My Reply to the 2019-20 Budget Address

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in reply to the Minister of Finance’s budget address from last week. This is important because it’s the last budget of the 18th Assembly. It is, in essence, our last kick at the can, our last shot at making our mandate commitments we all agreed to three and a half years ago.

I am pleased to see that the majority of our new expenditures are the result of investments in people, in areas like education, healthcare, social services, environment, and housing. I’ve said since the outset, and I probably won’t stop, that we need to invest in the mandate.

I am pleased to see new investments in health and community wellness. Healthy children and families today will help produce a healthier and more prosperous territory tomorrow, and it’s crucial that we build that for our children. Investments to combat mental health and addictions, deal with poverty, support our elders and disabled, and enhance income assistance and low cost housing are all supports for a more secure and prosperous future.

Similarly, investments in natural resource development is investment in future prosperity. I am pleased to see more than $1 million going to research mineral potential in the Slave Geological Province. $375,000 invested in the knowledge economy and related activity is an important way to build on unique strengths and proficiencies that exist amongst our people.

Enhancements to student financial assistance will foster a stronger, more capable Northern workforce. Developing our labour market capacity to ensure that Northerners are in place as jobs and careers open up provides a base upon which families and communities can build.

We’ve all seen that tourism is the fastest growing area in the economy. Investing over $1 million in support of this burgeoning industry is an important boost to maintaining momentum there.

Our infrastructure needs are many and broad so the budget’s commitment to diversifying the growth and protection of infrastructure will pay off for us and for future generations. This is especially timely because it takes advantage of additional badly needed federal dollars.

Moving towards a greener, low-emission economy is something I think we can agree is necessary, if not urgent! I’m happy to see the investment of $21 million to support that transition. This work is in support of our commitment under Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, as well as implementing our own 2030 NWT Climate Change Strategic Framework.

I’ve spoken many times about the need for our government to continue working to close the funding shortfall to our municipalities, so I am pleased to see increased support of $1.9 million towards community governments, but much more is needed.

Mr. Speaker, those are some of the things I liked in the Minister’s budget, but, as you may have expected, that’s not the whole story. There are some areas where I think the government needs to fundamentally change its approach.

Since the beginning, the government’s overall fiscal approach has been to spend less. Only by strenuous intervention from this side, tenacious line-by-line review, and positive compromise have we reduced the pain that could have been caused by budget reductions. I have said since the beginning of the Assembly and again in this speech, that we MUST invest in the mandate. I will continue to argue this. In slow times or periods of transition, the government’s approach should not be to slow down and minimize activity. It should be to invest, to stimulate, to make things happen, and to invest in our people. That should be our approach, and I will continue to advocate for this.

At the same time that the government’s fiscal approach would have been to reduce the workforce and cut programs, it has been the government that has significantly contributed to the cost of living. Increased lease fees, airport user charges, increased power rates, carbon taxes, and maybe even a land transfer tax and sugar tax that might be yet to come, these are increasing costs that get passed onto all Northerners, including those surviving on the lowest income.

Our mandate commitment states that the 18th Legislative Assembly will reduce the cost of living. I don’t think we can claim success on that front. That commitment gets an “F” for failure!

Mr. Speaker, we started this week with a new sense of relief because a labour dispute had been avoided at the last minute. I think we need a new approach that says very clearly that we appreciate our public servants and that we care about our workforce, the people who deliver the essential services that the people of the NWT count on every day. To that end, we need to take a strong, hard look at the Public Service Act and its effectiveness. We should never come so close to a labour stoppage again!

Another area that requires improvement is procurement. It’s no secret that there are issues with this government’s procurement policies and practices. The challenges for suppliers, builders, contractors, et cetera, are all well known. We need a serious commitment from this government to review and improve our procurement policies and processes.

Lastly, Mr. Speaker, is the issue of land rights discussions. Mr. Speaker, I’ve said this many times before in this House. The most pressing thing on our list is the fair resolution of land rights. We cannot advance other priorities until land rights are resolved. Certainty is needed to achieve our mandate of economic growth. It is necessary to achieve our commitment in education, health, and social justice. It is crucial to support small business, develop renewable energy, and minimize our carbon footprint. All of these crucial priorities depend on the successful and fair resolution of land rights. We all want to see these done in the life of this Assembly.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that I was able to highlight a number of positive points that were brought forward in the Minister’s budget address. Clearly, we are making progress in many areas, but in other areas, Mr. Speaker, we still have a long way to go. The end of this Assembly may be coming closer, but I intend to fight for strategic investment in our mandate in support of all residents of the Northwest Territories in the coming weeks and right up to the end of the 18th Assembly.

Those are my comments.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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