NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane said she “has confidence” Justin Trudeau’s federal government will look-out for the North following Wednesday’s Liberal throne speech in Ottawa.
Governor General Julie Payette laid out the Trudeau government’s plans to address the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic in the speech, which was delivered to mark the opening of a new session in Parliament.
The Conservatives say they will not support the minority government’s throne speech. The New Democrats have yet to say whether they will support it. (If a throne speech is defeated, an election is ordinarily triggered.)
The speech, nearly an hour long, tackled a laundry list of topics.
The Liberals promised the creation of a new, Canada-wide early-learning and childcare system, the continuation of the federal wage subsidy program, and the amendment of the criminal code to address neglect of seniors in long-term care facilities.
Following the speech, Cochrane told reporters she was “excited” to hear the speech reflect many issues specific to the North and Indigenous communities.
“For example, we know that our housing needs [are] huge,” she said, referring to the speech’s promised supports for housing.
“The need for infrastructure, we need jobs, we’re still in an opportunity gap. We don’t even have roads to many communities. And climate change, [that] was really exciting one as well.”
These issues and others – public transit, clean energy, and improved broadband support across the country, to name a few – will be top of mind in the territory’s next meeting with Trudeau, Cochrane said.
“He’s put it out there, and we’ll be making sure that we continue to lobby for the Northwest Territories so that they recognize that we’re not even in the same place, we still have huge opportunity gaps,” she said. “It does give us a window to actually move in that direction.”
A host of commitments
The federal government’s promises in the speech included the co-creation of “distinctions-based” healthcare legislation with Indigenous nations, the launch of new, regional airline routes, and the introduction of measures “taking action” against racism within policing.
On the over-representation of racialized minorities in the criminal justice system, Cochrane said “discrimination … is top of mind for all governments.”
“The Northwest Territories has always been very conscious of racism, recognizing that over 50 percent of our population is Indigenous,” she said. “It’s been something that we’ve been conscious of forever.
“So, I’m glad that Canada and all jurisdictions are on board, looking at both equality and equity as we move forward. It’s certainly not too late, but it’s not too early either.”
Cochrane referenced the territory’s work on its action plan to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
The Liberals promised to “accelerate work” on Ottawa’s own action plan, having recently been upbraided for making relatively little progress.
“It is something dear to our hearts in the Northwest Territories,” Cochrane said. “It is something that this government is committed to moving forward.”
Double the housing funding?
While the speech made a host of commitments, what the territory really needs from the federal government, said Cochrane, is money – especially to address issues such as housing.
“The cost of housing, compared to southern jurisdictions, is at least double,” she said. “As we move forward, I will be bringing those statistics forward to the federal government.
“If our costs are double, then we should be getting perhaps double the funding.”
Cochrane said the NWT is negotiating receipt of a “northern funding package” from the federal government to help with the territory’s Covid-19 recovery, which she estimates will be announced some time in the next few weeks.
The contents of that package are not immediately clear.