For the Record

Time to invest in our future: Commissioner


Northwest Territories Commissioner Helen Maksagak recently outlined the territorial government�s Agenda for Change as she opened the fifth session of the 13th legislative assembly with the address.

It is my pleasure today to open the fifth session of the 13th Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

I am honored to serve as the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories during this time of historic change, and equally honored to work with the members of this Assembly.

Building on the success of those who came before you, as a legislative assembly you have accomplished a great deal in two years. You started by stating your vision for the North for two financially secure and viable new territories, with more control over their economic future, and with a healthier population and better quality of life.

In establishing that vision, you have focused a bright light on Canada’s North, a light that will ensure a safe, healthy and prosperous future for our children.

To help fulfill your vision you will be considering a number of investments aimed at improving the opportunities and the lives of northerners.

First, you will be investing in the economy, because creating economic opportunities and helping people lead productive lives is the key to affecting our overall quality of life.

Second, you will be investing in quality care and good health and in building healthier and safer communities for our citizens, because these are the things that serve as the true fabric to our society.

Third, you will be investing in the development of all Northerners building their skills and knowledge to deal with the challenges of the new millennium.

As part of that, you will be investing in children, and investing in creating opportunities for youth, for they are truly the future of the north and the future of Canada.

Finally, you will be investing in a dream of two successful and prosperous territories that are a viable and self-sufficient part of the Canadian landscape.

Responsibility and accountability

Eighteen months ago, members of this assembly agreed to an Agenda for Change a series of strategies aimed at increasing decision-making at the community level, improving government efficiency, and addressing the health, education, human resources and economic development priorities.

In setting out this agenda, you have set a standard for responsible and effective government in the North.

There is no better way to be accountable to your citizens than to show strong fiscal management responsibility. You have balanced the territorial budget, and are making more efficient use of limited dollars to ensure you receive the highest return on your investment.

Managing the deficit, securing the financial future of the North, and in general, becoming more fiscally responsible have been key goals of this Assembly. With that accomplished, you can now focus your efforts on three related priorities: Improving social conditions; improving economic conditions; and working toward the successful creation of two new territories.

Investing in the economy

With a balanced budget in place, a strong next step for affecting change is to continue and enhance efforts to secure the financial future of the North.

At present, there are not enough jobs for all northerners who want them. As well, the skills of the northern workforce do not yet match those required by employers. As members of the legislative assembly, you have worked to address this situation in a number of ways.

You have built an economic framework which identifies the best places for government to invest and participate in the economy. You have developed a $32-million northern employment strategy, which supports the development of community-based business. You have established programs to assist youth in transition between school and work and you have initiated regulatory reform to streamline processes and simplify the environment within which businesses are created and operated in the Northwest Territories.

This Legislative Assembly has also made a strong commitment to creating a public service which is representative of the communities it serves.

Building on that commitment, we must continue to participate in initiatives such as the Inuit Employment Plan, the Nunavut Unified Human Resources Development Strategy, developing training plans for the new western government, and affirmative action initiatives.

The North is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Our wildlife, fish and forests have provided sustenance for our people in the past. As we move forward, these things can now play in important role in wage employment.

Our renewable resources offer export opportunities, and jobs can be created by processing and adding value to these resources. The natural beauty of our land also offers potential for further development of tourism. We must continue to encourage and support northern artisans and crafts people in the development and export of their work.

We must be prepared to invest in training, employment support, business start-up and expansion programs, and in increasing community capacity.

To do so, you must continue to make every effort toward creating a strong investment environment and expand opportunities for the people of the North.

Investing in our youth

The best measure for our social and economic success is in the quality of life and opportunities for children and youth, and how well we build the foundation for the future. We must remember that it is our children and our youth who will be living in our communities far into the future. For their sake, it is essential that we invest in the education, health and safety or our communities so that they can develop to their greatest potential, and so they can have the future you have set forth in your vision.

As part of your Agenda for Change, you have made a commitment to move more decision-making powers to communities. This is part of a fundamental belief that the people most directly affected by, and closest to the need, are in the best position to make the best decisions.

It means much more responsibility for community leaders, but it also means making sure the decisions reflect the needs of the community, and that there is flexibility to ensure that services and funds are being invested where they are most needed.

