the board faces with underfunding and under-staffing, it also waters down staff accountability, undermines the board's integrity and creates uncertainty. Uncertainty is death to developers attempting to calm skittish investors with hundreds of millions of dollars on the line.
Companies must be held accountable to the time-lines as well, and should be sent to the back of the line if they fail to deliver. Keeping applications active for up to 10 years hurts both the companies involved and the review process.
The good news is that rather than vague industry complaints about the Northern regulatory regimes and silence from the review board, people on both sides are speaking out. More of this needs to be done. We know resource development in the NWT is trailing our neighbours just as we know our future depends upon it. The questions governments must ask are: Is responsible development being helped or hindered by the process we have now? Is the federal government helping or hurting us?
Industry and bureaucracy are traditionally reluctant to air dirty laundry in public but the fact is we -- the NWT - are wearing our dirty laundry inside out for all to see.
Much of the negative public perception can be traced to the Mackenzie pipeline review panel that dragged on for 10 years, ignoring all reasonable time-lines and public criticism.
Both the federal and territorial governments have to act to ensure the permitting process we now have is working properly and, perhaps more importantly, send the message that the NWT intends to be more resource development friendly.
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, December 1, 2011
Some said speaking was part of their own healing journey, while others wanted the Canadian government to know what happened at the schools. Others wanted to speak on behalf of the former students who never had the chance to share their stories.
The importance of the commission to the survivors cannot be underestimated, but the commission also has other equally important purposes.
As Commissioner Marie Wilson said in her opening remarks, the commission and the hearings provide an incredible opportunity to educate people and the country about things they are ignorant about.
The residential school system started before 1860 and was in place for more than a century. Wilson said she is amazed that although the schools were a core fact of Canada's history for all of those years, few Canadians know about it and little if anything is taught about it in schools.
The people who attend the hearings, particularly those who didn't go to residential school, are there to provide support but also to bear witness to what the speakers have to say, said Wilson.
Apart from the survivor's statements, the act of bearing witness was one of the most powerful parts of the hearing in Fort Simpson. Although the Bompas Elementary School gymnasium was almost full during the hearings, the large space was amazingly quiet.
Everyone seemed to be hanging on every word the speakers shared and there were some parts of the hearing that were difficult to listen to.
It's hard not to react to first-hand accounts of children facing all manners of abuse, both physical and sexual. It's hard to imagine that a system with such wide-spread abuse was allowed to exist.
The people who attended the hearing in Fort Simpson heard stories they will likely never forget; that remembrance is one of the key aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canadians owe it to residential school survivors to learn more about this aspect of Canadian history.
By learning about residential schools, Canadians can help ensure a system similar to it never exists again in this country or elsewhere.
This information can also foster a greater level of understanding between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
The survivors who had the courage to speak at the Fort Simpson hearing should be thanked for sharing their experiences and helping to hopefully change Canada for the better.
How to get a treatment centre in Inuvik
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, December 1, 2011
We've talked about it and organizations are working on preventing it, but what can be done for the adults who already have addictions that are affecting their lives? Writing them off is not the answer, but that kind of seems like the reaction from the government.
The focus of the new legislative assembly will be maintaining and repairing infrastructure. Federal money has slowed down, so instead of building new things the government will now focus on repairing them. Cool.
Yet again we ask "What about the people?" The cops and counsellors are running themselves ragged trying to follow up on the harms of drugs and alcohol in Inuvik and it's likely not everyone who wants to change their lifestyle is getting the help they need.
How can we get an addictions treatment centre in Inuvik? It's not only for the people here, but for the communities as well. The GNWT states it's a matter of facility management – building first, then other things such as programs and staffing can be considered.
Thanks to all those new buildings, Inuvik has a lot of empty office space sitting around town – why not turn one of those buildings into an addictions treatment centre? At least for alcohol, the most common addiction community counsellors treat.
People need help. Why can't we give it to them? Some days it seems like there's not really any reason. Wellness camps can help and so do out-of-town and out-of-territory treatment centres, but, honestly, people need to go home and be healthy there. They need the counselling and help in their hometown so that when they're struggling, help is immediately available.
Imagine for a minute you've realized drinking has taken over your life. You don't like blacking out, spending all your money or abusing whoever is around you. Now what? Where do you turn for help? What if there's a long line at the counsellors? Back to the bottle for you?
It's not fair that people who want to change can't do so. The change has to come from within the person, yes, but shouldn't someone be there to help them?
The GNWT should see it has a serious problem throughout its communities. It has to get down and dirty and deal with this epidemic on the ground level with the people.
Treatment centres are needed.
