The territorial government will inject an extra $600,000 to expand its midwifery program ahead of schedule following consultation with regular MLAs.
In the NWT legislature on Monday, finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said amendments to the coming year’s budget agreed between cabinet and regular MLAs would add in the region of $5 million while reducing the GNWT’s travel budget by around $4 million.
The $600,000 for midwifery will allow the program to advance to its second phase, which health minister Julie Green earlier said would provide four midwives in Yellowknife, one in Hay River, and one in Fort Smith.
Previously, Green had said a review of NWT midwifery would not be complete until June and, even then, the program would require $2 million to reach its second and third phases – money she said “does not exist in our budget at this time.”
Wawzonek on Monday said that had changed after a number of regular MLAs lobbied for more midwifery supports.
The announcement met with acclaim from regular MLAs.
“I think that’s a very important part of our traditional way because everyone was born at home in the early years, and now, that hasn’t been happening to a great extent,” said Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos.
“I really appreciate that, and I want to thank everybody for working together because I think that’s what consensus government is all about.”
Wawzonek’s announcement was more generally hailed by several MLAs as a demonstration of consensus government working well. The atmosphere in the legislature on Monday marked a significant departure from scenes earlier in the current government’s life of MLAs being ordered out and a minister being removed from their post.
Alongside more money for midwifery, Wawzonek said consultation with regular MLAs had led to the following major budget amendments:
- $1.4 million for more aftercare services, such as a fund for groups to pay for counsellors, money for an Indigenous knowledge and wellness coordinator, and cash to help communities come up with programs and services that meet their needs.
- $935,000 in extra money to combat poverty.
- $743,000 for four new positions to help improve cultural safety for patients in the NWT, “supporting Indigenous patients in having their concerns, complaints, and questions resolved, and bridging cultural and language barriers” – one in each of Inuvik, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Yellowknife.
- Funding from the NWT Housing Corporation for Hay River’s homeless shelter in the year ahead, with plans to ensure ongoing funding for shelters in both Hay River and Fort Simpson.
- $130,000 for tourism in Fort Smith and a commitment to fund seven community tourism positions across the NWT, up from the previous four.
Wawzonek said the GNWT would ensure a “fiscally responsible” approach by reducing departmental travel budgets by a total of $4.03 million. “We will ensure non-discretionary travel that varies by department will not be adversely affected,” she said.
Kevin O’Reilly, the MLA for Frame Lake, said the changes were the result of a dialogue between regular MLAs and cabinet that had not existed under the government of prior premier Bob McLeod.
“This did not happen in the last assembly,” O’Reilly said. “I want to give you every bit of assurance that this is a different way of doing business and a much-improved way of doing business. This is really how consensus government can and should work.”
Steve Norn, the MLA for Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh, thanked colleagues, adding the changes were a result of “all of us working together.”
“I am very, very proud that we moved forward with this,” Norn said.
Katrina Nokleby, the Great Slave MLA – who was a cabinet member during the last budget negotiations – said: “I’m really happy to see that we have been listened to. We’ve been able to get some concessions around some things around social supports and such, and I believe the cabinet really listened to us there.”