Caroline Wawzonek speaks at a northern aviation conference on May 10, 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
NWT finance minister Caroline Wawzonek will on Wednesday release the territory’s proposed budget for 2023-24 as MLAs resume sitting at the legislature.
The Legislative Assembly’s daily schedule of speeches, questions and other political business resumes on Tuesday for eight days, plus a further three weeks spread across late February and March.
The last budget, which increased spending by 2.3 percent year-on-year, passed despite six of the 11 regular MLAs choosing to oppose it – an unusually large rebellion by NWT standards, particularly as Wawzonek’s two prior budgets had passed unopposed.
At the time, MLAs in opposition said the budget offered too little for the territory’s smaller communities.
The detail of this year’s budget will be presented to reporters on Wednesday morning at an embargoed briefing, meaning nothing can be published until Wawzonek tables the full budget in the legislature that afternoon. The government’s budget is then examined over a period of weeks by regular MLAs, who must ultimately vote on whether or not to approve it.
A vote to reject a budget is usually the equivalent of a vote of no confidence in the government of the day.
The 2022-23 budget was presented last year under a theme of “doing as much as we can with what we have,” pledging not to cut programming or add new taxes, but instead to limit new spending.
Wawzonek, about to present her last budget prior to this fall’s territorial election, has overseen a multi-year initiative named government renewal – a scrutiny of departments’ budgets in a bid to find efficiencies. There have been few updates about that process in the past year, although the forthcoming merger of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources with the Department of Lands came after government renewal found “close, significant intersections” between the two, according to Premier Caroline Cochrane last May.
Wednesday’s budget should provide more detail about that merger, such as how the two departments’ combined operating budgets will look – and maybe even a name for the new department. A Department of Lands spokesperson said on January 25 that the name was being finalized and the merger was “on track for April 1.”
Whether much more about government renewal will be revealed on Wednesday remains to be seen.
Wawzonek has previously said the initiative is among several where residents may “only really see their fruits bear in the next assembly,” meaning under the new government installed after October’s election.