Caroline Cochrane at her office. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
The NWT government on Friday released its mandate – a 36-page document designed to guide what gets done, how, and when, over the next four years.
The how and when are important. Previous mandates were criticized for being too difficult to evaluate and not containing specific timelines.
A senior bureaucrat in Bob McLeod’s last government said the mandate at the time needed to be “more output-based and measurable.”
Premier Caroline Cochrane’s new mandate seems, on the face of it, to achieve that. New columns entitled “timeline” and “how we will demonstrate progress” have been added.
Even more noticeably, the document often deals in specific numbers.
The NWT government has pledged to deliver specific numbers of new childcare spaces, for example; specific numbers of new housing units; and a specific increase in the number of healthcare professionals living and working in the territory.
That allows the public – and reporters – to more readily hold Cochrane’s government to account at the end of her term in 2022, simply by checking to see if those numbers were met.
However, the mandate contains many other pledges that aren’t as easy to reduce to specific numbers, across all departments. You can read the full document to see exactly what is planned.
The document contains no surprises in terms of policy, closely adhering to an earlier list of 22 priorities published by newly elected MLAs in the fall.
Some of the commitments – mostly those involving infrastructure – have timelines that extend beyond the four-year term of Cochrane’s government, indicating they will require the support of future governments to ensure their completion.
While McLeod’s mandate was treated as an exhaustive and definitive list of government actions to be taken, Cochrane says her mandate is more flexible – and may not cover everything her government ends up doing.
“Not every action we will take to advance the mandate can be covered in this document, and there remains critically important work to be done that is not specifically addressed in the priorities,” Cochrane writes in the document, promising to “report further actions of significant interest.”
On this page, we’ve highlighted some of the mandate’s specific commitments so you can follow along as the government makes progress over the next few years.
1. 100 more homes, 100 more homeowners
The mandate promises 100 more units of “quality, energy-efficient, and affordable housing” will be made available over the next four years.
At the same time, 100 individuals or families will be moved into home ownership – partly through the development of a new lease-to-own policy from the NWT Housing Corporation, which should be completed by winter 2020.
The housing corporation is also going to “improve the availability of educational resources, building materials, and repair services in remote communities” – a topic its president has mentioned before, attracting the ire of the NWT Chamber of Commerce. By the end of the four-year term, residents in “at least three remote communities” will have better access to local building supplies and repairs.
2. UN Declaration plan by summer 2022
The NWT government says it will have an implementation plan for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ready by the summer of 2022.
However, the territory’s mandate states federal plans will ultimately have considerable impact on how the NWT ends up implementing the declaration.
While a section on land claims and self-government agreements contains few specifics, the NWT government promises to use “expert facilitators and direct engagement among elected leaders” to move negotiations forward.
A special committee of cabinet members and regular MLAs will be established to provide more accountability and oversight of the reconciliation process.
3. More money, jobs, and authority for regions
The NWT’s community governments have long complained they receive tens of millions of dollars less in territorial funding than they should. The mandate addresses this to an extent, promising to close the gap by $5 million territory-wide in the course of its next three budgets.
The territory also promises a series of steps to provide “more regional decision-making authority” by the summer of 2022.
And there is a specific commitment to create 125 new seasonal, part-time, or full-time jobs in smaller communities over the four-year term.
The NWT Housing Corporation will by summer 2020 amend its policies to allow people to set up home businesses in its units. There is also a new program to “fund and support community-led makerspaces” coming by fall 2021.
4. Reduce hospitalizations for alcohol by 30 percent
In a section on mental health and addictions, the mandate pledges hospitalizations for alcohol will be reduced by 30 percent by spring 2023.
The territory says this will be achieved in part through the introduction of managed alcohol programming, something NWT politicians have long discussed – and a recommendation in a recent evaluation of Yellowknife’s day shelter and sobering centre.
Wait times for community counselling services will also fall by 30 percent by the fall of 2023, the mandate declares.
5. Increase healthcare staffing by 20 percent
This promise, which was baked into the 22 initial priorities published in the fall, forms the headline of an entire section of the mandate. “
The territory says it will increase the number of resident healthcare professionals by at least 20 percent, in part by creating a new, dedicated recruitment team for health and social services.
Attracting and retaining staff has been a critical challenge for the NWT’s health authorities in recent years, with numerous communities reporting shortages and having to temporarily scale back services.
6. More than a hundred new childcare spaces
The mandate says two actions will between them create more than a hundred new childcare spaces across the territory between 2021 and 2023.
The first program provides non-government organizations with money for facility repairs and retrofits to help them open new childcare spaces. The NWT government says that will mean 25 more spaces per year with three facilities renovated each year.
The second action involves amending income assistance and housing programs “to allow for delivery of licensed childcare programs.” This is expected to add 20 childcare spaces per year.
At the other end of the spectrum, the mandate also includes measures to help seniors age in place, including a new income assistance program and more housing supports.
7. Distance learning in all NWT communities
The territory, which just received a less-than-glowing review of its education system from the Office of the Auditor General, makes several key education commitments in the mandate.
A pledge to modernize the Education Act by the fall of 2023 is joined by a promise that, by the 2022-23 school year, all NWT communities will have access to some form of distance learning. (A pilot that let Beaufort Delta students join classes by remote video link was considered a success.)
An implementation plan for the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university is promised by the summer of 2020. A regional needs assessment will be completed, and a capital plan for the university released, by fall 2021.
The mandate states the NWT government will “work with the federal government to access infrastructure funding” for campuses involved.
8. 50-percent increase in mining incentives
In a bid to boost mining and exploration, the mandate says funding for mining incentive programs will be increased by 50 percent over the next four years.
By 2022, the NWT government says it will “conduct an independent review on the competitiveness of the NWT’s mining regime and develop recommendations addressing mineral royalties, taxes, and direct and indirect economic returns.”
Away from mining, regional economic development plans will be established with a focus on diversification – particularly increasing the number of visitors, and tour operators, outside Yellowknife.
That’s joined by a pledge to “eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens on small businesses.”
9. Prep Taltson expansion for green light in 2024
Though the year 2024 is beyond the life of this government, the mandate suggests the year will be key for NWT infrastructure development.
By 2024, major upgrades at Inuvik’s airport should be completed, alongside runway and drainage upgrades in Sachs Harbour, Sambaa K’e, Aklavik, and Hay River.
The Taltson hydro expansion project – a huge, expensive plan to bring cheaper and greener energy to the North Slave – will have its business case developed and submitted in the near future, the mandate states.
By the fall of 2024, the NWT government says “work to enable a construction decision on the Taltson project” will have been completed and submitted for a decision.
A new fish plant for Hay River is due to be built by 2023, while new harvester support programs – in a section on food security – will be introduced by summer 2022.
10. Create a new climate change council
The territorial government says a new NWT Climate Change Council will be established by fall 2020. The council will include representatives of Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments, and other partners.
The mandate also calls for the NWT government to “update its decision-making tools to ensure they include climate change considerations.”
From the fall of 2021, exactly what those considerations are – and how they factored in when decisions were made –will be laid bare in annual reports to the legislature.