Premier Caroline Cochrane at the NWT legislature in September 2020. Sarah Sibley/Cabin Radio
The nine-figure financial shock delivered by wildfires this year will push the NWT government into a deficit, Premier Caroline Cochrane said on Wednesday.
However, Cochrane said the medium-term outlook “is stable” despite the government’s operating surplus – cash used to help pay for infrastructure or pay down debt – shrinking from $178 million to $5 million in recent months.
“The GNWT will likely run a deficit in 2023-24 when our capital expenditures are considered,” Cochrane told the legislature in a statement opening the final week-long sitting before November’s territorial election.
She went on to accuse Canada of a “failure to make transformational investments [that] will leave the NWT facing the devastation and staggering cost of climate change without sufficient economic opportunities to cover the increased expenses.”
Big-ticket infrastructure projects like the Mackenzie Valley Highway and Taltson hydro expansion have been in the federal inbox for years. For all that Ottawa has made occasional positive noises, no significant funding has arrived. (Not everyone agrees that those projects are the right path forward.)
Cochrane also said the federal Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, launched in 2019 as a form of governance guidebook for Canada’s North, had failed to deliver any implementation plan for its aims – or any dedicated money. She said there was a continued “insistence that the NWT fit into national program models without recognizing our unique circumstances.”
“This has been a record-setting wildfire season for the territory, including an extraordinary financial cost, and we cannot face this burden alone,” Cochrane said.
“The North will not be silenced in its calls for treatment equal to that received by Canadian provinces. The time for investment in the North and true partnership is now.”
On the other hand, the premier acknowledged that federal disaster relief funding would help to stabilize the territory’s budget despite recent “large expenditure shocks.”
“Normally, this can take several years, but we are negotiating with Canada to advance some of this money sooner,” Cochrane said. “The federal government has been receptive to this idea and is considering it.”
Meanwhile, Cochrane said 90 percent of her government’s four-year mandate would be completed by the time its life expires this fall. Nine percent of items were delayed, she said, and one percent “discontinued.”
The exact items delayed and discontinued weren’t mentioned but will be contained in a report expected to appear shortly on the legislature’s website.