Tabling a plan for how to achieve the ambitious list of priorities set for the next four years is at the top of the to-do list of N.W.T. MLAs beginning their first regular session of the 18th legislative assembly today.
In December MLAs drafted a 25-point list of priorities. It covered everything from ongoing concerns such as settling outstanding land claims and lowering the cost of living to newer priorities such as increasing government transparency and implementing universal and affordable child care.
Today Commissioner George Tuccaro will give a speech outlining the government's draft mandate — how the cabinet plans to tackle those priorities. That mandate will then undergo debate before becoming official.
"The priorities are the what, the mandate is the how, and the [upcoming 2016-2017 operations and maintenance] budget is the how much," explained Yellowknife South MLA Cory Vanthuyne.
The specifics of the mandate — discussed in past weeks behind closed doors — won't be revealed until Tuccaro's speech.
Under a new priority-setting process established last year, cabinet members will have to report back to regular MLAs at least once a year on the progress they're making achieving the mandate. (The whole process is sketched out in handy chart form here.)
Ongoing concerns about the government's financial position will likely crop up during this session.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod said the government will retain only $24 million of an expected $34 million in 2015-2016 federal transfer payments, and that "we still need to exercise fiscal discipline as a government if we are going to be able to avoid budget deficits and a potentially unsustainable debt load in future years."
But Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, deputy chair of a committee of regular MLAs, said not all members are in lockstep agreement with cabinet when it comes to the financial outlook.
"I think we need to make the public aware that there are other options on the table and that our fiscal outlook is perhaps not as grim as we've been led to believe many of the statements made by the finance minister," said Testart.
Those options include reviewing government spending and programs and creating new sources of revenue with minimal impacts on the cost of living, though Testart did not specify what kind of revenue sources.
The government has in recent years nixed the idea of new taxes, saying they would only put further pressure on Northerners already faced with a high cost of living.