N.W.T. Budget Wars: Episode III — A New Hope for consensus as cabinet offers $4.8M top-up

Cue the Ewok celebration music.

N.W.T cabinet ministers have extended an olive branch to regular members, paving the way for the 2017-2018 budget to finally be approved after weeks of contentious debate.

On Friday morning, Robert C. McLeod, the territory's finance minister, said cabinet is willing to add $4.8 million to the budget in the following areas where regular MLAs had asked for adjustments:

- increasing the budget for home care by $2.5 million;

- providing $500,000 for a Youth in Crisis program;

- increasing funding available through the Anti-Poverty Fund by $500,000;

- increase in support for freight costs associated with the fishing industry by $225,000; and

- increase in funding for the Community Access Road Program by $500,000.

McLeod also announced an additional $600,000 for the Mining Incentive Program, raising the program's total budget to $1 million.

The announcement comes a day after new estimates from Natural Resources Canada indicate mineral exploration and deposit appraisal activity in the N.W.T. will remain flat in 2017.

'Fundamental review' of Aurora College

McLeod also announced a forthcoming 'fundamental review' of Aurora College, adding that proposed cuts to the college's Teacher Education and Social Work programs in 2017-2018 will be deferred until that review is completed.

"There will be no additional intake for the Social Work Program or the Teacher Education Program while the review is taking place," said McLeod.

He did not lay out a timeline for the review, but said Education Minister Alfred Moses would be providing details.

"I want to thank members for all their input and discussions around the 2017-2018 budget," said McLeod, though he added that before the budget was tabled on Feb. 1, cabinet had already agreed to add $15.4 million in adjustments.

"[We] look forward to receiving the support of MLAs," he said.

'I will support this budget'

Kieron Testart, the MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake riding and one of the most vocal opponents of the budget, said he will now support it.

Before it was tabled, Testart and eight other regular MLAs held a preemptive press conference to announce the alternate investments or increases it was seeking.

Then, over the ensuing four weeks, regular MLAs refused to approve 10 of 12 departments' budgets in an effort to induce more spending. 

"The government has shown it is willing to work in the spirit of consensus government," he said. "We have found a way to end the impasse."

Though he added: "I will continue to hold cabinet to account."

Kevin O'Reilly and Shane Thompson, the MLAs for Frame Lake and Nahendeh, respectively, voted against the motion to have the final vote on the budget.

The final vote is expected to be held Monday.