Mark Rendell

Assembly Preview: What’s on the plate of YK’s MLAs?

Legislative assembly back in session this afternoon

It’s capital budget season, so the big-ticket items will be about major infrastructure investments like Stanton Territorial Hospital or the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link. We can also expect, however, a range of other issues to be brought to the house.

I chatted with several Yellowknife MLAs to get a sense of what’s on their agenda and will be providing regular coverage of the issues discussed in the house.

Wendy Bisaro, Frame Lake

Along with a number of MLAs, Wendy Bisaro will be pushing for the creation of an ombudsman’s office – a watchdog on government expenditures and place where people can appeal government actions. Right now the only places to appeal government decisions are the courts or appeal committees, mostly run by GNWT staff. The ombudsman would provide an arms-length check on government power, she said.

Although it’s still in the works, Bisaro says she’s likely to table a motion to allow NWT residents to keep territorial health benefits when they’re outside the territory for up to seven months. As it stands, health benefits stop after six months – which is problematic, she says, for residents who leave in October and don’t return until April.

She’ll also be talking about housing for seniors and pushing for more money for supported living or extended care.

Daryl Dolynny, Range Lake

The amount of debt being wracked up by the GNWT will be Daryl Dolynny’s main focus in the coming weeks. He says he’s watched the GNWT cut into the $100-million debt cushion it tries to maintain for liabilities like pensions, program obligations and environmental clean-up costs, and he’s getting worried. The government’s request to raise the debt cap by a billion dollars – from $800 million to $1.8 billion – only makes matters worse, he says.

Like Bisaro, he’ll be pushing for the creation of an ombudsman’s office; but he wants to go a step further, moving several commissions – the privacy commission, the human rights commission and the ombudsman’s office – if it’s created– into a single space. It would cut down on costs and create a one-stop shop for people wanting to air their grievances, he says.

Among other things, he’ll be putting forward a motion asking government to clarify the rules around full-disclosure for people purchasing homes. And he’ll be seeking more information about how the government is planning major Public-Private-Partnership projects like the Stanton upgrade.

Robert Hawkins, Yellowknife Centre

Robert Hawkins says he’s planning to table a motion regarding missing and murdered Aboriginal women. He’ll be asking the government to recognize the existence of the problem and call on the federal government to start a nationwide inquiry.

Among other issues, he’ll be focusing on cost of living in the NWT, particularly for seniors, as well inquiring into government expenditure on job training programs.

He may be tabling a proposal to change the Mental Health Act to give health professionals and law enforcement more power to force people to take their medication. And he’ll be asking the government to adopt a strategy for Morel Mushroom picking in the NWT. Because of this summer’s forest fires, a huge crop of Morels is expected next year and Hawkins says the government has to ensure NWT residents benefit from the harvest rather than harvesters coming up from the south.

Bob Bromley, Weledeh

For Bob Bromley, a major area of concern is the government’s education renewal initiative, specifically the GNWT’s approach to early childhood education. He doesn’t believe junior kindergarten, rolling out across the territory this year, is the way to go. There are too few teachers and support staff in the NWT knowledgeable about early childhood education, he says.  And if the government wants improve education outcomes, it should focus on fostering healthy and creative environments for children ages one to three, he says.

Bromley will likely be speaking about the $20 million the government is borrowing to prevent a hike in power rates. He argues that hiding the real cost of power through subsidies reduces the incentive to move towards more environmentally sustainable technology – something that would ultimately save the government money, he says.

Glen Abernethy, Great Slave

When I met with Abernethy, also the minister of health and social services, several weeks ago, he outlined two major changes his department is looking to make.

One is a move towards amalgamating health boards across the NWT. Currently there are seven regional health boards, and Abernethy is hoping to consolidate them – doing away with regional management boards but retaining regional representation on a central board.

And following a negative report about NWT child services from the auditor general’s office earlier this year, Abernethy says his department is planning some serious changes to the foster care system, which will likely be part of the child and family services overhaul being announced today. The entirety of the plan will likely be addressed in the coming weeks.

Premier Bob McLeod, MLA for Yellowknife South, and cabinet minister David Ramsay, MLA for Kam Lake, were unavailable for comment.