As the 19th Legislative Assembly passes the midway point, the Northwest Territories premier says her government is still on track to complete most of its priorities.
The territorial government first released its list of 22 broad priorities – ranging from increasing education outcomes and the number of healthcare professionals to diversifying the economy – in October 2019. Just five months later, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, interrupting many plans and requiring significant territorial resources to respond.
The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated many existing issues in the territory including the housing crisis, climate change impacts, and the infrastructure deficit. While the NWT government said the territory’s economy has now largely recovered from Covid-19, some sectors – including tourism, hospitality, and wholesale trade – have yet to bounce back.
The territory faced further challenges in 2021 with historic flooding in the Dehcho region that damaged many homes and other infrastructure.
Yet Premier Caroline Cochrane remained optimistic in the legislature on Wednesday that the government will be able to complete the goals territorial politicians set shortly after taking office.
“Despite the ongoing challenges felt here at home and around the world because of the Covid pandemic, our government continues to make progress on our mandate commitments. In fact, we expect to be able to achieve the majority of our commitments within the life of this Legislative Assembly,” she said.
“I am inspired by the way northerners have pulled together through the last two years despite the many challenges. With a shared vision for our territory and a collaborative spirit, I am confident that our government will continue to make progress on our commitments as we enter the second half of our term.”
Here’s a breakdown of progress the NWT government has made on some of those mandates so far, and work it expects to complete over the coming year.
According to the latest annual status report on the government’s mandates, 23.5 percent of commitments and related actions have been completed or work is on track, an increase from 6 percent since March 2021.
Meanwhile, 65 percent of actions are in progress and expected to be complete by the end of the assembly, nine percent have not started, two percent are delayed and at risk of not being fulfilled, and 0.5 percent have been discontinued.
Work that’s on track or complete
Among the list of action plans, regulatory work, reviews and implementation strategies, 35 of 149 actions are now considered “fulfilled.”
That includes the establishment of a working group to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in the NWT. Recommendations from that group have been approved by the NWT Council of Leaders, and the NWT government plans to work on related legislation and develop a memorandum of understanding.
The territorial government said communities and the NWT Housing Corporation have now fully utilized the $60 million carve-out from the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, among other housing projects. The NWT government had yet to touch that fund by March 2021, leading to several NWT housing projects being denied federal funding.
The NWT government and partners have helped support several makerspaces across the territory. Six makerspaces have currently been established, are in development, or in the early stages of discussion including in Inuvik, Yellowknife, Łútsël K’é and Tuktoyaktuk. The territory’s 2022-2023 budget proposes $389,000 in new funding to extend makerspaces in more communities and advance the knowledge economy.
Work that’s underway
There are 97 actions listed as being “in progress.”
Frieda Martselos, the MLA for Thebacha, queried the status of the Mackenzie Valley Highway – which will see an all-season highway built from Wrigley to Norman Wells – in the legislature on Wednesday. She said she was concerned about the lack of information she has heard about the project’s progress in the Assembly.
“This highway has many benefits which includes improved inter-community travel, a lower cost of living in the project’s region, and creating new economic opportunities like increased tourism or greater access to mineral and petroleum resource development,” she said. “This project will not only benefit the Sahtu or Dehcho regions, but the entire NWT.”
According to infrastructure minister Diane Archie, the territory plans to submit a developer’s assessment report on the highway this fall, after which the Mackenzie Valley Environmental Review Board will initiate an environmental assessment. Archie said she expects that review process to be complete in 2024, and an ensuing regulatory process to be complete in 2025. Significant financial support from the federal government will be needed before construction can begin, she said.
Work is planned for many airports across the territory. Runway and drainage upgrades were completed at airports in Sambaa K’e, Aklavik and Hay River in 2020. Work on drainage at Sachs Harbour’s airport is expected to be complete by December. The NWT secured $2 million in federal funding for drainage work at Yellowknife’s airport – expected to be completed in the fall – and it plans to complete and implement a 20-year plan for the airport this year.
Construction on Inuvik’s new air terminal and the start of the runway extension is also expected to begin in 2022. The NWT has secured $2.7 million in federal funding for lighting at Fort Simpson’s airport, and $15 million for overlay at Fort Smith’s airport.
Work with Indigenous governments on outstanding negotiations indicates two draft final transboundary agreements are complete and anticipated to conclude in early 2022.
The NWT released a draft of it’s plan to address the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in December. Work to finalize that plan and begin implementing it is scheduled to take place this year.
The NWT and federal agreements announced a childcare agreement in December with the aim of creating 300 affordable childcare spaces by 2026. That includes halving childcare fees and adding 70 spaces by the end of 2022.
Work that’s been delayed or discontinued
Among the projects that have been delayed is work with Indigenous and community governments to develop regional, tourism promotional campaigns, as a result of Covid-19.
A liquefied natural gas power plant in Fort Simpson has been put on hold as the NWT Power Corporation awaits completion of a study to determine if the community’s existing diesel plant should be relocated due to flooding risks.
Work on 13 actions that has yet to begin but is in the planning stages includes plans to host a socio-economic forum with representatives from the mining industry, Indigenous governments and the NWT government to increase the socio-economic benefits from resource development.
A planned wind power and energy storage project in Sachs Harbour has been discontinued due to poor wind resources, harsh environmental conditions, and the withdrawal of community support.