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NWT Premier race: Full text of Glen Abernethy’s speech

As distributed to media. Text may not match delivery in the legislature.

Before I get started I just want to take a minute to congratulate all of you on your recent election and swearing into the 18th Legislative Assembly.

During the evening of November 23 I watched the election results roll in from across the NWT. As the night went on I became more and more excited by the results. Between the 11 new members and the 8 returning members I feel……….. actually, I know that we have a new energy, new ideas, and with the wide range of diverse backgrounds in this Assembly, we have a real opportunity to shift how we do business in the best interest of all residents of the NWT.

The results of the election were a clear signal to me and to others across this Territory that the 18th Legislative Assembly and the Government of the Northwest Territories need to do things in a different way. The status quo is no longer acceptable.

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As I sat down to write this speech I reviewed a number of speeches from previous territorial leadership meetings. There was a common thread. They all focused on the issues that Premier Candidates would make a priority during their four year term. I could easily have written a similar priorities-based speech.

Instead, I want to focus on how we can do things differently together; to not only guarantee the success of our priorities, but also how we can build a stronger territory. Former Premiers would no doubt argue that this has been the premise for their platforms as well. I believe that there are key pieces that we need to have in place to make this happen.

Before submitting my name to stand before you today, I spent a significant amount of time thinking about, and discussing with many of you, the Premier’s role.

Simply put, within the context of consensus government, a premier is the first among equals – and the role of the Premier is to help bring our collective vision and priorities to reality. It is not to set the priorities for this Assembly without the direction of this Assembly.

He or she is one of 19 who is granted the honour of working with and for members to ensure that our agreed upon priorities are acted upon by the public service.

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He or she is one of 19 who is granted the honour of representing the NWT in government to government relationships – Community, Aboriginal, Federal, and Internationally.

He or she is one of 19 who is granted the privilege of speaking and acting on behalf of the GNWT during good times as well as challenging times. The Premier must be a lightning rod when required and a voice of reason and deliberation when needed.

He or she also has a critical role in ensuring a collaborative and productive working relationship between Cabinet, Regular Members, stakeholders and the public.

During the election, and over the last couple of weeks this is the area where we have all heard that things need to be done differently. The only way that we, as politicians, can truly help build a strong territory is by working together.

• Working with each other here in this building.

• Working together with Aboriginal and Community Governments.

• Working with stakeholders.

• Working with and including residents.

We must be inclusive and we must be transparent in our approach.

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We must be open to new ways of doing business and of opening up our institution and government to creative new ideas and ways of doing business. We have to help build bridges, rather than create barriers.

There will be times when we agree and there will be times when we disagree. From my time as Minister I know that disagreement often leads to robust discussions which can produce the best results. I look forward to these discussions and debates, because it is our responsibility to explore differing opinions. Everyone elected to the 18th Assembly has issues that are important to the residents they represent. And it’s that collective approach that will help us achieve our collective goals.

If elected as Premier I will work closely with all Members to help move our collective priorities forward. I commit to being part of the team that is the 18th Legislative Assembly.

This is obviously easier said than done. Anybody can say they will work together. The trick is actually doing it. I believe that through my previous experiences I have already demonstrated that this is how I do business.

I strongly believe that past actions predict future behaviour.

During the past 8 years, I have been guided by what I would want to see in my MLA – hard work, commitment, integrity, and an actual understanding of the issues in front of them. During the 17th Assembly the members told me that they wanted a Minister who believed in and is guided by these values.

Taking this to heart, as Minister in the last government I worked closely with Committees and with their direction and support I took action on issues important to the residents of the NWT.

This has always meant a commitment to listening to all sides of an issue, answering questions, encouraging understanding and respecting differences in opinions. I took this approach as an MLA and as a Minister, resulting in significant advancements, improved services and programs, and partnerships at community, business and government levels.

As an example, I led the GNWTs development of an Anti-Poverty Framework that included local citizens, NGOs, local governments, businesses, industry and the GNWT working together on strategies to eliminate poverty in the NWT.

Although the GNWT held the pen on the development of this framework the words that flowed from this collaboration were those of the stakeholders, not the government.

This was the first time that the GNWT had entered into this type of collaborative process. It was not without its struggles. However, in the end we were all able to come together and develop a comprehensive Anti-Poverty Framework that has formed the backbone of the GNWT Anti-Poverty Action Plan as well as the Territorial Anti-Poverty Action Plan.

This type of ‘outside the box’ thinking and collaboration needs to be utilized to a greater degree by this government. It was also important to me to participate in the anti-poverty roundtables, rather than just make a speech. I needed to understand the poverty issues in the NWT and its impacts on our residents – this has resulted in better informed decisions.

In addition, I followed through on my commitment from the 16th Assembly to improve Child and Family Services in the NWT by bringing forward, with the direction and support from Committee, Building Stronger Families, An Action Plan to Transform Child and Family Services. This Action Plan focuses on supporting families and providing them with the tools they need to raise children in a healthy and happy environment.

The Standing Committee on Social Programs and residents across the Territory were critical in moving this forward. We are in the first of a three year roll out on this initiative and I’m excited to see this change become a reality over the coming years.

As a final example, I led the NWT’s health and social services transformation initiative to improve focus on patients and clients.

Transforming and improving health care in the NWT is something that has been talked about for years but until now, hasn’t been realized.

For this to be successful it was critical for me, as the Minister, to travel to every community in the NWT to talk with residents about the system, hear their frustrations and especially, their recommendations for improvement. These community based discussions helped all of us to create a plan forward.

