The 19 newly elected MLAs on Friday released a list of 22 broad priorities Premier Caroline Cochrane and her cabinet will be expected to tackle over the next four years.
Though the items were not presented in any specific order, the first item leapt out: "Settle and implement treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements."
Immediately beneath that, in the second item, the 19 MLAs said Cochrane and her team should implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. British Columbia this week introduced legislation to do the same, earning praise on Friday from the Dene Nation, which said BC was "leading the way."
The one-page document is not the final road map from which Cochrane's government will operate, but more an early expression of will by the collective group of MLAs. A full mandate and business plan will follow.
The last government, in 2015, issued a similar document with 25 bullet points – then produced a follow-up mandate which ultimately featured 230 items.
Investments in three major infrastructure projects – the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Slave Geological Province access corridor, and Taltson hydro expansion – are on the list. The priorities set out include increasing both economic diversification and "resource exploration and development."
Many of the priorities do not, as yet, come with tangible outcomes: for example, one item states the government shall strengthen its "leadership and authority on climate change" without making any attempt to specify how. With the administration technically only a few hours old, little more detail than that could be expected.
However, there were some specifics. Another item on the list set a clear target by demanding the number of healthcare professionals resident in the NWT "increase by at least 20 percent."
Similarly, the list calls on the territory to "increase student education outcomes" so they meet those elsewhere in Canada.
Municipalities in the NWT will be pleased to see a pledge to reduce the so-called municipal funding gap. For years, municipalities have called for additional funding from the territory – running into the millions of dollars – based on an NWT government-backed study that demonstrated such a gap did exist.
In addition, the new group of 19 MLAs directed cabinet to "increase regional decision-making authority" – an important statement for a government to be led, unusually, by a Yellowknife-based premier for a third consecutive term.
While the list included a commitment to "increase the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based mental health and addictions programs, including aftercare," there was no mention of opening a dedicated facility based in the NWT – which had been a focal point of some candidates' campaigns.
Other items included improvements to affordable housing, creation of a polytechnic university (which would be ahead of schedule were it to open during this government's four-year life), reducing the cost of power, letting seniors age in place with dignity, and ensuring government procurement works to the benefit of NWT residents first.
Perhaps reflecting Premier Cochrane's former education portfolio as a minister, four of the first six items listed related to learning. They included improvements to early childhood development and "advancing" universal childcare (the document took care not to promise its full implementation).
In places, the 19th Assembly's list of priorities struck a significantly different tone to that of its predecessor in 2015. Four years ago, there had been nothing like such a clear and specific emphasis on land claims and no mention at all of the UN Declaration.
Compare and contrast:
However, many of the same themes were easily identified in each: better social programs and attention to the economy among them.
Notably, the new government's priority list omitted any reference to transparency and accountability. Though the 2015 document pledged to increase both, candidates in October's NWT election almost uniformly criticized the extent to which that government delivered.
Priority list in full
The document read: "The 19th Legislative Assembly directs the cabinet to work in partnership with Indigenous and community governments to implement the following priorities for the benefit of the people of the Northwest Territories:"
- settle and implement treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements;
- implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- improve early childhood development indicators for all children;
- advance universal childcare by increasing availability and affordability;
- increase student education outcomes to the same level as the rest of Canada;
- create a polytechnic university;
- increase regional decision-making authority;
- reduce the municipal funding gap;
- increase employment in small communities;
- increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need;
- make strategic infrastructure investments that connect communities, expand the economy or reduce the cost of living, including the Mackenzie Valley Highway, the Slave Geological Province access corridor, and the Taltson hydro expansion;
- increase economic diversification by supporting growth in non-extractive sectors and setting regional diversification targets;
- increase resource exploration and development;
- reduce the cost of power and increase the use of alternative and renewable energy;
- ensure government procurement and contracting maximizes benefits to residents and businesses;
- adopt a benefit retention approach to economic development;
- increase the number of resident healthcare professionals by at least 20 percent;
- increase the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based mental health and addictions programs, including aftercare;
- enable seniors to age in place with dignity;
- strengthen the government’s leadership and authority on climate change;
- ensure climate change impacts are specifically considered when making government decisions; and
- increase food security through locally produced, harvested, and affordable food.