Legislative Assembly roundup

MLAs pass budget, take hard look at secret contracts

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

In the legislative assembly session that ended last week, MLAs got a lot of work done.

Not only did they pass their first deficit-free budget in two years ­ they also appointed an information and privacy commissioner, laid out plans for a Nunavut electoral boundaries commission, and voted for a new home ownership plan.

And some MLAs battered the government with incessant questions about the GNWT’s policy of negotiating secret contracts with selected businesses.

Legislative assembly breaks YK bylaws

The NWT Legislative Assembly’s in trouble with the law.

And because of that, the GNWT will have to fork out half a million dollars.

The problem is that the NWT legislative assembly, whose new building cost NWT taxpayers $25 million several years ago, has an illegal parking lot.

Speaker Sam Gargan told MLAs meeting in committee last Tuesday that the City of Yellowknife has cited the legislative assembly for violating bylaws requiring them to provide proper access and signs for handicapped people in wheelchairs.

“Mr. Chairman, this is a public building,” Gargan said. “The issue of access by the public also includes handicapped people. The city’s development plan is they have lowered all of the corners on every street in the city, in order for disabled people to go up onto sidewalks. It is all part of their development plan.”

That means the GNWT must spend money on new pavement for the assembly parking lot, Gargan said.

Iqaluit Ed Picco said that while it’s easy for MLAs to cut programs for people, they seem to have no trouble finding half a million dollars for pavement.

He also complained that the spending item had never come before his standing committee on infrastructure.

“I think it is a good point for the people to see you are actually debating this issue,” Picco said. “It is not being passed over. That is my point here. Is it people or pavement? It did not come before me in any of the committees…”

But Yellowknife North MLA Roy Erasmus urged MLAs to spend the money.

“I think it is time we moved on. We would not be setting the best example if we were the only public building in town that was not following the city bylaws,” Erasmus said.

Electoral boundaries commission for Nunavut

In one of their last acts before calling it quits, MLAs passed amendments to the NWT’s Electoral Boundaries Commission Act that will make it possible for a commission to set the boundaries for the Nunavut legislative assembly’s electoral districts.

Nunavut leaders have already decided that Nunavut will have 20 or 22 MLAs.

But they’ll have to wait until after the May 26 plebiscite on two-member constituencies, one-man, one-woman constituencies before they’ll know if Nunavut will have 10 or 11 constituencies, or if Nunavut will have 20 or 22 constituencies.

MLAs have therefore asked that the Nunavut electoral boundaries commission include options for both systems: a dual-member 10 or 11 constituency system, or a single-member 20 or 22 constituency system.

The commission won’t have a lot of time to prepare a report.

MLAs are asking that they prepare a report by June 30, 1997.

New housing plan gets mixed reviews

Plan 2000, a new homeownership plan for the NWT’s small communities, got mixed reviews from MLAs after it was announced recently by Housing Minister Goo Arlooktoo.

The plan is aimed at putting 2,000 people into new homes by the year 2000.

But MLAs say the plan, no matter how well intentioned, isn’t likely to help the people who need it the most.

That’s because the plan’s aimed at people who earn between $50,000 and $90,000 a year ­ few of whom live in the NWT’s small communities.

“They have the highest unemployment, the least developed economies and private sector markets, but, Mr. Speaker, while they are the poorest communities, they are also least likely to have many income earners between $50,000 and $90,000 per year who can walk into a chartered bank and secure a residential mortgage even with a downpayment assistance,” Yellowknife Centre MLA Jake Ootes said last week.

Earlier, Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’Brien had complained the plan won’t be of much use to Nunavut residents until 1998, since most won’t be able to take advantage of it in time for this year’s sealift deadline.

And Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco said the GNWT hasn’t done anything about the sever shortage of social housing in Nunavut ­ the only housing option available to most low income people.

“Mr. Chairman, just a couple of areas I would like to note is the need for more social housing, that is new social housing,” Picco said last week as MLAs sitting in committee pored over the NWT Housing Corporation’s budget.

“It is not and will not be addressed by Plan 2000. I think that is a major oversight,” Picco said.

A virtual campus for Nunavut

Nunavut school children will get improved access to computers and computer training, thanks to money announced by Education Minister Charles Dent.

Dent told MLAs that Nunavut’s three divisional educational councils ­ formerly divisional boards of education ­ will get $326,000 for more computers and telecommunication equipment.

“This will be used to improve the technical infrastructure for Nunavut schools and community learning centres, develop an Inuktitut operating system for Macintosh computers and connect Nunavut Arctic College’s three campuses into a single virtual campus,” Dent said.

Dent also said that when the NWT finally gets a high-speed digital communications network, students in all communities will gain access to videoconferencing and electronic courses.

“The network will also give students access to two-way interactive video conferencing, in which students and the instructor can see each other through the use of video cameras,” Dent said.

GNWT to lighten regulations

Finance Minister John Todd said the NWT has too many regulations and that the time has come to get rid of regulations we don’t need anymore.

To do that, Todd said that he and Economic Development Minister Steve Kakfwi are creating a new group within the government to take a look at the GNWT’s regulations.

“A small, specialized regulatory reform secretariat will be established to consult with stakeholder organizations, business people, local governments and concerned individuals to find ways in which our regulatory programs and services can be delivered better,” Todd told MLAs.

“The secretariat will use the feedback it receives during these consultations to find new efficiencies in program delivery and to eliminate outdated or unnecessary regulatory processes which are creating impediments to the growth of northern industry and business,” Todd said.

Todd promised, however, that regulatory reform won’t threaten health, safety or the environment.

“Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize that any reform of regulatory programs and services will be structured in such a manner as to ensure that the health, safety, workplace fairness and environmental quality of northerners are not adversely affected,” Todd said.

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