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The sickness in consensus
Yellowknifer - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Last week, Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins was in hot water, and not for the first time either. This time, the always vocal Hawkins was called out in a point of order by Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger after the regular MLA questioned him the day before in regards to alleged misspending by deputy ministers.

According to Hawkins, he has proof that these unnamed deputy ministers were funneling money approved for jobs in the territorial budget for other projects within their departments. Hawkins added that to clarify more, cabinet would need to release information it is currently withholding.

And that, right there, is the problem with consensus government, or rather, many of the MLAs that make up this particular example. Politicians voted into the legislative assembly with the mandate of looking out for the well-being of their constituents are, instead, not speaking on the public's behalf because they seem to feel uncomfortable with sharing the information they're being provided.

Often times, this information is coming from the powers that be with the caveat of it being kept secret. This lends to the perception of MLAs gunning more for positions on cabinet and the lucrative salaries they bring, instead of seeking accountability, as often those positions appear to only come to those who are friendly with the ruling side of the assembly.

What if an MLA sees something in those briefings or during dealings with cabinet ministers and their departments that they consider wrong? In a functioning democracy, they need to speak out on these problems.

Hawkins went at least part way with his accusations of wrongdoing by senior bureaucrats but he still plays the part of the horse chasing a carrot on a stick by honouring the consensus government system of secrecy on the most pertinent details of the questions he is raising.

MLAs need to break this system - refuse this bartering of information provided to regular MLAs in exchange for their quasi-silence - if democracy is to thrive in the Northwest Territories. Otherwise, they are only pantomiming the truth when raising questions on the issues of the day inside the legislative assembly.

This is the sickness of consensus government - a legislative assembly put on for show rather than holding the government to account on behalf of public they are supposed to represent.

An unworthy approach: to people and bears
Editorial Comment by Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's been more than a little interesting talking to various parties with a lot at stake in the long-term health of the western Hudson Bay polar bear population during the past few weeks.

As hard as I try to understand biologists who can be linked to conservational and environmental activists, a few of their habits truly irk me.

Being a Cape Bretoner who lived through the collapse of the East Coast ground fishery, I find scientists of any discipline who look down at those possessing traditional knowledge through experience to be troublesome.

As a generalization, they have trouble giving or earning respect.

They also have trouble admitting when they're wrong.

They'll begrudgingly acknowledge a situation that defies their own predictions, but quickly turn to other data - often of the wait-and-see variety - to restake their claim to doom and gloom.

It's the Chicken Little syndrome, only their little ground scratcher is on some sort of steroid that doesn't kick in for another decade, or so.

To be fair, anytime there's wildlife involved that's hunted for any reason - but especially when there's a cash bounty involved - there lurks unscrupulous hunters who will say, or do, almost anything to keep their rifles firing or their nets sweeping.

Thankfully, however, their numbers are declining due to increased pressure on them by the number of communities getting involved with effective wildlife management planning.

But, to give the devil his due, at least you know what side of the fence unscrupulous hunters sit, with stuffing their own pockets being their one, and only, priority.

With scientists who are only a T-shirt or visible organizational badge away from being activists, themselves, however, motivation can be much harder to discern.

There are times - if one allows himself to believe some of these folks simply cry doom and gloom for more piles of research dollars - these scientists come across as being the educated identical twin of the unscrupulous hunter.

And they know how to play the game well when it comes to getting headline grabbing journalists and celebrities to present their claims and predictions as facts.

Less than three short months ago, the activist world's propaganda machine swung into high gear to back The Guardian's headlined claim that, "Polar bear numbers in Hudson Bay of Canada on verge of collapse."

That's a long way from stable.

The story claimed death rates among Hudson Bay polar bears have soared, and included scientist warnings that the entire western Hudson Bay population could collapse within a year or two, and that whether we will see bears in the region by 2020 is still an "open bet."

There were no published studies alluded to other than a vague reference to mark and capture, and bear numbers being at 1,200 in 1984 and 935 in 2004.

This type of approach does nothing to further understanding, nor does it aid in the creation of successful, long-term-management plans.

