MLAs in the Northwest Territories began the first regular session of the 18th Legislative Assembly today, tabling a plan to achieve their 25-point list of priorities.
Commissioner George Tuccaro presented the government’s draft mandate to tackle the priorities that cover everything from lowering the cost of living, to increasing government transparency, to settling outstanding land claims, all the while addressing the territory’s bleak financial situation.
The speech recognized the large presence of new MLAs – 11 in total – with “fresh ideas” and “fresh energy,” while acknowledging the hard choices faced by the government with respect to low revenues and high demands on infrastructure, programming, and services.
Read Tuccaro’s full speech below.
Mr. Speaker, Members of the Legislative Assembly, honoured guests, people of the Northwest Territories…
It is with great joy and optimism that I welcome you back today into the Legislature. The tasks at hand may seem insurmountable and daunting at times. However, through your cooperation and commitment, there can be success and achievement.
This year holds great promise that more positive results will bring about measureable change for the betterment of all Northerners. We look forward to hearing your thoughtful dialogue during this brief and important sitting and I wish you well in your deliberations.
This is the first Assembly to take office since the transfer of responsibility for land and resources marked the most significant step in the continued political evolution of the Northwest Territories.
It is also the first Assembly to be called to sit since the passing of former Commissioner Stuart Hodgson, the man who first brought this government home from Ottawa and worked tirelessly to make it a government of northerners for northerners.
It is an Assembly marked by a majority of first-time Members, bringing fresh ideas and new energy with them to this House. At the same time, it is the first Assembly in the history of the Northwest Territories to elect a Premier to a second term as its leader.
It is, at one and the same time, an Assembly of change and an Assembly of experience. An Assembly that, like the territory it serves, continues to evolve and develop while staying rooted in the traditions of its past and the wisdom of those who have gone before.
This Assembly will also mark the first time that the Government of the Northwest Territories will publicly set out its mandate and table it in this House for consideration and debate.
This is yet another step in the ongoing development and maturation of the Government of the Northwest Territories and represents a new commitment to public transparency and accountability.
The mandate the Premier will table today was developed as a formal response to priorities set by all Members of this Assembly in December.
It identifies the actions and initiatives the Government of the Northwest Territories will undertake to advance those priorities.
It is meant to be a common sense plan that will guide government decisions and actions over the coming four years.
Like any plan, it depends on strategic choices and has been shaped by a careful analysis of the current territorial, national and international environment, available resources and the priorities identified by all Members on behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories.
Affording Our Plan
A plan that cannot be paid for is a plan that cannot succeed.
The economy of the territory, and of the country, is in a precarious position. Commodity prices and demand for natural resources – a traditional mainstay of this nation’s economic wealth – have dropped further and faster than anyone expected.
Governments around the world and across the country are being faced with hard choices about the way forward in the face of lowered revenues and continued demands to spend on infrastructure investments, public programs and services.
Some governments have made the choice to take a gamble on the future and run deficits while hoping for economic recovery. Some governments have made a more prudent choice to reduce their expenditures; they are reluctant to mortgage their children’s future.
The Northwest Territories is not immune from the economic forces affecting other governments. Declining resource revenues and federal transfer payments will put pressure on the GNWT and Members will be called on in coming months to decide how best to respond to that pressure when this House meets again in May and June to consider the budget.
The Government of the Northwest Territories believes the choice is clear and that it must reflect the traditional values of thrift and self-reliance that Northerners have always displayed.
Planning to live beyond our means is not a responsible choice. The government believes that the people of the Northwest Territories expect it to do the responsible thing, that fiscal responsibility is a crucial measure of accountability.
The plan to be presented today reflects this belief and reflects this government’s public commitment to responsibility and fiscal discipline.
Improving Accountability, Transparency and Collaboration
Government serves the people, and the people deserve the best government possible.
People want to see a government that reflects their values and their priorities.
People want to see government that works, and Members that work together.
People want to see collaboration and collective decision making aimed at addressing the pressing challenges affecting them and their territory.
People want to see a government that works with other levels of government, including the federal government and especially Aboriginal and community governments, to achieve shared objectives that all citizens can benefit from.
The Government of the Northwest Territories believes that better governance starts with the GNWT being a better government.
The GNWT’s plan for being a better government starts with a commitment to accountability, transparency and collaboration.
As part of that plan, the GNWT has named a Minister of Public Engagement and Transparency to be an advocate for principles of openness and transparency at the highest levels.
