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N.W.T. premier releases new mandate letters for ministers

The letters are meant to provide direction to cabinet as the 19th Legislative Assembly works toward meeting its 22 priorities.

Letters are meant to provide direction as government works toward meeting its 22 priorities

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane released fresh mandate letters to her cabinet ministers on Thursday. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Premier Caroline Cochrane released fresh mandate letters to her ministers Thursday, which are meant to provide direction as the 19th Legislative Assembly works to meet its 22 priorities.

Approaching the end of a tumultuous first year in government that saw four cabinet shuffles, a minister ejected from cabinet, and the outbreak of a global pandemic, the letters, in broad terms, emphasize working together as an elected body, expanding government services and advancing Indigenous rights and self-determination. 

"Strengthening our government's leadership" on climate change, increasing employment in small communities, and working to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also feature prominently in the letters. 

They also aim to help the government address the effects of colonialism and build a territory where "people of all racial backgrounds have the opportunity to succeed," according to a news release accompanying the letters.

"The health of N.W.T. residents remains our main priority as we continue to navigate our way through COVID-19, but we know it is also time to continue work on and advance our collective priorities for the benefit and prosperity of the people of the Northwest Territories," states Cochrane in the news release.

Notably, Cochrane, who is also the minister of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, does not explicitly mention settling land claim and self-government agreements in the mandate letter to herself, though doing so is the first priority on the 19th assembly's list.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Cochrane said reaching land claim and self-government agreements "absolutely" remains a priority, and that this goal is included in a paragraph in her letter that speaks generally about concluding agreements that affirm treaty rights and support program and service delivery by Indigenous governments.

"Treaty rights, Aboriginal rights, program service delivery by governments — that's all about self-government, so the land claims and the self-government agreements are within that paragraph," she said. "It is an expectation of this government to work on those as diligently as possible." 

Gov't 'mostly on track' to fulfil commitments

The premier said that while COVID-19 delayed some actions, the government is "mostly on track" toward fulfilling its mandate commitments, which reflect the assembly's 22 priorities.

Cochrane emphasized the need for all MLAs to work together. She said that means "not only the team, the cabinet, at the table," but also, "including the opinions and the voices of MLAs, of stakeholders and the public at large." 

She said that by releasing the mandate letters, she sends the message that she holds herself and all ministers to "the highest standards of professionalism."

"It's about building confidence in the public that our work is based on the best interest of the residents."

The Legislative Assembly in the N.W.T. 'Strengthening our government’s leadership' on climate change, increasing employment in small communities, and working to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also feature prominently in the letters. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

Here are some highlights from the letters:

Paulie Chinna, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, and minister Responsible for Youth, the NWT Housing Corporation, the Public Utilities Board and Homelessness  

  • Reduce the municipal funding gap by $5 million. (About six years ago the territorial government acknowledged that communities were underfunded by about $40 million a year.)

  • Make a plan to apply the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to community governments.

  • Establish a territorial Youth Council.

  • Increase affordable housing by 100 units.

  • Develop a territorial homelessness strategy.

R.J. Simpson, minister of Education, Culture and Employment, Justice and Government House Leader

  • Transform Aurora College into an accredited polytechnic university over the next six years.

  • Increase the availability and reduce the costs of child care. 

  • Implement the new JK to Grade 12 education renewal action plan, to address findings that students in small communities have worse educational outcomes than students in larger centres. 

  • Address concerns with "social passing," the practice of moving students ahead regardless of how they perform academically.

  • Establish at least three more school or community libraries.

  • Start a review of the Income Assistance program.

  • Help develop a policy for consultation with the public and Indigenous governments on the development of regulations.

  • Encourage police services that "meaningfully reflect the unique needs and cultural history of each community."

  • Modernize builders' lien legislation.

Shane Thompson, minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Lands and minister responsible for the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission

  • Increase country food harvesting.

  • Support recovery of barren-ground caribou and complete five regional boreal caribou range plans.

  • Develop a new Forest Act.

  • Advance the use of Traditional Knowledge in government decision-making.

  • Negotiate a transboundary water management agreement with neighbouring jurisdictions.

Diane Thom, deputy premier, minister of Infrastructure, minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation

  • Advance the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Slave Geological Province Corridor and Taltson Hydro Expansion project.

  • Work on bringing fast and reliable internet to the territory's communities.

  • Modernize airport infrastructure.

  • Reduce reliance on diesel.

  • Strengthen the territory's procurement policies.

Caroline Wawzonek, minister of Finance, Industry, Tourism and Investment and minister responsible for the Status of Women

  • Increase tourism to the N.W.T. with a focus on communities outside of Yellowknife, and support the sector's recovery.

  • Reduce "red tape and regulatory burdens" on small businesses.

  • Review the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission's pricing policy to enable N.W.T. licensees to compete.

  • Begin consultations on a new Liquor Act and modernize the Public Service Act.

  • Change promoting programs so that the public service is more representative of people in the Northwest Territories.

  • Increase the local production and supply of natural gas.

  • Promote the participation of women in politics.

  • Advance action plans on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Julie Green, minister of Health and Social Services, minister responsible for Seniors and persons with disabilities 

  • Increase the availability of e-health, on-the-land addictions and mental health programs, and community counselling.

  • Help protect seniors from abuse and neglect.

  • Reduce vacancies in professional healthcare.

  • Respond to the 2014 and 2018 auditor general reports on N.W.T. Child and Family Services, and improve communication with the Foster Family Coalition and Indigenous governments. 

  • Ensure there is training and support for Child and Family Services workers.

  • Engage with Indigenous governments "when requested" about their right to take over child and family services.

Caroline Cochrane, premier, minister of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, Chair of the COVID-19 Secretariat

  • Lead efforts to conclude agreements that affirm treaty rights and support the delivery of programs and services by Indigenous governments.

  • Improve "accountability and oversight for Indigenous reconciliation."

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