Federal Northern plan drops

MP-hopefuls say long-awaited policy framework is too little, too late

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One aspect of the Liberal government’s new Northern policy plan is to invest in energy, transportation and communications infrastructure. Pictured is the Northland Utilities station at Jean Marie River. NNSL file photo

Incumbent Liberal NWT MP Michael McLeod says the Liberal government’s new Northern policy plan is a living document, made collaboratively, that provides the tools for quick action if his party is re-elected to lead.

His NDP and Green competitors in the riding say it’s too little, too late. News/North did not hear back from Conservative candidate Yanik D’Aigle, or members of his team, by press time.

“We didn’t want it to be like the one that was developed by the previous government,” said McLeod, citing the Conservative’s Northern policy under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, which was more heavily focussed on sovereignty and military. “We wanted to have the document capture what (territorial and Indigenous) governments were saying. And I think it’s done that.”

The document sets up working groups, partnerships with Indigenous governments, and a forum to discussion, as well as eight overall priorities:

  • To nurture healthy families and communities.
  • Invest in energy, transportation and communications infrastructure.
  • Create jobs, foster innovation and grow economies.
  • Support science, knowledge and research.
  • Face the effects of climate change and support healthy ecosystems.
  • Ensure the North and its citizens are defended.
  • Restore Canada’s place as an international Arctic leader.
  • Advance reconciliation and improve relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

“This document wasn’t intended to have all the programs and all of the investment that is going to be required down the road,” said McLeod. “This is a policy framework, which is the document that sets out the procedures and the goals, which would be used for further discussions and further decision-making.”

NDP candidate Mary Beckett said this document falls short of those parameters.

“They haven’t got any specifics in it anywhere yet,” said Beckett. “If you’re talking about strategic planning, we’re looking at the 10-year plan, but what are our one-year, two-year, three-year goals and what are our specific steps? And we don’t have any budget attached.”

Beckett said she sees nothing wrong with the document’s priorities themselves, but that they’re so vague that hardly anyone could argue with them.

“I cannot criticize anything that’s in the document because it’s motherhood and apple pie, and I believe in motherhood and apple pie. I just don’t believe that this government has enough strength and intention to back this up in a reasonable period of time with specific action steps attached to budget lines with money that will be released in the near term.”

Green candidate Paul Falvo said that this document’s release “shows that the North is low on the Liberal list.”

“I’d say it’s a lofty and laudable restatement of issues that Northerners are well familiar with – without timelines or specifics on how to solve them, and no sense of prioritization,” said Falvo. “In fact, the only priority evident is a low one: If the Liberals are serious about the North, if Northerners are important to them, we would have seen this during their mandate, when there was time to implement it.”

Falvo compared the release of this document, one day before parliament dissolved on Sept. 11, to the government declaring a climate emergency and buying the Trans Mountain Pipeline the next day.

“My sense is that the Liberals are realizing they got elected as a protest vote; so, they’re scrambling to show they did something,” said Falvo, adding the Greens will soon release their Arctic platform.

McLeod said the late release of the Liberal government’s new Northern policy plan was due, in part, to a shuffling of ministers.

He said there were also disagreement over some of the report’s contents among some of the government’s partners in drafting it, so the government took extra time to make sure everyone was happy with it.

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