Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, our planned deficit for the 1996-97 fiscal year is expected to be $5 million less than we budgeted for last May.
Our accumulated deficit picture has shown improvement as well. Last May, we expected our March 31, 1997, debt to be $85 million. We can now expect that figure to be $65 million, and by March 31, 1998, it will have declined further, to less than $57 million.
Mr. Speaker, we all know how difficult it has been to achieve these results. We have had to reduce government spending by almost five percent this past fiscal year and by an additional five per cent in 1997-98. Everyone has had to make a contribution to lower government spending.
- Employees of the GNWT and its boards and agencies have seen their salaries and benefits reduced;
- The rationalization of programs and services has resulted in substantial reductions to person years;
- Contributions to municipalities, boards and agencies have all been reduced;
- Capital spending has been cut significantly, and in some cases, Mr. Speaker, facilities have had to be closed.
Mr. Speaker, there has also been a great deal of discussion in this Assembly about the fairness and equity of the reductions being implemented by this government. It is important to observe that the reductions implemented by this government have transcended regional and constituency boundaries. Job reductions, facility closures and program restructuring have affected all constituencies and all communities in the north.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to point out that we are not out of the woods yet. While we have significantly restructured government and reduced duplication and inefficiencies, we continue to face intense pressure on the expenditure side. Reducing expenditures to this degree when we are facing growing needs from our ever-increasing population and our very real social problems has meant that we have had to make some tough decisions. However, these decisions have been necessary to bring our expenditures in line with our revenues and to ensure the sustainability of the system in coming years.
Mr. Speaker, in order to meet our deficit reduction targets we have had to reduce expenditures by $100 million in each of 1996-97 and 1997-98. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have not yet succeeded in reducing our operating budget to a sustainable level. We cannot continue to reduce capital spending without long-term implications. It is essential that we continue to look for ways to do government in a more cost-effective manner.
The stark reality is that funding from Ottawa will not continue to grow annually, as it has in the past. We took an exceptionally large hit in 1996-97. The federal government reduced our gross expenditure base in our Formula Agreement by five percent, a reduction, as I have said many times, totalling $60 million annually. In addition, the growth in our funding under the formula is tied to the growth in provincial and municipal government spending in the rest of Canada. Since provinces have been reducing their spending, some by dramatic proportions, we have taken another substantial blow. Continued budgetary reductions in southern Canada, particularly in larger provinces like Ontario and Quebec, will significantly impact on our revenues and further threaten our ability to deliver essential programs and services to our residents.
Mr. Speaker, this government cannot afford to absorb any further revenue reductions. It is for this reason that the Formula Financing Agreement which covers the period 1995-1999 has not yet been signed.
I have been meeting with the federal Minister of Finance, the Honourable Paul Martin, to try and obtain his support to include a "floor" in the Agreement. A floor would provide us with some protection against further large reductions in our funding should provincial governments continue to curtail their spending. I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that Mr. Martin has agreed to review the GNWT proposal with a view to finding an equitable solution to this important issue.
Mr. Speaker, those who suggest that we are moving too aggressively to put our financial house in order and return this government to a balanced budget position are not considering the consequences of in action on future generations. Larger deficits, and correspondingly high interest payments to service this debt, will only lessen our ability to deliver essential services and programs to the people. Mr. Speaker, this is not an acceptable alternative. This government is not prepared to leave a legacy of debt to future generations.
Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the greatest pressure towards increasing expenditures is within, what we call the social envelope. Staggering demographic factors such as our rapidly increasing population continue to create demands for services that are straining the existing system.
As a result of the deficit recovery plan adopted by this Legislative Assembly, a conscious and informed decision was taken to protect the funding levels within the social envelope. In fact, Mr. Speaker, as a percentage of total expenditures, the social envelope funding has increased from 58 per cent in 1995-96 to 61.5 percent in this budget.
However, Mr. Speaker, maintaining or even increasing funding levels, frankly, is only a short term solution. As I stated earlier, a rapidly increasing population is placing demands on the system that is outstripping our capacity to deliver services as we have in the past. We recognize that fundamental change must occur within the system to ensure its sustainability.
The Minister of Health and Social Services, the Honourable Kelvin Ng, with the participation of our program delivery partners, is actively managing the evolution of the health and social service system.
