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N.W.T. MLA 'disappointed' with health minister's response to addiction funding

There were some fireworks Tuesday during the typically monotone review of the Northwest Territories' 2019-20 operating budget.

'I take great offence to the member's insults in suggesting we don't care,' minister responds

Julie Green in the N.W.T. Legislature on Feb. 8. On Tuesday, Green said, 'It's hard to overstate how disappointed I am,' in response to the health minister's plan for funding addictions and recovery in the territory. (CBC)

There were some fireworks Tuesday during the typically monotone review of the Northwest Territories' 2019-20 operating budget. They came during discussion of money to improve care for those struggling with mental health and addictions.

Fourteen months ago, after touring treatment centres with Health Minister Glen Abernethy, a committee of MLAs issued a report on how to improve care.

One of the recommendations was that the Health Department needs to do a better job of communicating what care is available and how to access it. As well, it needs to provide more care for people returning to their communities after treatment.

On Tuesday, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green wanted to know where in the budget there was money to act on those recommendations.

"For the most part, at this point in time, we're planning to use existing resources to fund activities we want to undertake in this area," Abernethy said in the legislature.

"It's hard to overstate how disappointed I am with that answer," said Green. "We've been waiting since 2016 for this addictions and recovery plan. Now it doesn't come with a funding ask? All of the required actions are being funded from repurposed money?"

Health Minister Glen Abernehty said he took offence to Green's comments, calling them 'deeply disturbing.' (Legislative Assembly of the N.W.T.)

Abernethy said there is $400,000 in the budget to complete the action plan and the department plans to find money in its budget to start putting some of those actions in place.

"But we need to finish the action plan and from there, test some of the hypotheses and theories," said Abernethy. "Then we need to figure out whether or not a business case is necessary to seek additional funds."

Green pointed out that the department was "leaping over" those processes to act on the scathing report the federal auditor general delivered last year on the department's administration of child and family services.

"Why is that not the case for mental health and addictions recovery?"

Abernethy said he hopes to get feedback on the draft action plan from the committee of MLAs, so his department can prepare a business plan to make a case for funding.

"This job is making me very cynical," said Green.

She said MLAs are expected to review the health budget this week, but they don't get to talk about the mental health and addictions action plan until next week.

"I find that the timing of this is unfortunate, if not directly purposeful."

Abernethy took exception to that.

"I got to tell you, I take great offence to the member's insults in suggesting we don't care," said the health minister.

"The member's comments are deeply disturbing. I think, frankly, she's insulting every member in this house."

The budget review is scheduled to continue for the next two weeks.

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