The legislature's back for four weeks. Here's what's going on
The Northwest Territories' politicians are back in action at the legislature for the next four weeks, starting on Thursday afternoon.
As usual, those weeks will be a mixture of cabinet members introducing new or amended government programs and services, legislation and government policy being debated, and regular MLAs coming forward with issues raised on behalf of community members.
If you want to see it for yourself, you can watch each day's session live on the Legislative Assembly's Facebook page (or community TV). Tune in from 1:30pm Monday to Thursday; Friday's session always starts at 10am instead.
Cabin Radio will have daily summaries in our morning newscasts and Lunchtime News shows, including clips of the most important exchanges or statements. (Get Lunchtime News as a podcast here.)
And of course, we'll report on significant developments right here on the Cabin Radio website.
As the territory's regular MLAs return to the legislature, we asked each of them to supply a list of issues they intend raising with ministers over the next few weeks. Below is an edited and condensed summary of what they told us.
Member for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh
Tom Beaulieu wants to talk about "strategic spending," in which the territory could – he believes – make investments up front to save money later.
- Home care – Beaulieu says this is a perfect example of strategic spending. He wants the territory to invest in home care, so seniors can wait longer before having to move into long-term care. He argues that will save around $750,000 per senior in care costs if better home care allows them an extra five to 10 years in their own home.
- Stanton Hospital – in keeping with his desire for better home care, Beaulieu is interested in exploring whether the old Stanton Hospital can be used in part as a school for the training of home care workers and caregivers.
- Early childhood development – "If you spend a dollar on a one-year-old, it comes back tenfold," says Beaulieu. He wants the government to "look at both ends of the spectrum" by improving early childhood development programs, and working on ways to ensure more kids in communities graduate Grade 12, while also assisting seniors to remain in their own homes for longer.
When it comes to capital spending, Beaulieu will advocate for replacing the school in Dettah and creating a gymnasium for Ndilo. "They can’t even compete within the city at a fair level because they don’t have a gym to train properly in," he said. He'll also ask the Housing Corporation – "for the umpteenth time" – to draft a community development plan.
Member for Yellowknife Centre
Julie Green will focus on the Aurora College Foundational Review, basic income, and tourism as her key priorities.
- Aurora College – discussing the government's response to the Foundational Review, which she expects to be tabled during this four-week session.
- Basic income – "It's time to look at a basic income to replace the current income assistance scheme," she said.
- Tourism – Green wants to look at ways of enhancing tourists' experience in the NWT, like a longer camping season, a visitor centre, and developing new tourism products.
She's also planning to discuss the legalization of cannabis, International Day of the Girl, International Anti-Poverty Day, and Family Violence Awareness Week.
"Of course the purpose of this session is to review the capital spending budget," she added. "I expect the minister to table that budget on October 12. We will then have a lively discussion about his funding priorities."
Member for the Dehcho
In a short response by email, Michael Nadli told Cabin Radio his focus would be "mostly business planning matters."
He outlined a number of topic areas he'll bring up, including:
- the Aurora College Foundational Review;
- cannabis legalization;
- a report into the creation of an ombudsperson for the NWT;
- Dehcho Process negotiations;
- infrastructure appropriations;
- family violence; and
- the Edéhzhíe Establishment Agreement, which protects an area of land in the Dehcho.
Member for Frame Lake
Kevin O'Reilly wants to get into the meat of cannabis legalization and regulation, saying "big issues" remain, while also discussing carbon pricing and what he calls a "lack of meaningful legislation" from cabinet.
- Cannabis – O'Reilly wants to scrutinize how cannabis revenues will be spent, how things are being communicated to the public, and how cannabis sales and use will be monitored and evaluated once legal.
- Carbon pricing – exploring what O'Reilly calls "issues around where the money is going to go." He believes industry is being offered a better deal than individual households under the NWT's planned carbon pricing scheme, and questions whether the carbon tax will lead to actual improvements in renewable energy investment.
- Legislation – O'Reilly told Cabin Radio ministers "promised a whole bunch of legislation related to Devolution and we have seen nothing so far," adding: "The Premier promised we were going to devolve and then evolve. The evolve part has not happened – nothing." He says there's a backlog building and is worried there may be efforts to "ram things through" hurriedly as time runs out before next fall's election.
Like many others, O'Reilly also wants to discuss the Aurora College Foundational Review, saying: "This is not about taking things away from Fort Smith, it’s about building something for the NWT, and the campus in Fort Smith has to be a part of that. How do we put this together in a way that’s going to help us move, and build toward a knowledge economy, and make sure the investments we do make in student financial assistance mean they actually have something to come back here to?"
Member for Hay River North
RJ Simpson wants to improve the way MLAs work with each other, discuss enhancing the NWT's fibre-optic infrastructure, and work on supports for small businesses, among other priorities.
- Governance – Simpson says there needs to be "a more collaborative working relationship" between cabinet members (the ministers, who make decisions) and standing committees (in which regular MLAs scrutinize issues and draft legislation). He also wants to increase the participation of women and youth in territorial politics.
- Investing in information and communications technology – this means improving fibre-optic infrastructure "to help improve the delivery of government services such as health care and education, to generate revenue, and to foster economic diversification," Simpson told us.
- Small businesses – encouraging GNWT departments to work together more closely to help small businesses and develop the NWT's workforce. Simpson also wants to grow the number of labourers and tradespeople in the territory.
Other issues on Simpson's mind include delivering "better educational outcomes in small communities," the Aurora College Foundational Review, challenges accessing healthcare in Hay River, recycling services in the South Slave, Hay River's potential economic growth, and the town's need to develop more land for residential development.
Member for Nahendeh
Shane Thompson was travelling and unable to respond in detail, but told us he would highlight the following over the next few weeks:
- The capital business plan which, he said, is on members' agenda.
- Medevacs in the Dehcho.
- Schools in small communities.
- The role of the MLA – Simpson said he wants to discuss "what we are there for."
- Land issues, in particular relating to cabins.
Thompson also wants to discuss the Aurora College Foundational Review, and said he would be raising issues relating to ferries and water.
Member for Yellowknife North
Vanthuyne believes the upcoming capital budget will be "a positive budget for the territory," but feels "ongoing carryovers are troubling."
- Capital budget – Vanthuyne is concerned that money earmarked to foster employment and training in smaller communities is sometimes being carried over rather than spent, and wants to find out why.
- Procurement – According to Vanthuyne, a procurement survey conducted this summer shows "many have concerns" with the way GNWT procurement works. He says improvements need to be a priority.
- Taltson expansion – TerraX, which is trying to develop the Yellowknife City Gold Project, is located (in part) in Vanthuyne's riding. Vanthuyne, echoing a line TerraX has been pushing in the media, says the company's struggling to attract big investment as companies are scared of increasing their carbon footprint. He wants to keep up pressure on the government to make the Taltson expansion happen, hooking up parts of the NWT to more hydro and potentially the southern grid.
Vanthuyne is also keen to re-examine progress on outstanding land claims. "I continually find it difficult to accomplish many of the objectives that I am working on due to the uncertainty that comes with unsettled land rights," he said. "I can sense that the youth are also becoming concerned and want to see a future they can count on for stability and opportunity."
Kieron Testart, who had been travelling, was unable to respond in time for inclusion in this article. Regular MLAs not shown above did not respond to requests for comment. Cabinet was invited to contribute to this article and communications staff expressed a desire to do so, but no means of contributing could be arranged in time for publication.