This process includes an extensive analysis of the current system and the development of a comprehensive plan for reform that will serve as a solid base for the future development of two sustainable health care systems. Systems that will ensure our ability to meet the needs of our residents over the long term. To guide this process, Minister Ng has established a steering committee comprised of the Minister and the chairpersons of the Inuvik and Baffin Regional Health Boards and the Northwest Territories Health Care Association.
Mr. Speaker, while the reform of our health care system and social services system is a critical issue, I said last May that we must also look hard at how we do business throughout our entire organization.
We had to improve communications, eliminate unnecessary administration and duplication, streamline departments and get out of the areas that are best left to the private sector or communities.
Mr. Speaker, we have done many of those things. The past 12 months has been a time of unprecedented change in the way that government programs and services are delivered.
We are in the process of developing a digital communication network with our private sector partners to support cost-effective government operations. This network will provide for communications needs required by a modern, decentralized government operation as we head into the twenty-first century.
We have consolidated and reduced the number of government departments from 17 to 11. The new Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development has been established to provide a one-stop, one-window approach to sustainable development.
Government has removed itself from functions that can be better done by the private sector. Systems management has been privatized, property management functions are being privatized in several regions and, in some cases, the operation of facilities has been privatized. Decisions relating to privatization in areas such as petroleum products and computer services will be made in the near future.
Mr. Speaker, these operational changes have not been an exercise in moving functions around. They have been serious and successful actions that have reduced expenditures. They have been followed up with action to reduce internal red tape, decentralize decision-making and increase the authority and accountability of our managers. Today, our managers have more authority to make decisions than ever before. It is a fundamental belief of this government that decisions affecting our communities are most effectively made by the people living in those communities and by our front line managers who deal with these issues on a daily basis.
Mr. Speaker, it is fair to say that these organizational changes have not occurred without consequences. Although we are now administratively more efficient, organizational change, undoubtedly, brings stress. We have attempted to help our staff deal with these changes through the Employee and Family Assistance Program. However, Mr. Speaker, what is now necessary is clarity on what the future holds. I hope to offer some clarity today.
Mr. Speaker, last week, the Minister of Public Works and Services announced that we have accepted the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly not to proceed with the amalgamation of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Works and Services. With this decision, our fiscally induced restructuring is largely complete. We can now bring greater stability to the organization. This is not to say that we will stand still. Division, community empowerment and social and economic reform will bring about some change. However, Mr. Speaker, it is now time to turn our attention away from restructuring, towards the issue of the division of the Northwest Territories and the implementation of a transition plan that will ensure that there are two viable governments on April 1, 1999.
There are only two years and two months remaining prior to division. During this time, decisions must be taken to implement government structures for Nunavut and the new western territory, assess and determine employee complements and establish any inter-territorial service delivery agreements necessary to ensure continuity in the delivery of programs and services. As stated on many occasions, this government is committed to taking the operational steps necessary to ensure that there will be two efficient governments operating on April 1, 1999.
This Assembly has established as a priority and demonstrated its commitment to have two fully functional governments on April of 1999. However, Mr. Speaker, to accomplish this, we must begin soon. We are currently in the process of preparing a division transition plan for all departments that will address the necessary steps and identify the financial and human resource requirements for Nunavut and the western territory. This plan will be ready for review by Members of this Assembly at our next session in June.
Mr. Speaker, a key issue for this government as we prepare our transition plans is the government design for both Nunavut and the new western territory. With respect to the design of the Nunavut government, the Nunavut Implementation Commission (NIC) recently released its second comprehensive report recommending a design structure for the government of Nunavut. Earlier this month, this government responded in detail to the NIC report emphasizing our commitment in principle to an affordable model of government that is decentralized and serves all residents of Nunavut effectively and efficiently. It is our intent to move quickly to ensure a smooth transition as we approach April 1, 1999, by entering into a protocol with the interim commissioner with respect to the implementation of the new government.
However, Mr. Speaker, it is important to point out that we are only one party to this process. We have fulfilled our obligation to further the process by providing our response to the NIC report in a timely fashion. We now anxiously await the response of our two partners, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) and the federal government. Once the positions of the federal government and NTI are clear, it is essential that we move quickly to reach a consensus on design considerations so that planning and implementation can proceed in an orderly manner.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to point out that the implementation of a new Nunavut government is wholly dependent on the federal government living up to its commitment to provide the necessary incremental and on-going operations and maintenance funding. Mr. Speaker, to that end, it is essential, essential, that the federal government address the funding issue in a clear and comprehensive manner in its response and at the Nunavut Leaders' Summit in February.