As one of his first tasks, the Minister will lead the development of an Open Government Policy to enhance civic participation, increase the availability of information about government activities and explore new technologies for openness and accountability.
Settled land, resource and self-government claims enshrining Aboriginal rights and establishing clear ownership of land and resources are fundamental to the good government of the Northwest Territories. During this term of government, the GNWT will focus on settling outstanding agreements with the Akaitcho, Dehcho, NWT Metis Nation, Acho Dene Koe and Government of Canada.
Our approach will include new offers on land quantum and a renewed approach aimed at reaching agreement, not at holding onto cookie-cutter positions established in the last century.
The GNWT will continue to acknowledge and address the legacy of colonialism and residential schooling by implementing the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that fall within the jurisdiction of the territorial government.
Recognizing that strong and capable governments at all levels make for a strong territory, the GNWT will work in partnership with Aboriginal governments to explore the design and launch of a training program for First Nations governments with municipal-like responsibilities.
To better serve citizens, the GNWT will do a better job of making sure NWT residents, especially those in smaller communities, know about available programs and services and how to access them, through Single Window Service Centres and Government Service Officers.
Cost of Living
A strong territory is one where people are financially secure and able to afford the cost of shelter, food, utilities and clothing for themselves and their families.
The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes that many people struggle to afford the basic necessities of life in all regions of the NWT.
Without a stable foundation and financial security, they are less able to participate in jobs or training and be active, contributing members of their communities.
The GNWT believes that lowering the cost of living is essential to improving the quality of life for our residents, for attracting more people to the NWT and for expanding economic opportunities.
To do this, the GNWT will focus on cost drivers that directly affect families so people are secure in their shelter, food and childcare, while expanding and modernizing territory-wide energy, transportation and housing infrastructure.
Addressing housing needs will continue to be a priority for the GNWT, increasing the availability of safe, affordable housing and creating solutions to address homelessness.
The government will continue to implement northern solutions for northern housing, working with community and Aboriginal governments to support their housing goals and exploring approaches like Housing First.
We will examine how we manage housing units and land within communities to better support delivery of housing programs that meet local needs.
We will improve food security by increasing the availability of local food through better wildlife management, country food programs, support for local fisheries and an agriculture strategy to increase domestic food production.
We will address energy costs by supporting greater use of energy efficiency technologies and increasing the production and transmission of renewable and alternative energy.
Our plan will include incentives for consumers to invest in energy-efficient products and help for businesses and community governments to adopt measures aimed at conservation and more efficient energy use.
We will work with the federal government to pursue investments in transportation and energy infrastructure and continue to press for an increase to the federal Northern Resident’s Tax Deduction.
Education, Training and Youth Development
Education and training provide a solid foundation for healthy successful people and allow them to pursue their own dreams and aspirations.
People with the right education and training have better employment opportunities, and there are strong links between employment, education and housing and reduced issues related to health, crime.
Ensuring NWT residents are positioned for success means a multi-faceted approach to education and development that begins even before they are born and continues throughout their youth through to post-secondary or other training and employment.
It requires strong linkages between each phase of a person’s educational career and addressing the differences in outcomes between small and large communities and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
The GNWT’s plan for supporting the lifelong success of the territory’s residents includes continuing to implement the Right From the Start framework by working with stakeholders and communities to explore options for free play-based care for 4-year-olds, improving supports for early childhood programs and workers and improving access to early intervention services.
The GNWT’s plan will continue with increased support for K-12 education that improves educational outcomes through the Education Renewal and Innovation initiative.
The government will take steps to ensure our young people have improved opportunities to acquire the skills they need to succeed by working with Aurora College, refocusing support for post-secondary institutions in the NWT and improving outcomes from community learning centres.
We will get more 18 to 24-year-olds into the labour market by using a better mix of improved educational attainment and skill development matched to employer needs through improved career development supports.
We will implement youth resiliency programs in schools to improve outcomes and lower dropout rates, support youth development programs like the Youth Corps and Youth Ambassadors and promote and improve student financial assistance.
Community Wellness and Safety
Where people live has profound effects on their personal health and wellness, grounded in social, cultural and historical forces.
Fostering healthy, safe communities in the context of those forces is essential to ensuring that NWT residents are able to achieve personal success and wellness.
Community wellness begins with supports to encourage individuals and families to be and stay healthy.
Promoting physical activity, volunteering, positive relationships within families and time on the land promotes healthy lifestyles and mental health.
