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New N.W.T. budget dials back savings target, OKs 911 service across territory

The N.W.T. government is scaling back its goal to save $150 million but is still proposing another round of cuts throughout the government this year.

36 jobs affected by 1 department merger, other mergers proposed

N.W.T. Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod says the territory plans to launch 911 service some time in the next 14 months. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

The N.W.T. government is scaling back its goal to save $150 million to $100 million but is still proposing another round of cuts throughout the government this year.

At the same time, the government says it hopes to launch territory-wide 911 service within the next 14 months, in addition to offering full funding for the expansion of the territory's junior kindergarten program

The 2017-2018 budget released Tuesday afternoon sets out to eliminate 65 positions, though about 29 of those are not currently staffed. The government says it will try to find other jobs for the 36 people affected. 

McLeod delivers his budget speech Wednesday afternoon in the legislative assembly. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

Some of the reductions outlined today stem from a plan to shrink the number of government departments to 11 from 14.

The Departments of Public Works and Services and Transportation will be combined into a single department, as will the departments of Finance and Human Resources plus the departments of the Executive and Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations. 

The government is also planning job cuts and program reductions in other departments. Eight positions are targeted for elimination in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, plus:

  • six in Lands (the government's youngest department, created because of devolution);
  • four in Industry, Tourism and Investment;
  • four in Municipal and Community Affairs ;
  • three in Justice;
  • two in Finance; and
  • one full-time position in Health and Social Services.

Read the full, department by department list of proposed reductions here:

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Despite the planned cuts, the government says it is investing $55 million more compared to last year's budget.

Vacancies softened impacts of last year's cuts

New numbers released Wednesday show that though the government eliminated 124 positions under its budget last year, approximately 53 of those positions were already empty and only nine employees were ultimately laid off.

The rest either retired or received their notice late and are still being assessed. 

Other highlights of the 2017-2018 budget include:

  • money for a new, Yellowknife-based RCMP unit aimed at investigating online child predators in the territory. The unit will create two new RCMP jobs and one new job within the N.W.T.'s Justice department. 
  • $4.2 million to the territory's income assistance program to both increase allowances and allow for more recipients
  • $6.6 million for the territory's overstressed medical travel program, partly to make up for federal funding that runs out in March
  • an extra $3 million for finding jobs for youth in smaller communities
  • $500,000 to help Hay River and Fort Smith host next year's Arctic Winter Games
  • $750,000 to extend the N.W.T. Child Benefit 

On 911 service, for which the government is committing $616,000, McLeod said the government first needs to retrofit some infrastructure in the North before it can launch the service, making it difficult to pinpoint a specific launch date.

He said it's not known where the call centre will be located but said it may be located in the south.

In Yellowknife, the government will spend $520,000 to open a sobering centre — timeline unknown — and another $230,000 to keep the city's day shelter open 12 hours a day. 

During last year's budget unveiling, the government outlined a plan to generate $150 million over five years through a combination of cost cutting and new revenues.

Finance officials Wednesday said that $37 million was generated through that effort last year. Combined with this year's budget, they hope to generate $70 million. That leaves another $30 million to be saved under the government's new target of $100 million. 

Details on new infrastructure department

The new Department of Infrastructure will contain 580 positions and a budget of $240 million.

By comparison, the departments of Public Works and Services and Transportation contained a combined 609 positions and shared a total budget of $246 million last year.

All the proposals contained in the budget still need to be approved by a majority of MLAs in the legislative assembly.

They're expected to debate the budget over the coming six weeks. 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Guy Quenneville is a web writer and reporter for CBC Saskatoon, previously with CBC North in Yellowknife. Story tips? Contact him guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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