The GNWT’s $2.1 billion 2022-23 budget was adopted by the Legislative Assembly despite significant opposition from members representing smaller communities.
At a sitting of the Assembly on Thursday, March 31, eleven members voted in favour of the budget while six members — Jane Weyallon-Armstrong, Ronald Bonnetrouge, Katrina Nokleby, Rocky Simpson, Richard Edjericon and Frieda Martselos — voted against.
Much of the opposition came from MLAs representing smaller communities who felt the budget was too Yellowknife-centric.
“The reality is that government is managed by a bureaucracy located in Yellowknife that may, through no fault of their own, not have a sense of small community living, amenities, and issues,” said Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson.
He pointed to the territorial funding Yellowknife has received in recent years for things like housing and wellness services and the day shelter. “When the Hay River Ski Club requests $150,000 to support sports, physical fitness and mental health for youth post-COVID, they are told to go and fundraise at a time when residents just don’t have any more to give.”
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos concurred: “We see time and time again that the capital region gets most of the funds and everyone else is left to fight over the crumbs,” she said.
She compared the funding that was provided to the Spruce Bough transitional housing facility in Yellowknife to her own request for funding for a homelessness pilot project for the Salt River First Nation, which was not granted.
“While I do wholeheartedly support funding for homelessness and wellness programs for the people of the NWT, I strongly urge our government to spread this same support evenly across the board to all communities and regions of the NWT.”
Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek defended the budget, saying many of the most significant expenses, such as the one third of the total budget allocated to the Department of Health and Social Services, are investments that benefit all small communities.
She said smaller communities not getting funding for their projects is often a consequence of consensus government. “That’s the kind of difficult discussions that we’ve been having. They are hard. And they’re not perfect. And we’re still operating within a situation where we have limited funds where we have to still ensure that we’re providing every program and service in every community across 33 communities and across a huge geographic region.”
Premier Caroline Cochrane also addressed the opposition to the budget, saying she was “heartbroken” by the response. “If I was only concerned about Yellowknife and my own riding and my own re-election, then I would be voting everything to stay in the capital city. But I have not done that. I haven’t done that in this Assembly, and I haven’t done that in the last Assembly.”
“I know that whatever we say won’t make a difference. I know that people make up their minds before; that’s just how things go. But I do say that I do take offence, Mr. Speaker, on the implication that this Cabinet cares about the capital city more than small communities, because in my opinion from a personal standpoint and from all of the Members in this Cabinet, I have seen and experienced the opposite.”