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What did your NWT government actually do for you?


Four years ago, the NWT government promised to do 200 different things before this fall’s election. Two years in, that got updated to 230.

So, how did that go?

By the end of this month, the GNWT says, 212 of those will be complete. Eighteen will be left unfinished.

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Why didn’t those 18 get done? We’ll examine them in more detail but, basically, the GNWT says it’s down to either factors beyond its control or the work taking longer than anticipated.

First we’ll go through each of the GNWT’s five big categories in a document it calls the mandate to see what got done, and see what didn’t. We won’t go through all 212 completed items but we’ll summarize what we consider to be important or well-known ones. (You can read the whole list, which will open in a separate tab, if you want to see all of them.)

Then, below that, we’ll look at whether holding the government to account using this kind of list is the best way. What does a mandate allow you to check, as a voter, and what do you actually want to check?

Lastly, we’ll ask who you should be holding to account for this list. Deciding who deserves to stay and who deserves to go in a consensus government, with no parties to vote in or out, can be tricky. Can the mandate help with that? We’ll take a look.

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Two notes before we start. Number one, not finishing something is different to not starting it. Most of the “missed” GNWT mandate items still had a bunch of work done on them, but that work didn’t get finished in the expected time. Only one item appears to have been outright scrapped.

And number two, the GNWT says a few items are still “in progress” but will get done by the end of August. For our purposes we’re assuming they’ll be completed as planned.


Economy, Environment, and Climate Change

Stuff that got done: Big infrastructure projects got started (think Mackenzie Valley Highway and fibre line, Slave Geological Province road). Plans to tackle climate change and the NWTs’ energy issues were drawn up. Yellowknife’s airport was told to act more like a business than a government agency. Steps were taken to attract more immigrants to the NWT. Legislation like the Mineral Resources Act was updated. An agricultural strategy was implemented. Money was spent supporting the fur industry and traditional livelihoods.

Stuff that didn’t get finished:

The Aurora College strategic plan hasn’t been done yet, in part because people are figuring out how to turn it into a polytechnic university.

Some work coordinating land use and sustainability between departments isn’t finished because, a little ironically, it’s taking time to coordinate between departments. Parts of the work also need sign-off from Indigenous governments. (This accounts for six unfinished items.)

Amendments to the Waters Act and Environmental Protection Act are taking longer than expected, as are transboundary water agreements, which also rely on approval of other provinces and territories. (These account for three items.)

Stuff the GNWT decided not to do:

Perhaps contentiously, one item – reducing taxes on small businesses – wasn’t done because the GNWT decided it couldn’t afford to do that. This item was added to the mandate by regular MLAs, not cabinet. 


Education, Training, and Youth Development

Stuff that got done: Aurora College is beginning its transformation into a university. Work to improve early childhood programs, including an action plan. Community government staff can now do more training online. École Allain St-Cyr was expanded. More was done to support Indigenous languages. A strategy to develop education in the trades was drawn up.

Stuff that didn’t get finished:

The lack of an Aurora College strategic plan comes up here as well, and accounts for both of the items that weren’t completed: the plan itself, and related work to develop and promote NWT post-secondary programs.


Cost of Living

Stuff that got done: Various federal housing agreements. Implementation of Housing First in some communities. A plan to reduce core housing need. Plans to increase bison and caribou numbers for traditional harvesting. More energy-efficiency incentives. Ongoing work to figure out better use of hydro. Work on solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal community projects. Argued for a larger federal tax deduction and more Nutrition North funding. Junior Kindergarten (said by the GNWT to help keep childcare spaces available and affordable).

Stuff that didn’t get finished:

On the food security file, a multi-year management strategy for barren-ground caribou isn’t ready yet. (By law, it has to be done by July next year.)


Community Wellness and Safety

Stuff that got done: Changes to mental health and addictions programs to help them reach people “when and where they need it most.” Steps to help seniors age in place. Funding for family violence shelters. Introduction of 9-1-1 across the NWT. An action plan for child protection. Better oral health programming for kids. Developed a territorial midwifery model. A physical activity strategy. Addressed gaps in services for people with disabilities.

