An NWT cabinet minister has expressed frustration over regular MLAs taking a unified stance against the territory’s 2017-2018 budget.
In fact, in his 10 years as an MLA, Glen Abernethy says he’s never seen so much resistance to a budget.
Shortly after Finance Minister Robert C. McLeod revealed his second budget on Feb. 1, several regular MLAs said it was more focused on cuts rather than growth.
Altogether, 36 people will receive notice of potential impacts with the 2017-2018 budget if approved. The GNWT says it’s committed to “retaining as many of these employees as possible.”
Even though 124 positions were eliminated with last year’s budget, approximately 53 of those positions were already empty and only nine people were ultimately laid off.
On Wednesday, Abernethy took aim at regular members for their unwavering opposition to this year’s budget.
“I have never seen a budget process where there has been such resistance to the budget and drawing of such incredibly hard lines,” he told his colleagues in the legislature.
“In the media last week, there was a press release where it basically indicated that unless the items that are demanded are included in this budget, there will be no movement.
“I find that frustrating as an MLA. I find that frustrating as a resident.”
MLAs have just begun the process of going through the budget department by department. They’ll continue doing so until they vote on it early next month.
But Abernethy’s frustration seems to stem from an anti-budget coalition that was formed even before the budget was officially presented in the House.
During a pre-budget presser, nine members of the Standing Committee on Priorities and Planning suggested they would vote in unison against the proposed budget.
As of Thursday, eight regular MLAs had spoken out against the budget while only two – Nunakput MLA Herb Nakimayak and Sahtu MLA Daniel McNeely – had spoken in favour of it.
With all seven cabinet ministers in favour of the budget, that leaves Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. as the only undecided member.
While he did address the budget last Thursday, he didn’t exactly come down on either side.
‘It’s not about getting the win for one side’
Abernethy says MLAs have a responsibility to start working together and backing off hard lines.
“We all must work together to find a resolution and solution to this budget,” he said. “We must back off hard lines, and we must work together.
“Consensus government is not about everybody agreeing. Consensus government is about everybody having the opportunity to be heard, listened to, and understood.
“It isn’t about implementing a one-sided and predetermined party platform like you would see in most other Canadian jurisdictions. It is not about getting the win for one side or the other or for one point of view over another.”
Abernethy also singled out a couple regular members during his speech, including Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green and Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, over comments they previously made about the budget.
In doing so, he sought to clarify the exact number of public servant positions at risk with the budget and reject claims that the budget is an “austerity measure”.
Abernethy, who called the current budget a “good” one, also said it’s in the territory’s best interest to save now with utility costs set to rise and mines slated to close in the not-so-distant future.
The current session will wrap up on Mar. 10.