With respect to the western territory, the design of the new government will emerge from constitutional and self-government discussions. We are fully committed to participating in this process and have identified over $1 million in 1997-98 budget to ensure that we can contribute effectively to the self-government talks. At the same time, Mr. Speaker, it is important that our division transition plan for the western territory includes an efficient model of government that ensures that services and programs continue to be delivered in an efficient manner after division.
Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Finance I am very concerned that the Northwest Territories is left in sound financial condition on March 31, 1999. The successful creation of Nunavut and the new western territory is dependent on the steps we take to stabilize our financial situation and ensure that our 1996-97 funding base not be permitted to erode any further.
Mr. Speaker, one of the key issues that must be addressed in the short term is the determination of base funding, including incremental costs, that will be established for both two new territories.
The federal Minister of Finance, the Honourable Paul Martin, has agreed to a process that will address the structure of the financial arrangements and the amount of funding that will be available for each territory after division.
For Nunavut, this process will include the participation by the interim commissioner and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.
Parallel to this, on the advice of the western Caucus, we have ensured similar participation by the stakeholders from the western territory in this process. To facilitate this participation, the government has provided seed funding to the western Caucus to form a steering committee to oversee this work. The steering committee is comprised of representatives of the western Caucus, the Aboriginal Summit, the Northwest Territories Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Territories Association of Municipalities.
It is important to note, Mr. Speaker, that given the importance of this issue to the people of both new territories, this government is committed to ensuring that there is broad representation from both territories at the negotiation table.
The timely resolution of the funding issue is essential for the planning and implementation of two new viable governments.
On April 1, 1999, the governments of Nunavut and the western territory will require a capable public service to ensure the continued delivery of programs and services to all residents of the Northwest Territories. In Nunavut, decisions to address the immediate staffing needs of the Nunavut government will have labour relations implications for the GNWT and its current staff.
While the interim commissioner has the mandate to recruit employees, prescribe their conditions of employment and establish human resource systems and processes for the Nunavut government, the GNWT's position on labour relations with respect to Nunavut has been clear and unequivocal:
- All GNWT staff located in Nunavut must become employees of the Nunavut government on April 1, 1999 and that they be automatically transferred with all terms and conditions of employment intact;
- Existing GNWT headquarters staff should have hiring priority on Nunavut positions for which they are qualified;
- The same principles must be applied to the staffing of the Nunavut and western territorial governments as were applied to federal-territorial devolution arrangements; and
- The costs associated with hiring new staff for Nunavut, the transfer process, office space adjustments, relocation and severance packages are transitional costs and must be covered by the federal government.
It is our intention to enter into discussions with the interim commissioner at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the transfer of GNWT employees to the new Nunavut government so that our employees are given the security they require as we approach division.
Mr. Speaker, there are many fundamental issues to address in the division process. This Legislative Assembly is committed to addressing these issues with our partners in a manner that ensures that division occurs, I have said many times, in an orderly and equitable fashion.
Mr. Speaker, while the planning and implementation for division will continue to be the focus over the remaining two years of our mandate, we recognize that dealing with our fundamental social and economic challenges and delivering programs and services remains the primary role of this government. As I stated previously, addressing these issues in a time of severe fiscal restraint, frankly, is a daunting task.
However, as a beginning, we have reinvested funding in the social envelope to target specific program initiatives designed to deal with some of the more pressing challenges faced by our communities. It is important to note, Mr. Speaker, that these initiatives have been funded by internal reallocations from other envelopes. For the past two years the social envelope has been allocated funding for the Community Action Fund. This fund allowed communities to develop wide-ranging plans for wellness activities and resulted in a number of successful initiatives. It is now time to begin providing communities with the funds and support required to implement these plans.
In order to maximize the long-term benefit, the social envelope will be focusing community expenditures on children and their families. By investing early in children, and supporting their caregivers, communities can realize immediate improvements, and help prevent the development of problems later in life which may require expensive remedies.
