Wednesday’s speech from the throne showed that the federal government recognizes the unique issues facing the North, said Premier Caroline Cochrane, in a teleconference with reporters.
Julie Payette, the Governor General of Canada, delivered her wide-ranging throne speech on Wednesday afternoon, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau masked and seated to her right.
“I was quite excited actually,” Cochrane said. “We know that our housing needs are huge, that was in the Speech from the Throne. The need for infrastructure, we need jobs, we’re still in an opportunity gap, we don’t even have roads to many of our communities and climate change was there as well. There were some (items) that were specific to the North that I thought were really good.
“The Indigenous people of the North were recognized as particularly at risk,” Cochrane said. “Having that identification, and (talking) about the need for infrastructure, transportation, energy efficiency, clean energy, broadband (internet). Those things will be top of mind in our next meeting with the Prime Minister.”
Cochrane also appreciated that Payette spoke about the need to combat discrimination in policing.
“The NWT has always been very conscious of racism,” she said. “Recognizing that over 50 per cent of our population is Indigenous. I’m glad that Canada is on board. And all jurisdictions are on board in looking at equality and equity. It’s certainly not too late but it’s not too early either.”
The Governor General said that Canada would invest $1 billion to eliminate homelessness. The 19th Legislative Assembly has committed to tackling homelessness, as contained in the mandate letter of Paulie Chinna, Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.
“When it comes to housing, we need money,” said Cochrane. “We can’t build houses without money. The cost of housing compared to southern jurisdictions is at least double. As we move forward I’ll be bringing that forward to the federal government as many occasions as I need to. If our costs are double we should perhaps be getting double the funding.”
The premier also noted that eliminating homelessness calls for a multifaceted approach.
“You can’t only look at homelessness as only about housing. We need to look at housing, or support. We need to look at homeless shelters. But we also have to look at mental health and addictions and trauma because in my opinion a lot of times the issues are combined. I’m excited that they’re willing to tackle this,” she said.
Payette pledged to accelerate progress in addressing the calls to action related to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
“It’s a huge issue throughout Canada,” said Cochrane. “I was really glad to see that the federal government is looking at it.
“We’re doing our own action plan for the territory. One we’ve done that then hopefully we’ll be working with the federal government on a national action plan. It’s something dear to our hearts in the NWT. It’s something this government is committed to.”
In response to Payette’s multiple references to climate change, Cochrane said she is glad the federal government recognizes that the North is feeling the effects of climate change the most.
She pointed out that Ottawa is helping the NWT reduce its expensive reliance on diesel generated electricity.
Cochrane then turned to mining, a sector that she said forms almost 40 per cent of the territory’s GDP and one that can be incorporated into the NWT’s climate change strategy.
“Mining isn’t all about just taking from the Earth and not giving back,” she said. “Cobalt (and) rare earths are important for building green technologies. You can’t keep mining out of the picture when we talk about climate change and green energy. Those alternative energy sources need the minerals. It’s about looking at what we can offer.
“I’m hoping that the federal government will recognize that and work with us towards green mining and also continue to work with us in getting our communities off diesel.”
Asked if she thinks the policies outlined in the throne speech would be acted upon soon, Cochrane said it’s naive to think they would be implemented in one term.
“But I do think that we have to start at it. It will be work over the long-term. But one thing I can say for the federal government is every meeting that we’ve had…with all premiers across Canada, the Prime Minister has always recognized that the Northern territories have unique needs. And that between the gap is great compared to other southern jurisdictions.
“I do have confidence that as we go forward, that in any of these areas that the federal government will not forget the opportunity gaps that we have in the Northwest Territories, or any of the Northern territories.”
One of the few issues that Cochrane said she thought was missing from the Throne Speech was mention of the Northern Policy Framework on investment in the Arctic and North. It was first introduced in 2016 and was to be developed in consultation with Indigenous and territorial leaders.
“We spent a lot of time in the last assembly working on the Northern Policy Framework,” Cochrane said. “I would have liked to have seen a little bit more on that in (the speech), because this year we were supposed to start talking about the framework for the implementation. Although it’s not in the Speech from the Throne, it doesn’t mean that things that are important to the NWT won’t be lobbied for as we move forward.”