The honeymoon phase for the 19th Legislative Assembly is now over.
As they head into the second sitting of the “most progressive assembly yet,” cabinet members and regular MLAs have got quite the task in front of them.
Rebounding from three cabinet shuffles – one stemming from a very public falling out with Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby – communications gaffes, alleged fights with legal clerks and a deputy minister leaving their position while under the gun of a global pandemic will be an uphill battle.
There is positive news as NWT Bureau of Statistics recently revealed that employment in the territory is up, albeit after hitting record high unemployment rates in August.
Bolstering the economy is an absolute must for our leaders, and partnering with the business community will be one of the keys to success.
But the NWT Chamber worries the GNWT is creating jobs in the wrong sector with its Covid-19 Secretariat.
The move has been widely criticized as being a poor use of funding or unnecessary expansion of the GNWT’s already significant bureaucracy. The Chamber’s president, Jenni Bruce, has said the money would have been better spent on the business community or moving forward on projects like infrastructure improvements promised since the last election.
Premier Caroline Cochrane has said she feels the new secretariat is justified in that it will prepare the North for a forecast second wave of Covid-19, one that is currently ongoing in southern provinces.
“We heard from residents that they wanted improved communications, better enforcement, improved testing capacity, and a quicker turnaround from Protect NWT. The Secretariat is our response to these needs,” she wrote in an open letter published by News/North last week.
Cochrane also responded to Bruce’s concerns in an open letter stating her government will not increase the small business tax rate. This is a win for small business in the territory and a sign that the GNWT is paying attention to the advice of those who have invested their lives into doing business here.
It is hoped co-operation can continue through the business advisory council, a direct channel from the chamber to the government, because entrepreneurs and small business have an important role to play in our economic recovery.
There are already positive signs of progress on larger projects with the Yellowknives Dene First Nation reinstalling their support for the Slave Geological Province Corridor – an infrastructure project to build an access road to the northeastern parts of the territory that is slated to entice mining companies to open up shop.
The news couldn’t have come at a better time now that Dominion Diamond’s deal to sell its Ekati mine assets has fallen though, casting a long shadow on the mine’s future.
But this support is only one step forward in a marathon to the finish line.
Hopefully the time for political squabbling and headbutting egos is over. The NWT needs strong leaders who are willing to work together.
A constant theme on the campaign trail at the end of the 18th assembly was to end departments “working in silos” and promote co-operation between cabinet and regular MLAs.
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in our gears, but if this secretariat functions as promised it should not distract from growing amount of work that has to be done.