These are things the GNWT believes help to prevent chronic disease, domestic abuse and feelings of helplessness.
Prevention needs to be complemented by effective programs and services to address social ills and mental health challenges and treat disease in ways that are appropriate to community and cultural contexts.
The GNWT’s plan to support healthy communities and healthy people will include the development of a comprehensive mental health and addictions framework incorporating land-based healing programs, modeling a mobile addictions treatment team, addressing gaps in community-based services and enhancing local and regional treatment options, including aftercare.
The government will look at ways to prevent and reduce crime that take mental health and addictions into account, such as integrated case management, wellness courts, domestic violence treatment option courts and culturally-appropriate correctional programs.
Community wellness will include supports to elders to ensure they can live in their own homes for as long as possible, as well as supports for those who are no longer able to live on their own.
Programs like Healthy Family Collective Kitchens and Drop the Pop and healthy living fairs in communities will help reduce the burden of chronic disease by promoting healthy lifestyles, as will increased screening and management supports.
The GNWT will continue with health system transformation to deliver best health, best care to all residents of the Northwest Territories through and integrated health and social services system supported by regional wellness councils and a new leadership council.
Economy, Environment and Climate Change
A strong, diversified and environmentally sustainable economy is the foundation for a strong territory that provides its residents with opportunities to prosper and succeed and funds public programs and services.
Historically, non-renewable resource production has been the source of the NWT’s economic strength, enabling investments into other sectors of the economy, into energy systems and lowering the cost of living.
While this development has created great benefits for the NWT, those benefits have not always been felt equally by all communities and regions, and dependence on one or two major sectors is inherently risky.
To ensure a stable economic future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, we need strategic investment, diversification and modernization towards a high-tech and lower-carbon future, while continuing to support the industries that have helped build this territory.
The GNWT’s plan includes working with our partners to secure funding for strategic infrastructure investment that will help grow and support the NWT economy, including projects like the Mackenzie Valley Highway, an all-weather road to Whati and improved road access to the Slave Geological Province, as well as work to improve rail and marine transportation.
The GNWT will support mineral exploration and the mining sector by implementing the Mineral Development Strategy, closing the skills gap in the mining sector, implementing the Mining Incentive Program, proposing a Mineral Resources Act and supporting Aboriginal governments to build capacity to deal with mining related activities.
The government will continue to improve the climate for responsible development in the Northwest Territories by working with Aboriginal governments and the Government of Canada to settle outstanding land, resources and self-government claims and to finalize land use plans in all regions of the NWT.
Implementing devolved responsibilities and providing for the responsible, sustainable management of NWT land and resources is an important part of the GNWT’s plan. That plan will include improving the NWT regulatory system so it operates effectively and predictably while ensuring the priorities and values of NWT residents are respected.
At the same time, the GNWT will develop a territorial climate change strategy that will take northern costs and energy demands into account, while reflecting national and international commitments to lower emissions.
We will continue to examine a full range of alternative energy options, including wind, solar, hydro and geothermal, to identify the best way to meet the energy needs of all regions and improve energy resiliency.
Finally, a sound plan for the economy takes into account the advantages the NWT already enjoys, such as tourism, furs and minerals, and looks for ways to capitalize on them.
Developing the private sector in all regions and communities by promoting the NWT’s natural advantages and encouraging foreign and domestic investment will be an important part of diversifying the NWT economy and taking advantage of local and regional strengths.
Good government is about choices and about the ideas and priorities those choices are based on.
The mandate described today will form the heart of the government’s program for the next four years, the plan it will follow for advancing the priorities of the Legislative Assembly and people of the Northwest Territories.
It is a significant plan with implications for every resident of the Northwest Territories and deserves full scrutiny and debate over the coming days.
The Government of the Northwest Territories believes it is a solid and achievable plan that will improve the lives of all Northerners and in which everyone can see their priorities and aspirations and looks forward to putting it into action following its adoption.
During this session, the Government of the Northwest Territories will be introducing the following bills for consideration by the House:
- Interim Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), 2016-2017
- Supplementary Appropriation Act (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 4, 2015-2016; and
- Supplementary Appropriation Act (Operations Expenditures), No. 3, 2015-2016
The government considers these bills essential to the good conduct of government business and, as such, I recommend their passage.
As Commissioner of the Northwest Territories, I now declare open the Second Session of the 18th Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Merci Beaucoup, Mahsi Cho, Quanani, Koana.◉
Photo credit: Hideyuki Kamon (CC)