In 2013, there was Building on the Strengths of Northerners: A Strategic Framework issued by the GNWT with the ambitious goal “toward the elimination of poverty.”
Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy stated, “I am now directing the development of an action plan based on this shared strategic framework.”
At that time, many people in the territory struggled to make ends meet and relied on government payments or donated meat from community hunters.
Then, in 2014, came the release of the GNWT Anti-Poverty Action Plan. Abernethy, still the minister in charge, stated: “(The plan) describes our commitments to address the needs of those most vulnerable and those at-risk of falling into poverty.
Many people in the territory still couldn’t afford appropriate housing, couldn’t buy new clothing, eat healthy food or even consider having any of the enjoyable things in life some of us take for granted.
And then, in 2015, came Working Together, A Territorial Action Plan to Reduce and Eliminate Poverty in the NWT. Still the minister at the helm, Abernethy stated: “This living document will help all of us work together to ensure our actions have the maximum impact on tackling poverty across the Northwest Territories.”
People were still living in poverty. Still reliant on government payments. Still living cheque to cheque.
Now, in the summer of 2019, the GNWT issued Working Together II. An Action Plan to Reduce Poverty in the Northwest Territories 2019 to 2022.
Abernethy, yes still the social services minister, stated: “(GNWT) has worked in partnership with people and organizations across the Northwest Territories to better understand and meaningfully address the root causes of poverty in this territory.”
There are few indicators to show any effort by the government has done anything to help the least fortunate people in the territory, let alone those on the margins, such as the working poor.
There is still a wide economic gap between rich and poor, with many of the wealthiest being public servants.
Such as those people who produce the glossy reports on poverty every couple of years.
Sure, plenty of money has been spent and many programs launched. Partnerships have been made with Indigenous governments and non-government organizations (NGOs).
But the statistics provided and stories told show all those good intentions haven’t amounted to that proverbial hill of beans.
Sadly, some people in desperate straits might have been satisfied if the GNWT and its many partners had produced a hill of edible beans.
It has also been interesting to see how Minister Abernethy’s tone had changed over time.
In 2013 he boasted, “Our government is a leader and champion in the fight against poverty.”
However, by 2014, he admitted, “government alone cannot eliminate poverty.”
Of course it can’t. But it can do more than it has. The last assembly did some work to lower the cost of living. It moved towards mitigating vulnerabilities in food security.
But what is needed in communities across the NWT is a more effective education that kids actually attend and learn from.
That has to lead to jobs, both in the private sector and public sector, with the GNWT moving more offices to places outside of Yellowknife. Better health care facilities – especially for the aged – are also crucial to making sure people have good health so they can learn and live – and raise their families – in communities of their choice.
Minister Abernethy will not be returning to the new government after the Oct. 1 election. He decided not to run and has put his house up for sale in Yellowknife. There will be a lot of new members, which likely will mean new ministers.
Whoever takes on the Health and Social Services file will have to realize a steady stream of reports – strategies, action plans … whatever – don’t result in any real change.
Action is what is needed. You can’t feed a family on glossy action plans.