Mark Rendell

Assembly Briefs: Oct. 30 – Junior Kindergarten put on pause

And a new post-devolution council is undercutting MLA power, according to Bob Bromley, and there's no Aboriginal wellness coordinator at YK's corrections centre

After tussling for months over the divisive issue of junior kindergarten, the Government of the Northwest Territories has backed down – the program will not be coming to Yellowknife next fall.

Premier Bob McLeod announced Thursday the roll out in Yellowknife and the larger communities would be paused until a comprehensive review of the existing program is complete.

“The review will be undertaken over the next eight months and its findings will be summarized and provided to the 18th legislative assembly as part of transition,” said McLeod.

The 23 communities that started junior kindergarten this year can drop the program if they want, said McLeod – though they’ll be allowed to continue next year, if they choose.

“The government will also reach out to all other education authorities, Aboriginal Headstart, licensed day care and day home operators, parents and the general public to hear their views about whether junior kindergarten should be offered in the future, and if so, how,” he said.

McLeod’s announcement received loud applause from MLAs on the opposite side of the chamber, though several remained skeptical.

Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny expressed concern that Yellowknife school boards would still be funding the program in smaller communities while awaiting the result of the review.

The government hasn’t put new cash on the table, relying instead on school board surpluses. This means the YK1 and the Catholic school board will together have to pay close to $1.5 million over the next two years even while the fate of junior kindergarten remains uncertain.

McLeod said this was justified, given YK1’s current surplus of close to $2.5 million and the Catholic School Board’s surplus of $1.4 million.

New council undercuts MLAs: Bromley

The intergovernmental council, recently established to bolster cooperation between the GNWT and aboriginal governments on land and resource policy, is undercutting the power of MLAs, claims Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley.

Post-devolution, the council is tasked with making important decisions about land use. Yet according to Bromley, its meetings happen behind closed doors and a request for observer status for MLAs was denied.

“Decisions are now apparently made on behalf of this house by a brand-new quasi-government structure that has had essentially no democratic review,” he said.

McLeod defended the council, saying the results of all meetings are made public and the council is happy to meet with the standing committee on priorities and planning on an annual basis. He also said he brought the MLA’s request for observer status to the council, but it was shot down by the leaders of other governments.

He did offer an olive branch to Bromley, inviting him, as the chair of the standing committee on priorities and planning, to sit as one of three representatives the GNWT is allowed on the council.

Still, the issue of MLA input remains unresolved. In February, McLeod said he’d welcome input from MLAs about the terms of reference for the government’s participation in the council. This consultation never materialized, according to Bromley.

“Opportunity for input: zip. Terms of reference provided to date: zip. MLA observer status: no way,” he said. “So much for consensus government, so much for the people’s representatives participating in governance and setting priorities.

No aboriginal wellness coordinator in corrections centre

Since the beginning of June, the position of aboriginal wellness coordinator has been vacant at the North Slave Corrections Centre.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins brought the issue up on Wednesday, outlining the importance of culturally relevant programming for inmates.

“With this position vacant, people are not getting the treatment that they certainly need,” he said. “If we expect them to return to society properly, we must ensure we give them every chance and every skill through productive choices.”

Justice Minister David Ramsay said the department was working hard to fill the position. They ran a competition in the summer and offered the position, but the person turned it down.

“We are in the process of looking at filling that position now on a casual basis until we can find a permanent person to fill that position,” he said, adding elders come into the facility regularly to do sharing circles with the inmates.