On eve of budget day, N.W.T. gov't balances flat revenues with MLA wish lists
Finance minister says government in good position to support programs it delivers
The Northwest Territories government says stagnant revenues present a challenge as it prepares to introduce a new budget later this week.
Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod is scheduled to table the 2018–19 budget Thursday afternoon at the legislative assembly.
"One of the major industry players has said that they can write off their royalty payments and put that toward their infrastructure investments," said McLeod, speaking about impacts from the mining sector.
"They've chosen to do that this year, so our numbers are down a bit and then we would assume that they'd go back up next year."
However, the territorial government says its fiscal strategy is working, thanks to reductions over the last few years, said McLeod.
"I think that [our] position is really good to [absorb] a hit such as this and still maintain and even enhance some of the programs we deliver."
Last year, MLAs and cabinet battled over spending reductions; at one point, regular members threatened to vote the budget down until cabinet made adjustments to appease them.
- N.W.T. Budget Wars: Episode I — The Cabinet Minister Strikes Back
- N.W.T. Budget Wars: Episode II — Revenge of the Regular MLAs
- N.W.T. Budget Wars: Episode III — A New Hope for consensus as cabinet offers $4.8M top-up
This year, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson, who represents a number of small communities, said he thinks the government has heard MLAs' thoughts.
His biggest budget concern is employment for residents.
"Training's great," said Thompson. "If people are not working, they're not providing income for their family. It would be a hurt to them and … the people in the residence."
He pointed to the Small Community Employment Support program as one area the government could direct its dollars to help workers.
However, he's still in favour of funding education and training — particularly for social workers and teachers. The intake to two Aurora College programs that train students in those fields was put on hold last year at budget time.
The government originally planned to cut $1.9 million in funding to the college, but reinstated it after the decision caused a public backlash.
- Aurora College's teacher, social worker programs targeted by budget cuts
- Cutting Aurora College teacher, social work programs unfairly targets women, supporters say
Thompson said he wants to see the social work and teacher education programs reinstated.
"One of our huge priorities is teachers and social workers. It's our youth and our future ... and we need Northerners to do those things."
He said he's hoping the government hears those concerns.
MLA wants home care for elders
Tom Beaulieu, MLA for Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh, wants to see more spending on employment in small communities — a topic he's raised often at the legislative assembly.
His budget wish list also includes investing in home care for elders.
Home care services involve a third-party caregiver who comes into elders' homes to help them with daily living activities, according to the government's website.
Beaulieu said there are many people taking care of their elder family members, which prevents them from working — even forcing family members to depend on income support.
Beaulieu said investing in home care will free family members up, and save the government money.
"I think that home care is really the program that is going to save a lot of elders from going into long-term care," he said.
"[It's] very expensive to put elders in long-term care and it's not good for the communities as well."
The finance minister wouldn't reveal specific details ahead of budget day.