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Budget, bills and bargaining: N.W.T. MLAs return to legislature for busiest sitting yet

Their main job will be the review of the 2019-20 budget, which will be unveiled Wednesday afternoon. Seventeen pieces of legislation will also be introduced this sitting, including bills for a new Mineral Resources Act and Petroleum Resources Act.

17 pieces of legislation expected to be introduced within next 6 weeks

The N.W.T.'s department of finance is scheduled to release its proposed 2019-20 budget on Wednesday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Northwest Territories MLAs return to their seats in the legislature today for what will likely be their busiest sitting of this term.

Their main job will be the review of the 2019-20 operations and maintenance budget, which will be unveiled Wednesday afternoon. It's also going to be a banner session for new legislation.

"We have about 17 pieces of legislation that will be introduced during this sitting," said government house leader Glen Abernethy. "That doesn't include our traditional appropriations act or supplementary appropriations — this is bills, not finance bills." 

Some of those are large and potentially contentious pieces of legislation, such as a bill for a new Mineral Resources Act and Petroleum Resources Act.

MLAs, including caucus chair Julie Green, have been critical of the government's lack of progress introducing new laws.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green is caucus chair. She expects regular MLAs to voice their concerns about how long it's taken for the territorial government to reach an agreement with the Union of Northern Workers. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)
"The legislation has been backed up to the last seven months of our assembly," said Green, a Yellowknife MLA. "That is particularly true of the standing committee on economic development and environment. They've only considered three bills up to this point and they're expecting 10 to be introduced within the next six weeks."

MLAs will also be debating standing committee reports on three bills: revised editions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Human Rights Act, as well as a new law to create a 911 emergency service in the territory.

UNW vs. N.W.T. gov't

Looming over the budget session is the prospect of one of the biggest strikes the N.W.T. has ever seen.

About 4,000 government employees are working under a collective agreement that expired in 2016. Northwest Territories Power Corporation workers are also in a strike position.

Employees of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority held a strike vote last week. The union said it will be announcing the results on Wednesday.

"There is a growing concern about reaching a collective agreement in the time left in this assembly, given that negotiations have already been going on for three years," said Green. "I think you're going to hear some frustration about the slow pace of negotiations from regular members during this session."

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