This year the social envelope has allocated $3 million for early childhood initiatives, bringing the total funding for this initiative to $4.5 million, Mr. Speaker.
The Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, the Honourable Charles Dent, has the lead for this initiative and will work in conjunction with the Honourable Kelvin Ng, to distribute funding to communities to enable them to offer early intervention services that support families. These funds will be used primarily to provide community based education or health promotion activities to families, to pay for early intervention workers, to enhance specialized services for children, to purchase specialized equipment, to improve screening programs for better detection of children at risk and to enhance child and home care programs for all these children.
The Department of Health and Social Services will also be investing in a specialized treatment program for youth suffering from addictions. By investing in our young people we believe that we can most effectively ensure the future wellness of our communities.
However, this is not the extent of this government's reinvestment in social programs.
An additional $960,000 has been allocated to the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, for income support community program delivery, bringing the total budget for this program to $1.4 million. Minister Dent has the primary responsibility to distribute these funds to local delivery agencies who will be involved in the design and delivery of income support services best suited to meet local needs and priorities.
This funding will enable communities to hire and train staff to deliver income support programs, while allowing community social workers to more fully concentrate their efforts on working with the community to prevent or alleviate our growing social problems.
The social envelope has also received an additional $1.5 million to train and support staff in communities who supervise offenders on probation or in the fine-option or other community-based supervision programs. Working with the Department of Health and Social Services, the Department of Justice will be distributing this funding to communities that assume responsibility for community supervision.
Given the high cost of incarceration in the Northwest Territories and the need to develop better and more effective alternatives to the present system, this government is committed to encouraging communities to develop their own strategies, services and programs to deal with their own residents who find themselves in conflict with the law.
Mr. Speaker, these three initiatives, Early Intervention, Income Support Community Program Delivery and Community Supervision, represent a strong commitment by this government to enhance the resources available to communities so they are better able to develop programs designed to meet the needs of their residents and address local program requirements.
Mr. Speaker, this government also remains firmly committed to the transfer of program authority and capital infrastructure to communities through the community empowerment initiative. Led by the Honourable Manitok Thompson, the Department of MACA is proceeding with transfer requests at a pace that is acceptable to communities and is based on building capacity at the community level through training and development.
To facilitate this process, the department has been allocated an additional $2 million dollars to address the community empowerment priority. The department will be also be reallocating $1.7 million of existing funding to this priority from savings realized through land reform initiatives. These financial resources will be specifically targeted for community-based planning, community assessments, community training and community ownership of infrastructure.
Mr. Speaker, we also recognize the tremendous demand for social housing across the north. The Minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation, the Honourable Goo Arlooktoo, has been working diligently to address this issue through program reform but it is obvious that the demand for social housing far exceeds the Housing Corporation's delivery capacity.
As part of our initiative to sell our stock of staff houses, we expect to identify surplus units. This government is not prepared to allow surplus units, whether owned or leased, to sit empty. In cases where unsold housing units are no longer required to meet the housing needs of employees and where we have vacant leased units, we intend to transfer these units, and the corresponding funding, to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to help address our urgent social housing needs.
Mr. Speaker, in the long term what people want most is hope. Hope for their future and the future of their children. The hope that comes from opportunities to become more self-reliant and productive.
This can mean jobs. But it is not just a wage employment. It can also mean pursuing traditional activities like trapping, sealing, fishing and hunting. It can mean self-employment or the opportunity to start a small business.
We have good reason for hope. The north has a wealth of natural resources, which are the envy of many nations. We are blessed with minerals, oil and gas, forests, fish and wildlife and a vast unspoiled landscape. We must conserve and protect these resources. We must use them wisely so that we can harvest them today for the maximum benefit of northerners and ensure that they are there for future generations.
Whether it is mining, renewable resources, tourism, arts and crafts, manufacturing, construction, or small business, every sector of our economy has the potential for growth.
Mr. Speaker, in my last budget address, I indicated that government can no longer sustain economic growth. The onus for future economic growth and job creation must shift to the private sector and to communities. This government, Mr. Speaker, is committed to developing a climate that will stimulate economic growth and create new, sustainable jobs.
A stable and competitive tax environment is critical to ensuring that this occurs. Our personal and corporate income taxes are among the lowest in Canada. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to confirm that this budget contains no new tax measures.