Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, during the past two years it has been all too rare to hear good news about new program spending. For reasons all Members know well, it has been my responsibility to present the sobering, if not always popular, facts of this government's difficult financial situation. Our government was determined to lead, rather than be led, by circumstances seemingly beyond our control. But today I have the privilege of reporting that the last 18 months of difficult decisions and wise choices are beginning to pay off.
Responsible and prudent fiscal management has allowed us to reallocate government funds. Funds that we have raised from the sale of our property holdings such as staff housing are being reinvested in people and in community economic development and job creation.
Mr. Speaker, after consultation with my colleagues in the House who identified the need for such a program, I am pleased to announce today the launch of the Northern Employment Strategy. This $16 million, in each of the next two years, is a focused action plan to stimulate job creation, economic growth and labour force development. It is specifically targeted to young people and those out of work - people out of hope - people who need a reason to believe in themselves and to believe in a better future.
Certainly, the challenges facing our communities are great. Whether we talk about unemployment, school drop-out, teenage pregnancy, alcohol and solvent abuse, crime or suicide rates, northern communities account for some of the most alarming statistics in the country. Clearly, Mr. Speaker, we cannot wait for our economic futures and fortunes to improve before we act. We face a socio-economic crisis that demands an urgent response.
I am confident the Northern Employment Strategy will go a long way to providing that response. Here is how it will work. The GNWT will directly support private sector and community economic development initiatives which:
- Stimulate immediate job and work experience opportunities, particularly for summer students and youth;
- Provide new job and work-related educational opportunities to social assistance recipients and unemployed residents; or,
- Offer training and technical support to build capacity within individual communities.
We will invest in seed initiatives that result in increased private sector access to equity capital and debt financing programs. This, in turn, will stimulate partnerships that lever other sources of funding to optimize access to capital, job creation, skills development and economic activity.
If approved by this Legislative Assembly, the Northern Employment Strategy will invest $16 million in departmental programs. When combined with existing budgets, this means a total of $30 million will be strategically invested in community, economic and labour force development initiatives this year. A further $8 million is projected to be levered through contributions from partnerships and client equity. A minimum of $12.5 million in project funds is expected to be spent on NWT goods and services.
As a result, at least 43,000 work weeks of employment -- the equivalent of 1,072 full-time jobs or $17 million in payroll -- will be created, this year alone. With the infusion of an additional $16 million in the next fiscal year, we anticipate even greater results.
Mr. Speaker, the Northern Employment Strategy will be coordinated and co-managed by the Department of Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment and the Financial Management Board Secretariat. These three departments will work together to reduce red tape and get more mileage out of every government dollar. They will maximize benefits to communities by offering an integrated one window access to capital and skills development opportunities to meet immediate job creation needs and to stimulate long-term economic growth.
Communities are the key to the success of the strategy. Consistent with this government's commitment to community empowerment, the Northern Employment Strategy will strengthen community efforts to achieve greater self-sufficiency and to improve social and economic conditions.
It will increase support for empowerment initiatives by providing the necessary advisory, human resource development, planning support and programming. It will give business, industry and communities the tools and flexibility they require to make wise economic decisions that will lead to the responsible management of our resources.
Mr. Speaker, we know the GNWT is no longer the engine of the economy. Business and community development drive economic growth, and are the lifeblood of job creation in a sustainable economy. We know, too, that the only lasting solutions to community challenges are invariably homegrown. That is why community-based and regional organizations, working in partnership with local private sector interests, will have control over project design, development and, more importantly, delivery.
With these new powers come new responsibilities. Communities will now be held accountable for the outcomes of their employment strategies. Achievable targets have been identified and projects will be measured against these standards to assess whether initiatives produce the expected results.
This represents a significant shift in the government's approach to how programs are delivered and how results are achieved. In today's difficult economy, it is essential that we focus our energies and resources on strategies that demonstrate the best performance. It is also important to note that the additional $16 million, this year and next, will build on what ever works. In the interests of efficiency and cost effectiveness, most of the funds will go to six existing programs with the reminder being reinvested in two new initiatives. The monies will be allocated as follows:
- $3 million to the Business Development Fund, to stimulate business growth through business planning, creation, marketing and the development of business skills;
- $3 million to Community Futures, to replenish community funds that have been exhausted and to expand the program into the Sahtu, Deh Cho, Kitikmeot and North Slave regions;
- $2 million to the Community Initiatives Program, which supports community-based projects such as community wellness, municipal infrastructure, student programs and pathways;
- $2 million to the GNWT/Canada Infrastructure Initiative, to revitalize local infrastructure, provide skills training, work experience and short-term jobs to individuals in the community;
- $2 million to investing in people, which helps individuals become more employable through adult basic education and personnel development;
- $2 million to Working Together, Youth at Work which will provide subsidies to employers who hire students or young people;
- $1.5 million to the Community Empowerment Development Fund to support municipal governments as they take on more responsibilities transferred from the GNWT; and,
- $500,000 in grants to small businesses which are geared to individuals - typically social assistance recipients - who are unable to access larger business programs.
I remind this House that these are not new dollars. They are reinvested dollars. Dollars re-directed to areas of greatest need. We are making strategic investments, investing in people, providing incentives for learning, encouraging self-reliance and creating opportunities for economic growth and lasting employment. We are increasing our investments where it counts, in the areas that will make the most difference over the longer term. More to the point, we are putting our investment in people first.
Mr. Speaker, I am not suggesting the Northern Employment Strategy will be a panacea. Our needs are great and funding is still scarce. But it is a critical first step on the path to greater economic growth and self-sufficiency for northern communities.
I want to thank my colleagues, the Honourable Charles Dent, Honourable Stephen Kakfwi and Honourable Manitok Thompson for the productive partnerships which have made this important new initiative possible. I would also like to recognize the role of the Standing Committee on Government Operations in identifying the need to develop a comprehensive northern employment strategy and their advice in the development of this strategy.
Mr. Speaker, every Member of this Legislature can take pride in this accomplishment. Our collective commitment to fiscal responsibility to making difficult, but ultimately the right choices, has allowed us to make this progress. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.