MLAs will begin the first regular sitting this week since the fall election and one Hay River representative says his first priority is pointing a spotlight on the sagging economy.
“One of the first things I need to do is make sure all the members know the economic situation in Hay River is different from Yellowknife,” Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said in an interview Feb. 10.
“We have businesses leaving, we have layoffs happening whereas in Yellowknife people are still moving there and there are still things going on.
“We need to get the economy going in Hay River and diversify the economy and create jobs,” he said.
The assembly resumes Feb. 18 afternoon for regular business. When the assembly sits, MLAs get the chance to make a statement and can then also ask questions of cabinet later in the day.
Simpson said his first member’s statement will be on the economy of the community. He declined to elaborate on what other topics may come up in the session, expected to run through to March 3.
Simpson said the first several months have largely seen MLAs in briefings on the activities of the government and its programs so they get up to speed on issues.
He said he has a close working relationship with Hay River South MLA and cabinet minister Wally Schumann. Schumann’s portfolios include transportation as well as environment and natural resources.
“I think we are very lucky to have Wally in (those departments),” Simpson said. He added that because Schumann often isn’t able to return to town as often as he can, Simpson tries to speak to constituents in both electoral districts and mentions issues he hears with the cabinet minister.
Perhaps one of the biggest issues this winter and spring will be the next budget for the territorial government.
After De Beers announced it would lay off 434 employees and shutter its Snap Lake diamond mine in December came the revelation the federal government’s contributions to the territory will drop by more than $34 million next fiscal year. Federal funds account for the majority of GNWT revenue.
The GNWT’s latest fiscal update shows declining revenues and climbing spending resulting in multimillion-dollar deficits by 2018-19, followed by the debt approaching $1 billion by 2019-20.
Premier Bob McLeod and cabinet members have repeatedly made comments suggesting budget cuts are on the way.
“We need to act now while the problem is still manageable so we can ensure the future financial stability of the GNWT,” McLeod stated in a Feb. 8 news release.
That release stated cabinet is working with MLAs to determine “prudent and responsible solutions to the financial challenges”
faced by the territorial government.
The release states the government will develop proposals that will be shared with MLAs early in the budget process.
The budget is expected to be presented in the assembly in May, according to previous statements from Tim Mercer, clerk of the legislative assembly.
Also last week, Alternatives North released to media a letter it had sent to all MLAs urging a public consultation to gather ideas for the budget.
The social advocacy group pointed to the way the Newfoundland provincial government has gone to its residents seeking input after crashing oil prices decimated its revenues.
“Such an undertaking recognizes that any changes to our economic situation should be well understood by the public, and more importantly, that the public should have the chance to help shape the decisions that are made and the direction that is taken,” states the letter signed by Ben McDonald on behalf of Alternatives North.