It's sensationalism at its best, and fear mongering at its worst.

If, as the story claims, this approach is being utilized by the leading experts on the western Hudson Bay polar bear population, the bears truly are in trouble.

Big issues, too little cash
NWT News/North - Monday, February 17, 2014

Increased spending for housing, addictions and education has been included in this year's territorial budget.

Although any new money for these is welcome, especially the $1.8 million for junior kindergarten in the smaller communities, the funding remains too low to be effective, especially if Premier McLeod hopes to meet his goal of attracting 2,000 more taxpaying citizens to the territory.

Key to the success of the new initiatives from education to mental health is proper housing.

Teachers, health care professionals and others moving North have all lamented the territory's housing shortage. Outside of the capital and larger regional centers, there is little vacancy and those housing units that are vacant are mostly substandard.

A study by the NWT Teacher's Association last year illustrated the severity of the problem, reporting that 44 per cent of job offers for community postings were turned down due to a lack of housing.

That same report also indicated 60 per cent of respondents - one-third of territorial teachers were surveyed - said their housing was inadequate. Nurses in the communities have reported similar issues.

As it stands, the territory can barely house its present population and 169 additional housing units will barely scratch the surface of what is needed. Projects such as the expanded Norman Wells Health Centre will also only increase the need for additional housing.

Unfortunately, the business case is too weak to encourage private developers to build housing in the NWT's smaller communities. Until that changes, it will be up to government to ensure satisfactory housing is available. One way to induce development is long-term contracts to the private sector.

With the closure of the Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre last year, the territory saw the end of its last residential treatment program.

The implementation of the new addictions plan will help fill that void. However, there is skepticism that mobile and on-the-land programs alone will work for people with severe and longstanding addictions.

Although contract treatment facilities in British Columbia and Alberta do provide for those who need more intensive, prolonged care, there is no substitute for being close to family supports.

Last year, the GNWT collected taxes on $47 million worth of alcohol sales in the NWT. This year, it is reinvesting $2.3 million and although that is an increase from last year's $1.4 million, it is a drop in the bucket compared to what alcohol costs the territory in everything from health care to corrections.

With the new money expected annually from devolution, we are hoping the GNWT will put more money into housing and sustained addictions programming, making the territory a better place to live for the people here and more enticing .

Vigilance needed to keep Inuktitut alive
Nunavut News/North - Monday, February 17, 2014

It is interesting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government announced $305 million over five years to be spent on improving Internet access for Northern communities at the same time that Nunavut is marking Uqausirmut Quviasutiqarniq - Inuit Language Week, being held from Feb. 17 to 28.

It is interesting because young people are increasingly being influenced by social media, online gaming and popular culture feeds on the Internet, which has the potential to threaten their interest in traditional languages.

That's not to say a more secure and faster Internet connection is a bad thing. It is important for Nunavummiut to be connected to the rest of the world like never before. Better Internet service means people can network, forge business partnerships, purchase products that improve their business, improve their quality of life and easily maintain communication with friends and relatives in other communities.

So far, the Government of Nunavut's cultural and heritage department has seen only a slight decline in the usage of Inuit languages across the territory. However, the government's manager of Inuktitut affairs acknowledges that younger Nunavummiut are inclined to speak English because it is the predominant language of most entertainment mediums.

With that awareness comes an action plan to maintain the current number of people who are fluent in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, the two dominant Inuit languages. Elementary school students in Iqaluit, for instance, have fewer options to enrol in a French immersion program while school administrators put a high emphasis on including Inuktitut in the curriculum.

It is only recently that a higher profile has been placed on the preservation of traditional Inuit languages with the implementation of Nunavut's Official Languages Act last April.

Moving forward, there are many methods possible to encourage young people to learn and use traditional languages. Of course, teaching Inuktitut in elementary school classrooms is vital.

Elders should be encouraged to get involved, especially in the context of traditional activities, like during hunting or trapping trips on the land and during cultural activities.

Among the other activities being undertaken during Inuit Language Week is the launch of a book by 10 authors with a humorous theme and the launch of a DVD which focuses on a long-time educator and advocate of the Inuinnaqtun language.