Stuff that didn’t get finished:

While there is now a physical activity strategy, implementing it was delayed because resources were needed to help the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, hosted by the NWT, go smoothly.

Governance

Stuff that got done: Introduction of an NWT ombud. Work on new access-to-information rules. A memorandum of understanding with Kátł’odeeche First Nation. Better guidelines for communities on how to handle emergencies. Workshops to help women enter politics.

Stuff that didn’t get finished:

The GNWT said it would build three new water treatment plants. Work has started but they haven’t been finished.

A program to help the Gwich’in Tribal Council with staffing is still going on so it can’t be evaluated this year, as was initially planned.

A new Fire Prevention Act hasn’t been finalized.


After reading all of the above, how do you feel about your government? Did you like what you see, or did you end up feeling concerned?

You might be inclined to say: “Hang on. All you’ve done is tell me whether the GNWT did the things it said it would. How do I actually know they worked?”

And that’s a big problem with looking at the mandate this way.

As one of the NWT’s top bureaucrats put it earlier this week: “We’ve done it. But so what?”

Take the cost of living as an example. Are you reassured that 36 out of 37 cost-of-living actions got done?

Quite possibly not. If your cost of living went up in the past four years (and it probably did, by most economic measures), then you may feel like whatever the GNWT was doing, it didn’t seem to help you out much.

Marking 36 out of 37 items complete is one thing. Assessing what they achieved is another. Maybe some of them were, in hindsight, not the right thing to do. Maybe some were the right thing, at the wrong time. Maybe they all worked well and, without them, living costs would have been higher still.

Meanwhile, your blood pressure may have risen every time you saw “action plan” or “strategy” in the list of achievements. It’s tempting to interpret that as bureaucrats sitting around and writing endless documents, without ever delivering real change.

Is that the case? Probably not. There’s evidently a lot of real work getting done: healthcare staff, teachers, wildlife officers, and many more besides, all doing their jobs each day and taking into account new guidance as the GNWT develops and refines its approach.

The problem is, the way the mandate is designed, it’s much easier to check if prerequisite plans were made than it is to see if the subsequent action had any impact.

‘Something more measurable’ needed?

This is the first time the NWT government has produced a mandate like this. (Before, it was a list of priorities followed by “results reports.”)

Whether the mandate should stay in this form, or look different for the next four years, will depend on who gets voted in this fall and how they feel about it. (And what you tell them about it, as voters, on your doorstep before polling day.)

Even the most senior NWT public servants have acknowledged there is probably a better way out there.

“Something more output-based and measurable” would be welcome, one of them told Cabin Radio earlier this week.

However, consensus government is such an unusual way to run things that finding other examples to borrow from is difficult. The documents that hold political parties to account (usually things like their manifesto and associated campaign pledges) either don’t exist, or can’t be applied in quite the same way, in the NWT’s assembly of individuals.

That being the case, how do you use the information on this page as a voter this fall?

Firstly, it’s important to note the mandate was approved by all MLAs, not just cabinet. That means, technically, you should be judging all 19 MLAs on this document, not just the premier and ministers. (Regular MLAs, however, are highly likely to claim that’s not the case in practice. A theme of the past four years has been regular MLAs expressing concern at their inability to influence cabinet.)

In future, Cabin Radio is told, there’s a good chance the mandate document may be tweaked so it becomes more a reflection of cabinet’s goals than the entire assembly’s vision. Future editions could come with clear measures of success, and an accountable minister’s name, next to each item.

Until then, the mandate may serve as a better gauge of where the NWT’s whole political outlook is working, and isn’t, than where individual politicians are succeeding or failing. If you think the territory is broadly on the right track, maybe don’t rock the boat. If you think the priorities and actions on this list were wrong, maybe vote in someone new.

To help you vote this fall, Cabin Radio will aim to interview every candidate in every district at length. You’ll be able to listen to each interview and read full transcripts here.

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