We also need to strengthen our relationships with our aboriginal communities and organizations. Thousands of years ago, aboriginal people began building Canada’s first communities, and today, by recognizing and celebrating the diversity that exists in the North, we can build a better future. By creating and nurturing a spirit of partnership at all levels, we can ensure that the foundation for our future will stand on solid ground.

Working together

This Legislative Assembly is part of history in that you will be the last members to meet collectively to represent the people in both the eastern and western Arctic. You are also an important part of history in that you have the unique challenge of preparing for the creation and transition to two new governments.

Along with the federal government, you have pledged to do this with minimal or no disruption of service, and with fairness and equity to all of our citizens. To accomplish this, we must continue to work with our federal partners in this process to secure appropriate financial arrangements for two new governments, and to work with all of the other key parties to work out new government structures that support these principles.

We will continue to work with the Interim Commissioner’s Office in Nunavut and support the development of the Nunavut government, and we will support political development in the western Territory by continuing involvement in self-government negotiations and constitutional development.

Another key component will be to continue work on the details to ensure a smooth and successful transition. As part of that, among the legislation members will be reviewing during this session, will be two acts relating to the creation of two new territories.

The Power Corporation Act will enable the existing Northwest Territories Power Corporation to incorporate under the Canada Business Corporations Act and remain as a single corporation serving the two jurisdictions of Nunavut and the western Territory. The Public Utilities Act Amendment will enable a joint regulatory scheme of a single power corporation by Nunavut and the Western Territory.

Each day brings us one step closer to April 1, 1999. There is much work to be done. But working together, we can ensure that the transition will be a time of celebration for all of the people of the North, and all of the people in Canada.

National role for northeners

In general, we must continue to think broadly and strategically about the needs of northerners not just in the next few years, but into the new millennium. While our focus should remain on creating political stability, and improving economic and social condition in the North, we must also fulfil our responsibilities at the national level. We are an important part of Canada today, and more importantly, will play a key role in its future.

Over the next few weeks and months, Canadian citizens will have the opportunity to get involved in a debate on national unity. In the North, we will be focusing those discussions within our communities through the month of November, leading up to a special sitting of this assembly in early December.

To truly show we are a vital part of Canada, and that we are serious about wanting to work with the rest of Canada, every individual must take the time to share their thoughts on Canada as a nation.

This is an important issue for each of us as Canadians, and as northerners. It is our opportunity to let our distinct and unique perspective be heard. We live in and represent one-third of the land mass of Canada. We are influenced by what happens in the rest of Canada, and therefore we deserve the same right as every other Canadian citizen to be heard at the national level.

Given the complexity of issues we all face, collaboration is an essential ingredient for the success of Canada. More than ever, our people want government to work together in partnership.

Therefore, to be successful, collectively, we must face and address the root causes of our many social and economic challenges, and collectively, we must develop made-in-the-North solutions.

Just as the history of Canada is built on partnerships and co-operation, we must continue to seek and create partnership and support in order to take the steps we need to secure the future for two new territories in Canada. To-date, working in conjunction and in partnership with aboriginal organizations, community councils, community groups, the private sector and individuals, we have achieved varying levels of success, and are indeed making great strides in some of the key social and economic areas. But many challenges remain.

You have come a long way in a short period of time. You have made some hard and difficult decisions, and you have shown true leadership. More importantly, you recognize the key to maintaining your vision is in finding the balance between meeting the needs of today, while striving for an ideal of well-being and quality of life for the generation what will follow.

It is not easy to find certainty in these uncertain times. However, based on the work you have accomplished to-date, and the manner in which you are facing the challenges that lie ahead, I believe you can and will fulfill your vision. In doing so, I encourage you to continue to work together to fulfill the spirit and intent of consensus government.

By working together, by respecting and valuing our diversity, we can and will secure two strong new territories with strong economic ties, healthy communities and a legacy of help for our children and youth.

As Commissioner, and on behalf of all citizens of the Northwest Territories, I would like to thank and commend all members for your hard work and positive efforts over the past two years, and encourage your continuing good judgment in the weeks and months ahead.

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