NWT needs ‘extraordinary leadership’ for challenges ahead

Norman Yakeleya
Norman Yakeleya, pictured when he was Sahtu's MLA. (Photo by MyTrueNorthNow.com.)
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The next leaders of the Northwest Territories will face the toughest challenges of any territorial government yet, according to one MLA.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya chaired a “transition committee” designed to help the new territorial government find its feet after November’s election.

A 55-page report prepared by Yakeleya’s committee was published last week, as the 17th Assembly of the Northwest Territories drew to a close. The 18th Assembly will be formed by those elected on November 23.

The committee’s report suggests the next government adopt five urgent priorities, set out as follows:

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  • Reverse the social ills that hold our people down, particularly low education levels, addictions and poor mental health.
  • Strengthen and diversify our economy in anticipation of impending diamond mine closures.
  • Complete devolution of land and resources and implement a regulatory system that reflects the values of our residents and partner governments.
  • Rein-in the increasing cost of living, particularly energy, housing and food.
  • Plan for and adapt to a changing climate in the North.

In full: Transition committee’s report on priorities for the next government (pdf)

Speaking to Moose FM, Yakeleya said the next government must be prepared to deal with tough decisions and mounting criticism.

“I think it’s going to be a real challenge for the members and the government,” said Yakeleya.

“You’ve got to create revenue. If you’re going to have programs in the communities and larger centres, somebody’s got to pay for it. If revenue is not strong enough then the 18th Assembly has to really sit down and look at what programs and services need to be in our communities; what’s nice to have but we can’t afford. They’ve got to come through those types of difficult, challenging decisions.

“It’s going to require extraordinary leadership and they’ve got to wear a thick skin, because there’s going to be a lot of openness for criticism.”

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Yakeleya’s committee noted an economic outlook that is “mixed at best”, with diversifying the NWT’s economy a key priority for the future. As of 2014, mining made up 28.4 percent of the territory’s GDP, followed by public administration at 14.1 percent.

Diamond mining is set to tail off while oil and gas extraction is “flat and historically low”, according to the committee. The report also said “the effects of climate change are exacerbating expenditure pressures in a time of flat revenue growth”.

“The big one here is diversifying our economy in anticipation of the diamond mines closing,” said Yakeleya.

“In some of our smaller communities, when you have a government infrastructure project happening, it creates a sense of wellbeing – that it’s worthwhile to get out of bed and go to work, you’re no longer dependent on income support.

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“People want to get up and go to work but they’re being hampered by the high cost of living. If we can get around that, that’d be the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

The report also made internal recommendations on procedure within the Legislative Assembly. It recommends keeping the current four-year fixed date election schedule, but suggests there could be new ways to ensure a regional balance among the Cabinet.

Lastly, Yakeleya urged that the next government set its priorities in public to ensure accountability.

“When the 18th Assembly gets together, it’s important that they identify priorities in a public forum – not in a caucus room where there’s no public viewing and we’re not held accountable,” he said.

“They should publicly say to the people, ‘This is my vision. This is what’s important to me.’ Keep them accountable. Put them in a position where they state clearly what they stand for.”

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