Merging departments not about money or jobs, premier says


Premier Caroline Cochrane says a forthcoming merger of two NWT government departments is based on efficiency, not cutbacks.

Speaking in the territorial legislature this week, Cochrane said the merger of the departments of Lands and Environment and Natural Resources was “definitely not about reducing costs or losing jobs.”

The two departments, which together employ around 450 people, are expected to merge by April next year under a plan announced last month.

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Cochrane told the legislature there had been confusion over the areas for which each of the two departments held responsibility.

She added that government renewal – the name for a government-wide scrutiny of departments currently taking place, in a bid to find efficiencies – had “identified close, significant intersections between ENR and Lands.”

“Smaller departments sometimes don’t get the attention they need because of the size of the departments, and it’s also a lot of departments for ministers,” said Cochrane. “So there was a benefit to reorganization.”

Shane Thompson is currently the minister for both departments.

He is also the minister of municipal and community affairs, a department originally included in talks about a merger but subsequently left as-is.

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Cochrane said a contractor hired to examine the situation had presented four option to cabinet. The other three options, and the contractor’s report, have not been made public.

“It’s not clear what or who is driving this merger and how many staff may lose their jobs,” Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said in the legislature.

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Responding, Cochrane said: “We’re not expecting that this will be a cost-saving endeavour. This is about making sure programs are more effective, and more efficient, and better for the users in the end.”

No other government reorganization is anticipated before the next election in the fall of 2023, the premier added.

The new, merged department’s name has yet to be announced.

In the past, there has been speculation among politicians that climate change may be formally added to a department’s title to reflect the magnitude of the work required to address climate impacts. The merged department would be the only realistic candidate for such a name change.