Editorial: A pie in the hand is worth two in the sky

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Having 200 priorities is a lot like having no priorities.

It pushes accountability into the ether. It’s much harder to track progress, to question a politician on the status of a given file, to figure out what the legislature as a whole is focused on, or what direction it is taking.

Investing in the Taltson hydro complex, using more renewable energy throughout the territory and reducing the cost of power for consumers can be described in the same way as the rest of the 22 priorities of the 19th Assembly: interconnected, worth pursuing, and difficult to accomplish.
NNSL file photo

This was the story of the 18th Legislative Assembly, so it was encouraging Oct. 25 to see a list of just 22 priorities that (in English) fits on one sheet of paper.Easier to digest, but no less ambitious.

If the Northwest Territories envisioned in this list were to materialize in four years, it would become the envy of the Dominion.

Affordable child care and more nurses and doctors. A polytechnic university and better student outcomes. Cheaper and more power, cheaper and more food, cheaper and more housing.

And sitting at the top of the list, right where it belongs: settled and implemented treaty, land, resources, and self-government agreements.

This is the one.

With outstanding claims, a whole host of other priorities farther down the list may as well be “help the Leafs win a Cup” for all the chance they have of being crossed off this century.

Increase employment in small communities? Unlikely. Improve food security? Try again. Attract more resource exploration and development? Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Without Indigenous buy-in – and leadership – there will be no new or bigger mines. The Akaitcho First Nations have been in formal negotiations with Canada since 2001. How MLAs will draw them to a satisfactory conclusion before 2023 is a big question mark.

This is to say nothing of where the money to narrow the municipal funding gap (priority #8), build and improve infrastructure like the Mackenzie Highway and the road through the Slave Geological Corridor (#11) or “increase the number and variety of culturally respectful, community-based mental health and addictions programs, including aftercare” (#18) will come from.

The new lawmakers won’t convene in chambers again until Dec. 10. According to a spokesperson, they started fleshing out the priorities list “immediately” and expect to have a mandate document to review in November. That mandate document begets a four-year business plan, which begets the GNWT budget for this and “subsequent” years (which probably also means the next three years of the 19th Assembly).

If any of these worthy goals is to be achieved, these documents will have to at least begin to describe how MLAs intend to go about it.

But putting land, resource and self-government claims on a single line, penthouse placement or not, doesn’t do much to describe how complex each of those journeys will be on their own, let alone together.

Creating a sharper list than their predecessors was commendable but Premier Caroline Cochrane, her progressive cabinet and the rest of caucus find themselves at the bottom of 22 uphill battles.

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