Mr. Speaker, today the 14th Assembly of the Northwest Territories publicly gets down to work. We have some new Members who will bring enthusiasm. We have many incumbents who will bring experience and knowledge of previous Assemblies. And with your return, Mr. Speaker, a renewed perspective from someone who has been here before and sincerely wanted to return.
Collectively, we have received a new mandate from our constituents. They want open, accountable and effective government from this Assembly and Cabinet. They want to see relations improved between territorial, aboriginal and federal governments. And with division behind us, they want the Northwest Territories to move quickly out of the starting gate with a renewed vision and commitment.
Mr. Speaker, before speaking about the challenges ahead during our upcoming term, and the first decade of the new millennium, we should reflect on the accomplishments of the past.
Many of us started our political careers advancing the cause of aboriginal rights and promoting northern autonomy. Let me briefly review some of these accomplishments from the aboriginal perspective:
- • Nationally, the Northwest Territories had a strong role in recognition of aboriginal peoples and aboriginal rights in the constitution;
- • Significant progress has been made on the settlement and implementation of Northwest Territories aboriginal land claims;
- • Through determination and commitment, recognition of the inherent right of aboriginal self government is now on the Northwest Territories aboriginal rights agenda; and
- • Aboriginal peoples and their governments or organizations are now making co-management decisions that affect Northwest Territories land, resources and communities.
Mr. Speaker, northern autonomy has also advanced. For example:
- • In the mid-1980's the Assembly and government began to set their priorities without interference from the federal government;
- • Responsible government was achieved during the same period when the Commissioner was removed from the day to day operation of the government and the position became largely ceremonial;
- • Jurisdictional responsibilities were transferred North in areas such as forestry, the Power Corporation, highways and health and education. Many may eventually be transferred again, or shared, with aboriginal governments; and
- • While the federal government continues to control northern resource management, development and revenues, we have exerted our influence to ensure northern interests and benefits are realized.
But we cannot dwell too long on the past, Mr. Speaker, because as much as veteran politicians like to look back and embellish their accomplishments, we must face the challenges of the future and the realities we face today.
Where do we and our constituents want the Northwest Territories to be in 10 years time? From the human perspective, we want a society:
- • Where individuals, their families and their communities are healthy;
- • Where children and youth can, and are, prepared to take advantage of education and training opportunities to grow and prosper;
- • Where our elders and seniors can live comfortably and are respected for their contributions; and
- • Where our cultures and languages continue to be the foundations of our society.
From an economic perspective, we want a climate:
- • Where northern and aboriginal institutions make the decisions on land, resource management, the environment and development;
- • Where Northwest Territories residents and our private sector benefit from resource development;
- • Where the Northwest Territories is in a position to use revenues raised in the North to reduce dependence on federal transfers; and
- • Where our infrastructure, like highways down the Mackenzie Valley and to Tuktoyaktuk are complete.
From a governance perspective, we want institutions:
- • Where aboriginal and territorial governments work effectively in partnership based upon the best programs and services they can provide to their constituents;
- • Where Northwest Territories residents form the majority of a public sector workforce with the expertise and commitment necessary to operate in the 21st century;
- • Where decisions can be made to advance the Northwest Territories interests at the national and international levels; and
- • Where there is a sense of unity and identity that can bring together our institutions and residents for the good of the whole Territory and its residents.
Mr. Speaker, this is the job that lies ahead of us and in ten years we will assess whether we have reached these goals, but for now let us move on to the present and the next four years.
What are some of the positive circumstances we face as we get down to work? Here is a short checklist:
- • Division and the downsizing that went with it is behind us. Now we can concentrate on developing government to be effective and accountable;
- • The development of our diamond industry and renewed interest in our oil and gas potential provide encouraging indicators of future economic activity;
- • There is a resurgence of growth in the North's traditional industries such as tourism, forestry and the harvesting of renewable resources. Fur prices are rising;
- • With the signing of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline motion, aboriginal organizations have sent a positive signal that they once again want to work collectively;
- • A Dogrib land claim and self-government agreement-in-principle has been signed, and progress is also being made on Deh Cho, Akaitcho and South Slave Metis negotiations;
- • The federal minister has given some positive signals about working towards devolution of resource management and development powers to the North; and
- • Northern aboriginal and territorial leaders agree that we need to work together and there is consensus that this may be done through participation in an intergovernmental forum.
However, these positive indicators cannot mask the stark realities we face and which all Northwest Territories residents and their institutions must address and start addressing quickly.
Very simply, Mr. Speaker, the cost of our social safety net of programs and services is rapidly escalating. Currently, our revenues are stretched to the maximum to meet these costs even as we are increasingly pressed to spend more dollars on other things like improving our housing and transportation infrastructure.
