In Friday’s Weekend Yellowknifer there appeared a classic “broken record” editorial about housing.
How many times, page 8 thundered on Dec. 17, has this bedrock issue been given lip service either in the Legislative Assembly and elsewhere?
“Housing is a priority of this assembly; it is a priority of every member of this assembly, and only two per cent of this (capital budget) is to build new houses,” Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said recently in the Legislative Assembly. “I cannot reconcile that fact with the political priorities of this House.”
Another question worth asking is why did only two Yellowknife MLAs say a blessed word about it when the new GNWT capital budget was released and approved with just two per cent dedicated to new homes?
When the broken record theme was chosen, it wasn’t considered, ironically or not, that this issue of Yellowknifer contained two stories using the same photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Premier Caroline Cochrane on two different pages.
If you noticed, you passed the test.
The photo was a screenshot of the national broadcast of the feather in Cochrane’s “I survived Ottawa” souvenir cap. The announcement was that the Northwest Territories was signing on to the federal universal child care program, promising better access for children, lower prices for parents and guardians and higher wages for workers. Only Nunavut, which Trudeau alluded would have a deal early in the new year, and Ontario are left without agreements of their own.
The press conference explained in a breath why the premier got on a plane to hobnob in the nation’s capital as the yet-even-more-transmissible Covid-19 variant, omicron, was spreading over the globe. It also signalled what could be the start of something good — something really, really good.
The very start, in fact. As Cochrane referred to when she took the podium in Ottawa, the new child care program is about more than creating another pipeline for federal funding to flow to the NWT, more than another sphere for government bureaucrats to write reports and “what we heard” summaries about. It considers the essential role that education plays in the earliest years of a child’s life. It sets the tone for the rest of their developmental symphony, the next 10 or 20 years of life.
“This agreement allows us to pay people properly so people aren’t just babysitting our children,” Cochrane said.
That critique of the status quo might be more stinging if Cochrane herself didn’t have lived experience of trying to establish a child care program during her time at the Yellowknife Women’s Society. The former education minister knows where the yardsticks are on this one. As she does on the other big, wonderful, young-person-oriented announcement from last week, the fact that the new NWT curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 12 would be, by and large, based on that of British Columbia, and no longer Alberta.
Again, Cochrane knows change is necessary. These were her own words in August 2019 while serving as the NWT’s minister of education: “We need to work better. We are failing our children. Our graduation rates are low.”
It’s encouraging that the curriculum review is taking place and it’s even better that it’s happening as the new child care deal slowly takes effect.
The additional developmental support children are to receive at the early childhood education level dovetails perfectly with the new K-12 curriculum exercise, which itself dovetails with Aurora College’s evolution into a polytechnic university. If we want students to fill those classrooms, student achievement in the NWT and particularly in the communities is going to have to play a major role.
That starts at the start. Here’s to new beginnings.