It was a grueling task, but finally the 2017-2018 budget was approved with a vote of 16 for and two against Monday night.
All cabinet ministers and most regular MLAs voted in favour of the budget, with only Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson and Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly putting their foots down.
Regular members had previously taken a united stance against the budget, a resistance cabinet minister Glen Abernethy said he’d never seen in his 10 years as an MLA.
But with the recent $4.8 million in additions to the budget on Friday, a majority of MLAs seemed content with its new direction.
The additions included $2.5 million for homecare, a half-million dollar boost to the Anti-Poverty Fund and $500,000 for a Youth in Crisis program.
It also included the restoration of funds for Aurora College’s teacher education and social work programs until a fundamental review of the college can be completed this year.
No ‘true negotiations’
But even with the additions, Thompson expressed his discontent with the approach this budget took.
“Regular members have done a lot of hard work in negotiating hard with cabinet to improve this budget, and it has definitely improved since the business plans we first saw last fall,” Thompson said.
“But in the end, this budget fails because it was so focused on cuts to spending without thinking enough about the impacts.
“Cutting jobs in communities and deep reductions to Aurora College will not bring savings in the long run. This approach does not serve my region, and I don’t think it serves the Northwest Territories well either.”
O’Reilly agreed, criticizing the lack of in-person negotiations between regular MLAs and cabinet, saying there were no ‘true negotiations’ during the process.
“Cabinet needs to be open to a more collaborative process with real negotiations done face-to-face rather than written ultimatums,” O’Reilly said.
“Even with these changes, there are significant cuts in terms of the environment, our education system, and economic diversification.
“The overall direction from cabinets’ fiscal reduction strategy of cutting jobs, programs and services to fund infrastructure continues unabated. I cannot support this direction or that vision of the Northwest Territories.”
O’Reilly also criticized the cut of 75 jobs in the territory that would come with the discontinuation of programs and services through the budget, warning that it would lead to less money going into the local economy.
He also said consensus government didn’t work during the budget process.
“How can we all avoid this painful process next time around?” he asked.
“There needs to be earlier, meaningful consultations with regular MLAs about the overall fiscal direction and context of the budget, even before the development and review of the business plans or departmental budgets.”