I also convened a meeting with Aboriginal leadership to discuss ways to improve the Health & Social Services system. This was the first time that this type of meeting was convened to discuss these critical services.

Ultimately, this work will allow the 18th Assembly to make progressive changes to our health and social services system that will positively affect the health and well being of all NWT residents.

As I indicated earlier, I believe strongly that our past actions often predict future behaviour. I have shared my recent experiences with you as evidence that I don’t support the status quo and that I have worked hard with my previous colleagues, the public, Aboriginal Governments and others to bring about change within our public service.

I think that the key to a stronger future is innovation and a willingness to approach things differently.

Albert Einstein said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Moving forward, we need to do things differently.

There are issues that the 18th Assembly must work on together to resolve:

• The steadily increasing cost of Living across the Territory.

• The GNWT’s operating costs continue to climb. As a government we no longer have the financial resources to continue doing business as usual.

• Low commodity prices, large amounts of land in interim withdrawals and uncertainty in our regulatory processes that are discouraging investment, exploration and development of our non-renewable resources;

• The diamond mines, the most significant contributors to our Territorial GDP, all have closure dates that are rapidly approaching and with no new significant developments we risk a further reduction in our overall revenues.

• Our Education system struggles to adequately prepare our youth for post-secondary education and meaningful employment opportunities – particularly true in our rural and remote communities;

• There are limited opportunities or supports for post-secondary studies at a community and regional level;

• Many residents throughout the Territory continue to struggle with Mental Health or addictions issues.

• Homelessness continues to be a significant challenge.

• Climate Change and its negative effects in the NWT continue to drive costs and jeopardize future generations.

• Traditional lifestyles and Aboriginal languages have created a strong cultural foundation for our vibrant, diverse territory. We must make their preservation and revitalization a priority.

This is just a short list of the challenges that this
Assembly needs to address over the next four years. On December 14th we will all have an opportunity to stand in this house and publicly discuss what we heard during the election campaign and set priorities to address these issues.

Consensus government is about relationships and can only be effective when respect and dignity for each other are maintained and committed to by all parties regardless of where you sit in this house.
If elected Premier, I commit to you and all residents of the Northwest Territories to build, maintain and foster relationships between all levels of government.

If elected as Premier, I commit to meeting with our Aboriginal partners in the Deh Cho and Akaitcho territories immediately to develop a cooperative plan to move land claim negotiations forward. We have an opportunity to build upon the success of the Deline Agreement and the Thaidene Nene negotiations that can provide real results in this area.

With respect to our struggling economy, we cannot ignore environmentally and socially responsible resource extraction opportunities in the NWT but must think and act differently with respect to local and sustainable economic opportunities, like biomass production, environmentally responsible energy production, agriculture, arts and culture, fishing, and tourism.

As a Government we must do more to support these industries. If elected Premier I will work closely with Committee, Cabinet and stakeholders like the Chambers of Commerce and Chamber of Mines to create priorities for investment in these areas.

We may need to consider some short term debt to make this critical investment.

As I indicated previously, many of our youth in the Territory are struggling to find meaningful employment or take advantage of the opportunities available in the North. We need to think big here. They are our future.

The key to our long term viability is our next generation. We need bold measures to get them to stay in school, make healthy choices, and connect with their language and culture. We need to provide them with opportunities, help them believe in themselves, and see a future where they play a role in shaping and changing our society. I’m not suggesting that we stop doing everything else. However, if we don’t make radical changes to the way we prepare our youth, we might not have a choice.

If elected as Premier I want to work with you and other stakeholders to create programs that will better prepare our youth for the future.

Over the coming weeks we will work together to define the priorities of the 18th Legislative Assembly. From there, Cabinet will draft a mandate for consideration and review by regular members based on these mutually agreed priorities.

Once a consensus is reached between all members on the mandate for government the Premier will prepare individual mandate letters to the Ministers based on this mandate.

If elected as Premier, I want to go further than just issuing mandate letters stating what needs to be done. I believe strongly that these mandate letters must also indicate how things will be done.

Specifically, that:

• Ministers must work closely with members and adhere to all agreed upon protocols.

• Ministers must travel to every community in the NWT and participate in public meetings to discuss community issues and concerns.

• Ministers must provide program briefings to Committees that are open to the public.

• Public dialogue and input must be fostered and encouraged in the development of major initiatives.

• Transparency and openness will be a requirement.

If elected, these individual mandate letters will be made public. This will ensure that all Ministers and the Premier can be evaluated during a mid-term review based on their performance in these areas.

As I said previously, consensus government is about relationships. However another key component for its success is information. All members must be informed on ongoing initiatives, challenges and opportunities in order to make informed decisions. These mandate letters will help foster a health two way flow of information and ideas.

Members, today Mr. Bob McLeod and I are seeking your support to be the Premier of the Northwest Territories. I applaud Mr. McLeod for his dedication over the last four years serving the people in this capacity.

This election clearly demonstrated that Northerners no longer accept the status quo. We can, and must, do things differently.

I believe that this Assembly has the opportunity to do things differently.

I would like to conclude with a quote that has come to mean a lot to me during my 8 years as a politician and will continue to help guide me over the next four years as your Premier.

Joseph Howe, a Nova Scotian journalist, politician, and public servant, said:

“My public life is before you; and I know you will believe me when I say, that when I sit down in solitude to the labours of my profession, the only questions I ask myself are: What is right? What is just? What is for the public good?”

I want to take everything I have learned and experienced as a Northerner, MLA and Minister, to represent you and the people as the 13th Premier of the Northwest Territories.

Thank you.


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