Building a better bus system
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 30, 2011
He is asking for commuters who use public transit to tell him what's good and what's bad about the service, with an eye to finding improvements and for the city to consider taking over the service.
Falvo told Yellowknifer last week that he waited 27 minutes for a bus with his six-year-old daughter on Nov. 5 when the temperature hovered around -10 C. With the capital city plunged into a deep freeze this week, a person might resemble an icicle if that happened now.
"I'm trying to figure out what's going on with the buses because I get complaints time to time from people," Falvo said. There is logic to some of the options he is investigating, such as using smaller, shuttle buses on routes with low ridership, or using new technology like Global Positioning System (GPS) or electronic signage to let people know approximate arrival times.
The cost of transit in Yellowknife is substantial, estimated to be $1.083 million this year, offset by an expected $373,000 in revenue. It's not unusual for municipalities to subsidize the cost of transit, but we wonder if Yellowknife is getting value for its money, considering that only one per cent of commuters ride the bus. That's not one per cent of the population, but one per cent of commuters, which probably adds up to only a few hundred people, at best.
In looking at the numbers, we are against the city operating the transit system itself, especially considering that it would have to purchase buses and find a facility to house and maintain them.
Keeping in mind that the current five-year contract with private operator Cardinal Coachlines expires next September, Falvo's initiative to investigate the transit system's efficiency is timely and necessary. We're anxious to see what he brings to council during next week's budget discussions.
St. Pat's has a bright idea
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The faculty at St. Patrick High School has shown creative leadership on the issue of adolescent substance abuse and peer pressure.
Staff members volunteered their time to bring a new late-night drug- and alcohol-free social and recreational program to more than 50 of their students on Friday, Nov. 18.
Billed as Lights On night, the social and recreational event ran from 8 to 11 p.m. in various parts of the school. Many students played sports in the gym, while others competed via a video game system in a classroom or played board games in the library. Some students jammed in the music room. Pizza and fries were served, as well.
Alcohol and substance abuse, often pushed on students by peer pressure, exacts a heavy toll on youth, their families, schools, and the community. The more options students have to congregate in safe and fun environments, the easier it will be for youth to pursue healthy and fulfilling goals throughout adolescence and beyond.
The Lights On program is scheduled to run one Friday evening per month for St. Pat's students, however school staff aspire to expand the program to include other youth in the future.
While it is commendable that 15 faculty members have made this generous volunteer commitment of their time and energy, it should be up to other adults to support them by making a similar effort.
Any parents and responsible alumni willing to volunteer could take pressure off hardworking school staff and give this program a better chance of lasting.
Early Christmas musings from the heart
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It wasn't that long ago when the most disconcerting aspect of Christmas approaching for most folks was how often Canada Post employees seemed to use the holiday mail crunch as a, shall we say, bargaining chip in their contract negotiations.
Today, if the holidays are approaching, you can bet the debate is flaring over what rights Christians have in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
The answer to that is precious few, if any.
Forget the fact this great nation was founded on Christian fundamentals.
Forget the fact we don't issue threats, or worse, against those who disagree with the Bible.
In today's world, we're frowned upon by many for actually having the audacity to wish someone a merry Christmas.
The "happy holidays" greeting is the more politically correct and universally accepted standard these days.
Funny how that free speech thing only seems to travel in one direction at times.
Canadian Christians, it seems, are still allowed to exercise their right to religious freedom in their own country, as long as they do it quietly and out of sight of others.
So what if Christianity is the only religious faction to actually maintain a constant presence in a small Northern community, offer various outreach and youth programs, and even give back as much as it receives, if not more, to the people of the hamlet?
Does that give it the right to offer Bibles in the school to the community's youth?
Or, does offering a Bible to someone who may be interested in what it has to say -- and who always has the option of saying no thank you without any fear of persecution -- really amount to nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on other forms of belief?
I am among those who try their best to be a good Christian, but have little use for the church, which, as an institution, has become so political and secretive during the past two centuries as to be almost a direct kin of the state.
And, at the risk of offending non-Christians everywhere, I am also among those who believe God is responsible for man.
I just happen to believe He did it through the process of evolution; not by being smart enough to create a fanciful garden, but not quite clever enough to figure a way to keep the snakes out.
I also know as all-powerful as He may be, God's not perfect.
If He were, He probably would have given a lot more thought to that whole free will notion.
Yes, He gave the vast majority of us the ability to know the difference between right and wrong, but free will often trumps common sense when it comes to doing things that can land us in hot water.
In this era of political correctness gone mad, common sense tells me it's far safer to wish everyone an early happy holidays and only have my conscience to deal with.
Yet, I choose to end this piece by wishing everyone an early merry Christmas.
Sometimes, you just have to follow your heart.
