Mr. Speaker, the reason we are here today is to begin a new session that has been scheduled to consider our 1993-94 capital estimates.
The estimates that will be placed before the House by the Minister of Finance were developed with the input of all communities in the Northwest Territories and Members of this Legislative Assembly.
They represent the new capital consultation process that the Legislative Assembly put in place earlier this year. By dealing with them at a dedicated fall session, we are providing northern businesses and contractors substantial lead time and certainty in which to conduct their planning for next year's construction season.
By taking this approach, projects can be planned well in advance so that the construction activity in any one year does not exceed what the local labour force can handle.
Mr. Speaker, new sessions in the past have been opened with a major statement or Throne Speech outlining government intentions in a number of important areas. I am departing from that tradition today because we have already spent considerable time during the past 12 months outlining our priorities and plans to change government in a way that makes more sense at both the territorial and community level.
It is time now to get down to business, but before doing that, I do want to acknowledge that a lot has happened since we were elected in this office a year ago.
The amount of change we have brought about during the first year of our term is substantial. The amount of effort and time we have put into the business of the House has been unprecedented.
Together, the government and the Legislature are making the kind of progress that is putting us in a much better position to respond to the special needs and priorities of northern residents including job creation, housing, social programs, education and training.
Faced with an extremely difficult financial climate and the need to cut back on expenditures we have also had our share of disagreement and some fairly pointed and controversial question periods. That is to be expected in any system of government, particularly in light of the tough choices that must be made and the genuine interest individual Members have in participating in the key decisions of government.
Mr. Speaker, during our first 12 months, the government and the Legislative Assembly have, among other things:
-Developed and begun implementation of a comprehensive plan that is making fundamental changes to the structure of government and the way it does business in the territory through a process of consolidation, decentralization, community transfers and privatization;
-Tackled an unprecedented financial deficit and targeted expenditures in a manner that will return the government to a balanced budget by the end of 1994;
-Developed new capital estimates and legislative processes that allow for greater public input; and
-Initiated substantial review processes into such key matters as the roles of boards and agencies and they way we deliver health and social service programs in the territory.
More recently, the Minister responsible for housing has prepared a new Home Ownership Program designed to assist residents in building and maintaining their homes.
In addition, the Minister of Personnel has finalized a long-term housing strategy that will make staff housing consistent with other government housing programs and encourage the development of private housing markets.
Members will be asked to consider both of these initiatives early in the current session.
Mr. Speaker, we have also had a few set-backs, particularly in the area of national constitutional reform. With the Charlottetown Agreement we were one step away from meeting the objectives of the Special Committee on Constitutional Reform, including the entrenchment of an inherent right to aboriginal self-government.
Canadians said "no" to the agreement. However, they have stated quite clearly since the vote that the results should not be viewed as a rejection of aboriginal concerns and northern aspirations.
In effect the territories have gained considerable public recognition and from now on it will be politically difficult to ignore our legitimate constitutional ambitions.
Whether many of those concerns, particularly aboriginal self-government at a national level, will be satisfied through constitutional or political accords is a matter of debate. Fortunately in the Northwest Territories the political climate is far different than it is in southern jurisdictions.
We can continue to make progress. For instance, the plebiscite last May produced an agreement on a boundary to divide the Northwest Territories; the signing of the Nunavut Political Accord and last week's overwhelming ratification of the Nunavut Land Claim are a clear signal that major progress is possible.
In addition, the Gwich'in are in the final stages of having their regional claim and self-government framework proclaimed in federal legislation, we hope before the end of the year. The Sahtu have made progress on their regional claim and it looks like the Dogrib, Deh Cho and Treaty Eight First Nations will soon be making decisions on their approach to negotiating regional claims and self-government agreements.
Finally, during this session Members are scheduled to discuss the next step in the development of a constitution for a new western territory.
These, Mr. Speaker, are not small matters. Government and Members of the Legislature have supported them, while at the same time ensuring fiscal integrity and initiating fundamental changes to government structures and operations.
In conclusion, I stated earlier this year that decisions to carry out significant changes during the term of government would have to be made during the first 18 months of our term in order to meet government budget cycles and administrative capability.
Mr. Speaker, the nature of our session this month and the changes we have accomplished since last November indicate that we are on target. Thank you.