Many efforts are required to keep the language alive and in use as generations of Inuit grow older. Of tantamount importance for that to happen is for those who protect and administer use of the language to be flexible. Inuit languages have always evolved and they must be allowed to continue to change. At one time there was no word for "computer" because those devices never existed. The Inuktitut language currently does not have a syllabic symbol for the letter B.

There must be a realistic mechanism for new words to be added to the language, for new symbols to be introduced, so that new users of the language can feel they are using it fully and completely.

Perhaps that mechanism can live on the Internet?

A limited Sunday call for alcohol
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 14, 2014

Yellowknifers cannot eat, drink and be merry on most Sundays of the year, thanks to the territory's outdated liquor laws.

OK, they can be merry if they want to be, but it won't be in any of Yellowknife's bars or pubs which are considered Class A establishments, thus restricted to being open just 10 Sundays a year.

Yellowknifers can drink if they visit the bowling alley or eat in licensed restaurants that aren't touched by the wrath of this age-old, Christian holiday-based legislation. Yellowknifer reported last week that Class B establishments, where the sale of alcohol is considered incidental to the business, don't have the same impositions.

To sum it up, bars and pubs are needlessly suffering the echo of rules that in today's society simply don't make sense.

It's like the territory is clinging to a rule that is simultaneously being disguised and broken. While restaurants that open Sundays out of their own free will are likely raking in the liquor profits, the current legislation puts up a wall against other business owners within the community from doing the same.

As banning all liquor sales on Sunday will not happen, it is time to move the other way and even the playing field among businesses.

Jamie Koe with the Department of Finance told Yellowknifer the law gives enforcement entities like the RCMP and liquor inspectors a day off. While not wanting to overburden these entities - or taxpayers with the extra shifts required - business owners' bottom lines should not have to suffer. A compromise that stipulates limited hours on a Sunday is in order.

Koe further argued that it gives "a break from drinking for regular drinkers."

As Sunday is far from being a dry day in Yellowknife, this imposed day off to regular drinkers will simply not be this, as they have plenty of alternative options.

It's time to catch Yellowknife up with the rest of the country and let some of the alcohol flow in the city's bars on Sunday.

Budget good, new debt bad
Weekend Yellowknifer - Friday, February 14, 2014

The recent territorial budget appears to paint a comforting picture of a tightly run fiscal ship yet we have to point out a flaw in the reported surplus and at least one big red flag.

To clarify, the $200-million surplus is only an operating surplus, not money left over when all the bills are paid. No, there is no surplus, only money to cover most of the GNWT's 2014-15 capital budget deficit of $223 million. The remaining $23 million will be added to the GNWT's debt.

That brings us to the big red flag - the intention to ask the federal government to lift the GNWT's debt ceiling by $1 billion.

Territorial government debt now stands at $624.5 million and is estimated to rise to $658.3 million by the end of this fiscal year. The good news is that almost half of that debt is being paid down by customers of the NWT Power Corporation and customers for the trucked goods coming over the Deh Cho Bridge, in other words out of the wallets of regular people in the NWT.

If that doesn't sound like good news, perhaps knowing the rest is simply government short-term loans will make you feel better.

Readers might remember the debt ceiling was raised in 2012 to $800 million from $575 million.

What's the extra $1 billion for? To expand the territorial electrical transmission grid and build a 300-km road between Norman Wells and Wrigley.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley's valid observations about the potential flaws of a business plan for the expanded power grid were met with only vague answers.

As for the proposed highway, Wrigley's population is 133, Tulita's is 567 and Norman Wells' is 761. How solid can that business case be?

The budget itself, surplus or not, inspires confidence in the GNWT's financial management. The idea of raising the debt ceiling by $1 billion for the reasons stated does not.

Peering into the Deh Cho's future
Editorial Comment by Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum - Thursday, February 13, 2013

Should the Dehcho Process ever be finished and come into effect it will create a wide array of changes in the region, not the least of which will be how the Deh Cho is governed.

