Thebacha MLA candidates, the Honourable J. Michael Miltenberger, Jeannie Marie-Jewell and Peter Martselos went head to head at the Fort Smith rec centre last week on issues of health care, jobs, environment and the ever-pressing topic of devolution.
JMJ: The economy in the NWT will never be stable so long as we remain so dependent on the Federal Government for funding. We need to complete a Devolution Agreement that is fair and balanced. Everyone knows that we have an abundance of petrochemicals, minerals and energy resources. Not only do we have amazing natural resources, but we also have the most innovative, motivated people I’ve met. We have the know-how, energy and confidence to create new opportunities for wealth generation through manufacturing, tourism, the service industry, and others. We need a fresh new approach to unleashing our Northern economic potential, to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit and to provide skill-training and seed funding to new ventures.
MM: We will have to limit growth, as planned, to 3 per cent and negotiate fair and realistic collective agreements. As well we need to successfully conclude our borrowing limit negotiations with Finance Canada, which will give us the required flexibility to make strategic investments in infrastructure projects. We have to continue our efforts to be efficient and effective and control our operating expenditures, focusing on current programs and services. Finally we have to work at the Federal/Provincial/ Territorial table to successfully conclude negotiations on a renewed Health and Social Transfer Agreement.
PM: Very successful and strategic planning; assess the delivery of all social programming to ensure dollars are being maximized; Diligently train staff to streamline programming and reduce duplication; Reduce government bureaucracy at highest levels; Reduce all MLA travel except to most necessary functions to save thousands of dollars.
Water quality and levels
PM: Partner with responsible federal government ministers to assess and address all issues; Ensure the NWT has a strong, responsible presence at every level of discussion, is a voting member of all panels and boards, is fully involved in all impact studies and is a full partner in all legislation; Consult and work with ALL stakeholders including but not limited to Aboriginal groups, community governments and environmental agencies; Participate and cooperate with all inter-provincial agencies and boards; Ensure transparency.
JMJ: First, the Legislative Assembly has to voice its opposition to the Bennett Dam expansion. It has to tell the BC and Federal Government that this mega-project presents too many risks to our watershed. Secondly, we have to come to grips with the fact that very little has been done to protect our water from oil sand pollutants. Finally it is imperative that the GNWT complete the Trans Bounday Water Agreement and give Northerners a stronger say about protecting our watershed and wetlands. Work on this Agreement started in the early 1990s but it is still not in place today! It is critically important that we protect our water resources for future generations!
MM: Work is well along on this issue. Working off our Northern Voices, Northern Waters Strategic Plan, and after many months of necessary preparatory work, the negotiating team is ready to engage with Alberta, BC and Saskatchewan and negotiate legally binding trans-boundary water agreements that will address the issues of quality, quantity and integrated watershed management. This process is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
MM: At the personal level Northerners have to engage in managing their own health. It is a basic four-step process: 1. Don’t smoke, 2. Don’t abuse alcohol/drugs, 3. Eat a proper diet, 4. Exercise regularly. These four simple, personal actions will cut health costs significantly and individual health will start to improve immediately. Health and Social Services continues to enhance their preventative programs to support northerners in their goals for personal health. The GNWT will continue to spend over 65 cents of every dollar on social programs to assist Northerners with these and other issues.
PM: Educate, educate, educate; Increase individual and family awareness by aiding and supporting the initiatives already in place; Multilevel training to assist the population to practice good lifestyle choices; Assess the current product labeling requirements and practices; Address the need for more competent, trained addiction counselors and treatment centres; Strengthen healing programs.
JMJ: Nutritional problems and unhealthy lifestyles are almost never a matter of personal choice. They are far more likely to result from economic disadvantages and poor health awareness. We’ll never improve community well being unless we deal with the underlying factors. Healthy living is something that needs to be taught at home and in the school. We need more programs that teach people how to avoid diabetes. We need to reverse the shocking deterioration of healthcare facilities and services in Fort Smith. Our local hospital has been downsized. Resources for preventive health programs and medical treatment services have been steadily reduced. This cannot continue.
Fort Smith jobs
PM: Complete the chip sealing of Highway 5; Maximize the number of mine workers and their families living here; Encourage the development of quality motels, eateries and meeting/convention facilities; Encourage economic opportunities surrounding the Salt River TLE and the future Metis Claim; Aid in developing a more vibrant tourism industry; Encourage more sporting events be held in our fantastic recreation facilities; Encourage balanced development to maximize local opportunities and personnel.
JMJ: I am going to work to create jobs. In the short term this means placing a priority on ensuring that projects like the Fire Centre Building hires local labour first and, when contracts are tendered to firms outside the community, that specific spin-off training and development benefits be offered to our residents. The same goes for the proposed Women’s Correctional facility which is in the budgeted forecast capital plan for Fort Smith. Paving Highway 5 should not only create road engineering jobs, but during the construction phase we must use as much local content as possible. We must also broaden our job generation scope. A wood pellet plant would have been ideal for Fort Smith, with all the abundance of natural resources which surround our community.
MM: We have to recognize that there is no mega- project or corporate white knight coming. We had chances in the past and dropped the ball with the NTPC HQ and the Tanker Base Project. We have to look at the natural attributes of our community and surrounding area, which leads directly to tourism. This is where our on-going economic development focus must be. Smith will continue to be a regional government centre, but we can also seriously promote ourselves as a destination. We have to remake the town’s image not only as a government centre but also as a sought after tourist destination.
JMJ: A Devolution agreement is essential to allow us to receive royalties and other economic benefits from northern natural resources. Accordingly the negotiation process has to be inclusive. Our non-renewable resources must be extracted sustainably and in a manner that considers our cultural and environmental priorities. The Territorial Government needs to listen to, and act on, the viewpoints of all interest groups and ensures that resource transfer arrangement respect treaties and self-government. The negotiation process will be tough. It is not something that Ministry officials can do on their own. We need to collaborate to make the prize worth receiving!
MM: Devolution will be the main political priority of the upcoming 17th Assembly. We have to use the successful consultation processes used during the negotiations of the Water Strategy, the Species at Risk Act and the Wildlife Act, to move forward with the Agreement in Principle, so that we may engage more Aboriginal Governments. This process must be completed as quickly as possible given the long-term deficit reduction plans of the federal government and the effects of those reductions on northern programs.
PM: Consult seriously to reach a historic solution and ensure that ALL of the stakeholders sign this document with pride and commitment; Make the talks transparent and ensure that all parties are accountable to the entire NWT population; Maximize the returns to the NWT; Take the time necessary to achieve a great agreement and not rush to a conclusion just to make headlines.