Alfred Moses, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) apologized Wednesday after earlier chuckling that day in response to a question about a funding gap facing NWT communities.
In a heated exchange, Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart grilled Moses in the legislative assembly on a funding shortfall to NWT communities from the GNWT.
The gap — which is currently $40 million — will likely lead communities to pass increased costs onto their constituents to cover municipal costs like vehicle fleet fuel, as the carbon tax comes into effect, NWT Association of Communities Executive Director Sara Brown recently told a group of MLAs.
The longstanding short-fall means there’s little resilience to new costs, outside of reduced service or increased taxes, she said.
Testart called on the government to address the gap before the end of the session, eliciting cackles from the house.
“I do apologize. I did laugh,” Moses said, after Testart drew attention to his response, but “we are doing things. We are working.”
“A naked example of passing the buck”
Testart said there needs to be continued pressure to address the funding gap.
“The state of community funding in the Northwest Territories has a major problem and we’ve known about this problem for a very long-time,” Testart said.
Moses said feedback on the current funding strategy would be released before the end of the session. The 19th Assembly, however, would have to address how the strategy’s shortfalls, and the impacts of challenges like climate change.
“In reality … this going is to be something that’s going to need to be addressed by the next government,” Moses argued.
Testart called that a “naked example of passing the buck” after members have advocated to close the gap for four years.
“What can be done in this sitting to address these issues?” he said to chuckling from across the aisle.
“And the ministers laugh at this request,” Tesart continued. “This is a request that was bought forward by the (NWT Association of Communities). This is a request that was brought forward by community leaders time and time again and to be met with laughter now.”
An upcoming budget could address the issue, according to Testart.
Moses promptly apologized.
“I did laugh, but at the same time, it doesn’t fall only on us as a territorial government,” he said.
Moses said the priorities of the municipalities also comes into play. Citing recent announcements with the federal government, he again committed to continuing working with the NWT Association of Communities.
“This isn’t a federal issue,” Testart said. “We created the formula, and we’re not funding it. That’s the issue. This gap is entirely the responsibility of this government, and no other government.”
Moses further discussed work on community priorities, which Testart maintained is a separate issue from the Territory-provided money.
The minister of municipal and community affairs suggested focusing on the “essentials” was preferable.
“Do you want sewage and water or do you want a nice gym?” he asked. “Do you want safe water or a nice swimming pool? … Do you want a nice track and field or people provided with the essentials?”
Moses insisted he simply wants a roof over residents’ heads, but when there are municipalities asking for “above and beyond” their essential needs, “those are the decisions we have to make,” he said.
“If we had an endless credit card, sure,” he said. “But right now, we don’t.”