Nor do we have access to other sources of money, like resource revenues, to help cover these increasing costs - some directly related to the resource development taking place up and down the Mackenzie Valley.
We are not unique in our escalating social program costs. Other provinces and territories are facing similar increasing programs and services costs.
Mr. Speaker, we will, with our aboriginal partners, develop a blueprint to help us out of this dilemma. We will meet soon with our partners, the aboriginal governments, to discuss areas of common concern and action and to seek their advice.
However, I believe that this Assembly, our Cabinet and the people of the Northwest Territories can make an early and honest commitment to improving our lifestyle immediately.
We can all agree to the following:
- • We must find ways for families to seek a more balanced lifestyle so that our scarce family support services dollars can go towards those with special needs;
- • We must reduce alcohol and drug consumption to achieve fewer domestic assaults, less violence, and healthier families, thus providing happier homes and further cost savings; and
- • We must reduce tobacco consumption so that our hospitals and health services can focus on other more pressing priorities.
It has been estimated that in tobacco consumption alone, $31 million per year could be saved if residents of the Northwest Territories stopped smoking. In the Northwest Territories, tobacco is estimated to be the source of nearly 25 percent of all deaths from cancer, circulatory and respiratory diseases and prenatal conditions.
Government cannot legislate a healthy lifestyle. It is a matter of personal choice. Mr. Speaker, if we are to achieve a change as I have outlined then it is up to this Assembly and government to lead by example and to forge new and more effective relationships and partnerships.
This is why we are taking time at this early stage in our mandate to make sure that our agenda is based upon a collective commitment:
- • To build a foundation based on stronger individuals, families and communities;
- • To ensure that there is a balance between development of our resources and the development of our society and local economy;
- • To protect and preserve our northern environment;
- • To make sure that we have a sound understanding of our financial situation and make decisions which will not undermine our territorial system of government and evolving self-government institutions;
- • To spend less time on studies, reviews and commissions and to start making and implementing decisions; and
- • To make sure that governments, at whatever level, are open, accountable and honest to our constituents.
So, Mr. Speaker, where are we at after a little over one month since being sworn into office?
- • Caucus has met for four days in Fort Providence and we have started to develop the key features and objectives of an agenda; and
- • Our Cabinet has met to consider the outcomes from Fort Providence and to prepare for more meetings with Caucus to finalize our agenda;
- • Before this can be done, we need to meet with the northern aboriginal leadership to obtain their input and a commitment to work with us, because we cannot do it alone; and
- • We also need to consult with our federal partners, particularly on our short and long term financial needs, because without some new arrangements and more benefits for all northern residents, our ability to make a significant difference over the next four years will be severely limited.
Mr. Speaker, there is no quick fix. We will choose our priorities carefully, and we will work hard to deliver on our commitments.
We will work with our aboriginal partners to find solutions and identify and implement an agenda that reflects our consensus.
And we will develop a way to measure our results in four years to see if our plan has worked. For example, with the help of aboriginal partnerships and a commitment from the people of the Northwest Territories, I expect that our action on the social agenda will result in the following:
- • A reduced number of assaults on women in each community;
- • A reduced number of offenders and repeat offenders in each community;
- • A reduced number of children that must be placed in protective care;
- • A reduced number of medivacs due to people hurting people and individuals hurting themselves;
- • An increase in the number of healthy school graduates supported by parents and the community;
- • An increase in the number of individuals who possess the skills and abilities to take advantage of employment in their communities;
- • Elders who are well supported by their community and living independently on their pensions; and
- • Most importantly, a solid foundation for future self-government models at the community and regional level.
So too must we develop indicators to allow us to measure and evaluate the results of actions we take on our fiscal and economic agendas. How else can we determine success? How else can we determine whether or not government expenditures are achieving the results we want?
Mr. Speaker, this means that as we finalize the agenda for the 14th Assembly we must make evaluation a part of the document, a part of the plan. In closing, Mr. Speaker, it is important for this Assembly and aboriginal governments and organizations to recognize that we all represent the same people.
For all of us this is our home. Many of us in this Assembly have grown up and gone to school together. Our parents and grandparents worked together to build this Territory. Our families are related through marriage.
Together with others who have moved here, we are raising children who will hopefully stay in the North and make this place an even better place to live. This is one of the benefits of a small population.
We need to demonstrate to our constituents that it is possible to work together on a common vision. Now, more than ever in the past, we need to show our people that their leaders can pull together and truly demonstrate that we serve in the best interests of the people of the new Western Territory. Thank you.