Because the meetings covered many of the different issues and areas, I will not try to summarize them. Rather, I would like to focus on the North's interests and concerns and thereby illustrate why we must continue to be at each of these meetings.
The discussions focused on eight topic areas including social programs, training, investment in infrastructure, interprovincial trade, international trade, fisheries, agriculture and crossborder shopping.
The discussion on social programs focused primarily on health care and the need to find more cost-effective ways of delivering this vital service. Ideas which were debated included increased efforts to promote health and prevent illness and disabilities; reduced reliance on hospital and medical doctors in favour of more flexible community-based care; development of national health goals and objectives; and increased public input and awareness of health issues.
What is of particular importance is how far ahead this territory and Assembly are in these areas. We have already initiated public awareness programs focused at preventing the need for high-cost treatment. Consultations are already under way with regional health boards as to the best model of health care delivery. Finally, a special committee on health and social services has been established by this Assembly.
The second issue area included not only training in the narrow institutional sense but brought in all facets of education, social insurance, unemployment insurance and on-the-job training. The consensus which emerged was that there must be greater flexibility and willingness by the federal government within a broad national framework to allow for a redesign of current programs to address regional human resource development needs.
A new round of consultation between federal officials and representatives of provinces, territories and the private sector will soon be initiated. The Government of the Northwest Territories intends to participate actively in these discussions so that the changes to the current system will allow us to use social assistance and training funds more effectively to help train people and assist them in seeking out jobs rather than pay for them to stay at home.
Investment In Infrastructure
The third issue area, investment in infrastructure, received a great deal of debate. All First Ministers saw it as a means of creating jobs in the short term while investing in long-term economic opportunities. Roads, wharves and other forms of infrastructure will be a key component in unlocking the Northwest Territories' huge resource and tourist potential. A new federal cost-sharing highways program would allow us to upgrade and build vital infrastructure which we could otherwise not afford. At the same time, it would free up funds to spend on other infrastructure initiatives such as airports or resource-based facilities. This initiative has been fast-tracked, and I hope to be able to report back to MLAs very soon.
On the fourth subject, interprovincial trade, I am able to announce immediate implications for the Northwest Territories. First Ministers agreed to move aggressively to reduce all forms of internal trade barriers such as subsidies, contracting
restrictions, procurement rules, and restrictions to labour mobility. However, as part of this initiative, we were able to achieve a special exemption for the Northwest Territories in light of its high level of unemployment and cost of doing business. In conjunction with the business incentive policy and other initiatives designed to maximize northern benefits from our capital spending, this should help northern businesses in these tough economic times.
The areas which were of lesser interest to the Northwest Territories international trade, agriculture and cross-border shopping received little discussion. But the final one, fisheries, did provide us with an important opportunity to press our point. We were successful in ascertaining our role in all facets of the Atlantic fishery and the management of those fish stocks off Baffin Island. This included clear and unequivocal recognition of all provisions of aboriginal land claims agreements which provide for the participation of aboriginal people in this important economic resource.
Mr. Speaker, this has only been a short summary of a day and a half of very intense discussions, and I have tried to outline only the key issues to the Northwest Territories. Of equal importance was the tone and conduct of the meetings themselves. All First Ministers recognize the grave economic situation facing the country and the need to work cooperatively in dealing with these problems. As we face the tough choices brought on by difficult financial times, I believe we in this House will have to do the same. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.