First Nations' chiefs and Metis presidents took a closer look at the possible format for both the regional and community governments during the recent Dehcho First Nations leadership meeting in Fort Providence. The biggest changes will take place in Fort Simpson and Fort Providence, which currently have municipal, First Nation and Metis governments that have different responsibilities and powers.

Under the proposed plans, the Dehcho Process would create a region where each community only has one government, which would look after and represent all of the people. There would also be a regional government.

The smaller communities would see fewer changes. Their governments would look almost exactly as they do now, except it's proposed that there would be some council seats that eligible residents, who don't have to be Dehcho citizens, could run for. Of course there are so few non-Dene long-term residents in the smaller communities in the region that it's possible the governments could run for years, without a non-Dene or Metis person filling a seat.

The interesting part in all of this will be how it unfolds. A new chapter in the Deh Cho's history will be written before residents' very eyes.

For example, it's still not clear how the chiefs, grand chiefs and other councillors or representatives will be chosen. Dehcho First Nations wants to retain the cultural process of deciding leadership and the territorial and federal governments are apparent okay with that as long as the process is democratic. That means elections, like the ones commonly used now, may not be the process that is chosen.

Who will be the first grand chief for the regional government and who will be the first eligible resident, not a Dehcho citizen, to be elected in each of the smaller communities?

The questions get even more interesting the farther into the future things progress. The rolling draft for the agreement in principal for the Dehcho Process outlines the maximum number of councillors per community government depending on population size all the way up to 16 for 20,000 or more.

What if a community gets that big, but the majority of the population is no longer Dene or Metis, will the rest of the residents remain content with a system that means they can never be the chief?

The Dehcho Process may not be implemented for a number of years, but when it is the residents of the region will be exploring uncharted grounds together.

The peel campaign
Editorial Comment by Shawn Giilck
Inuvik Drum - Thursday, February 13, 2013

The Protect the Peel Campaign has been dominating the public eye for the last two weeks, and that's with good reason.

There have been protest marches, multiple discussions and news stories, and even a youth conference discussing the issue in some detail.

That buzz all centres around the Yukon government's puzzling (to say the least) decision to ignore a recommendation by its own five-year commission to protect 80 per cent of the watershed from natural resource development.

Instead, it wants to open 71 per cent of the area to development. That's a breathtaking about-face that seems designed to inflame public opposition.

Even at this early stage, that decision can only be called an epic fail. It's ruined the government's credibility, and not only on environmental matters. As Inuvik resident Ruth Wright said, it looks as if the government couldn't resist the lure of potential development money.

It never ceases to amaze me, though, as to how governments can pull this kind of stunt, and how they can so blithely ignore the recommendations of their own people after God knows how much money has been spent on the commission and studies. That cannot, should not and will not be ignored.

It's time for political types to learn from the mistakes of the south. A relatively pristine watershed like the Peel River is a highly-endangered species of its own these days, and that's because time after time governments and business interests have ignored the mistakes of their predecessors in favour of expediency and the blind pursuit of short- and mid-term profits.

Many places to the south of the NWT are an environmental mess because those lessons were not learned or implemented in favour of pursuing the almighty dollar.

This is a case where southerners can partner with aboriginal populations and with the non-aboriginals born and raised here in a cause where all parties can bring their knowledge to form a formidable force. When it comes to development issues such as this, a wise course of action might be to ask the interested and concerned southerners in the NWT and the Yukon about what they've experienced in the south, recruit their assistance and tap into that knowledge.

Many of these people have something to offer, and their contributions shouldn't be dismissed on the simplistic basis of "we don't want outsiders telling us what to do." Sometimes, that might be a valid sentiment, but in this case it isn't.

However, as Jordan Peterson of the Gwich'in Tribal Council told a group of local youth attending a conference Feb. 1, there's also an obligation to learn about the issues, and not simply blindly oppose the Yukon decision on the basis that it's "bad." It might well be, but that's not a sufficient grounding on which to have an intelligent discussion or to deflect the inevitable criticisms of the pro-development faction.

Let's have that discussion, and at least force the Yukon government to better justify why it is ignoring the groundwork it laid, in a rational manner.

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