اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الثلاثاء 7 فبراير 2023 10:57 مساءً
For MLA Rylund Johnson, it's now or never if the N.W.T.'s 19th Legislative Assembly truly wants to make progress on its mandated priorities.
Johnson shared that message ahead of the assembly's return on Tuesday for its third-to-last sitting ahead of a territorial election this fall.
"It's kind of the last session to get anything done, so it puts this crunch on the government," the Yellowknife North MLA told CBC on Monday. "Either you introduce those bills this sitting, or it's kicked to the next assembly [with] different ministers.
"I expect we will be very busy in the last few months as we deal with the legislative landslide that I'm hoping the government introduces."
As it stands, there are a number of outstanding items left on the N.W.T. government's to-do list.
It hasn't met its goal of resolving at least two open land claim agreements, for instance, and has yet to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
"That's a file the premier has been lagging behind," Johnson said of the latter — an issue he flagged before the last session too.
"It was all of our understanding at the beginning of this assembly that we would have UNDRIP legislation … within the year, because the legislation is usually just giving the government some authority to go create an action plan and do the work."
Premier Caroline Cochrane stated in October that the territory was "really close" to signing a memorandum of understanding with Indigenous governments on an action plan for UNDRIP's implementation.
CBC News has contacted the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs to confirm whether it has since been signed.
Johnson said that while he expects an action plan will be passed, with little time left, the work of actually implementing it will likely be punted to the next assembly.
Carbon tax changes, territorial budget among hot topics
A final push for modernizing the Education Act is also at the top of Johnson's list.
He suggested revisiting the concept of an Indigenous school board, like the one that now exists in the Yukon, and requiring school boards to provide transit for students, especially as Yellowknife grapples with bus route cancellations.
Meanwhile, Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson said he's looking forward to discussion around proposed changes to the territory's carbon tax system
"I don't support the carbon tax," Jacobson said in an interview. "My riding has a high cost of living already, and then … we're going to be triple affected in regards to what's happening if the house approves."
Bill 60 — the N.W.T.'s response to federal moves increasing the price on pollution and banning rebates to offset those costs — is currently making its way through the Legislature. Numerous MLAs and members of the public voiced vehement dissent at a public meeting in January.
Jacobson said he plans to vote against the bill whenever it hits the floor.
"We should take a stance, that we're not just going to follow through with whatever we're told from Ottawa," he said. "I think we've got to really stand up for our people."
Yet the biggest topic of discussion will undoubtedly be the 2023-2024 territorial budget.
The N.W.T. finance department will table a draft on Wednesday. MLAs will then spend the next several weeks debating it in session before approving a final version, which must be passed before the sitting's end on March 30.
With the cost of living for his constituents' on his mind, Jacobson said he's hopeful for a budget that supports every jurisdiction in the territory.
"You just [have to] make sure that it's fair and equal across all 33 communities and not just …Yellowknife."
Johnson said he's curious to see how the finance minister will balance government spending as the N.W.T. approaches its debt ceiling and battles inflation. It's a rather tricky tightrope to walk, he acknowledged, particularly when it comes to issues such as health care.
"Obviously, we are in a health-care crisis, and the health-care system runs a deficit every year," Johnson said. "It's just basically a black hole we throw money into. So, it's a big question that's looming in our minds."
Cochrane, other premiers meet with PM
As her colleagues gather in Yellowknife, Caroline Cochrane is in Ottawa this week to discuss health care with fellow premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and discern short- and long-term solutions.
It comes on the heels of a similar summit in Vancouver last November, where provincial, territorial and federal health ministers failed to reach a deal for improving health care.
At a news conference on Monday, Cochrane told reporters that the N.W.T. spends four times the national average on health care per person, and said she will advocate for an end to the per capita funding system currently used by the federal government.
"As a small jurisdiction, per capita payments don't benefit us as much as the more populated provinces," Cochrane said.
"Our health care system is not as comprehensive in the South; in fact, we use Alberta a lot for a lot of our services. So our costs are higher, and that's the biggest thing I need to emphasize to the federal government, that you can't fund us per capita. It doesn't work for us."
Mental health and addictions are other priority areas, Cochrane said.
When asked if more federal money could mean building a residential treatment facility, she alluded that it could be a possibility — but would need official buy in from Indigenous governments.
"Mental health and addictions aren't something that the [N.W.T. government] can address alone," she said.
"The majority of Indigenous people are affected by it because of colonization and residential school, so we need to have those discussions at the larger table and decide how we utilize our resources and the support we provide for people."
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