The long road to change
NWT News/North - Monday, November 28, 2011
Premier Bob McLeod started the 17th assembly on the right foot when he and other territorial legislators joined aboriginal leaders at a meeting in Dettah in late October. His attempt to mend the strained relations between First Nations groups and territorial leaders was a good first step to achieving goals that stalled during the previous assembly due to heated impasses between the parties.
Earlier this month, the 17th assembly announced its primary goals for the next four-year term. Those priorities include devolution, improving community employment rates, housing costs and infrastructure initiatives -- the Inuvik-to-Tuktoyaktuk highway and the Mackenzie Valley fibre optic line would be examples.
A less vague description of the government's plans to achieve its goals is expected once it completes its comprehensive business plan. However, McLeod's comment that substantial change, in areas such as social programs, can take 10 to 15 years is concerning.
Unemployment in the communities, devolution and housing costs have been on the government agenda for decades already. There are many long-standing issues in the NWT that must be addressed soon, and addressed effectively.
Creating jobs -- assisted by working towards a revamp of the territory's regulatory system -- creating more affordable housing and forging a deal for devolution with the help of First Nation governments can't be volleyed about for years to come.
Our MLAs might have the luxury to discuss these issues for months and even years but community members without a good home, those without a stable job and the youth of the territory need more than reassuring words.
Nutrition North turnaround
NWT News/North - Monday, November 28, 2011
When the new Nutrition North program was rolled out on April 1 it was received with a storm of criticism. Many said the program failed to improve upon the old Food Mail program, the savings were negligible, the program was harder to access and the eligible items on the subsidy list did not reflect Northern needs.
In response, the federal government increased the subsidy levels and expanded the item list. The system still isn't perfect but reports of a 15.5 per cent reduction in costs and more nutritious foods being purchased in the communities is encouraging.
As the program continues to evolve over the coming months, we must remain vigilant and ensure the subsidy continues to help consumers, as it is intended. Reviewing the food list and pushing the government to include more staple products, such as rice, and essential non-food products such as diapers, would also help lessen the burden on Northern families.
It's essential that Northerners continue to pressure the government and the stores to ensure the subsidy is used to its full potential and savings are applied to products needed most by Northern families.
When losses lead to gains
Nunavut News/North - Monday, November 28, 2011
Businesses are supposed to make money -- ones with losses are failures.
That's a basic premise that does not always hold true.
The Nunavut Development Corporation would be a prime example of the exception to the rule. Seven of the corporation's nine subsidiaries wound up in the red during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. Overall, they were short $3.2 million, which was covered by a subsidy paid for by the Government of Nunavut.
The development corporation backs companies involved in producing and marketing arts and crafts as well as meat and fish. It provided $4.6 million in employment and income to Nunavummiut during the past fiscal year, creating 126 jobs.
It also pumped a considerable amount of money into other established territorial businesses like airlines, utilities and other merchants and service providers.
When one factors in the $3.2 million subsidy, each job the corporation created cost taxpayers a little over $25,000.
Is that too much money to provide 126 people with work in traditional industries? Would we be better off if the money-losing corporations were just shut down and the products weren't sold commercially at all, or only sold in the south? No.
As Darrin Nicol, the corporation's president, pointed out, there are added expenses for operating in remote Nunavut communities, but that's the cost of developing a homegrown workforce.
We need the development corporation's training of skilled administrative workers, just like we needed the 11 lawyers produced through the Akitsiraq law program at a cost of nearly $5 million.
It is a price worth paying.
Nutrition North shows its value
Nunavut News/North - Monday, November 28, 2011
When the federal government announced its intentions on May 21, 2010, to replace Food Mail with a program called Nutrition North Canada, there was a mix of skepticism and relief.
Costs of products, primarily produce, had escalated substantially under Food Mail and deliveries often took longer than acceptable, resulting in wilted lettuce and soft tomatoes.
Some people insisted there wasn't enough accountability or transparency by the parties involved - stores, Canada Post and the airlines.
So Ottawa decided to phase in Nutrition North starting on April 1 of this year. Initially, there were few people who were happy. However, the government responded to concerns by expanding the list of items eligible through Nutrition North, higher subsidies were placed on fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and eggs. Traditional foods such as caribou, char and muskoxen are included.
Last week, shoppers in Iglulik, Clyde River and Cambridge Bay told Nunavut News/North they have noticed cheaper prices. Tony Jenkins of Clyde River said milk is now around $5 to $6 for two litres compared to $10 in the past.
It appears the kinks are being worked out. However, Nunavummiut should be on guard for any remaining glitches and prepare to protest loudly if the federal government begins to reduce the number of items covered by Nutrition North.