New Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal is to scheduled to visit Yellowknife on Jan. 14 and 15 as part of his first trip North.
Brian Kaufmann, chief of staff with Minister Vandal’s office, confirmed the trip just before the new year, although specific details are still to be solidified. He noted that it will be an important trip for the minister to begin developing relationships in the North since he received his cabinet position in November.
“He is doing some outreach on some of the major issues that the territories are facing and he wants to get to know their priorities and put them together ahead of the (2020 federal) budget,” Kaufmann said.
Vandal will also be visiting Yukon on Jan. 12 and 13. There are no dates for Nunavut at this time, Kaufmann said.
Vandal, a Winnipeg-based Member of Parliament, was sworn in as the first ever Northern Affairs minister in November and received his mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Dec. 13.
The document lays out the government’s expectations of Vandal, including “creat(ing) more economic opportunity and a higher quality of life in the North of Canada, while also acting in support of our sovereignty and national interest.”
The letter asks that Vandal strengthen “the relationship with the territorial governments and advancing policy and programs that support Northerners.”
The letter identifies about a dozen specific requirements he is expected to be involved with, such as increasing the Northern Residents Deduction for travel costs; working with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Ministers as necessary to implement the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework.
Vandal was called to take part in advancing post-secondary education, to support territorial planning for hydroelectricity projects, the development of foundational economic infrastructure such as roads and visitor centres, and finalizing the creation of the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program to clean up the largest and most high-risk sites.
Yellowknifer submitted a series of questions by email to Vandal’s office. The minister’s office stated that the trip North will be an important part of getting the ball rolling on a number of Northern projects.
“Among the first steps will be for the new Minister to travel North to meet the people on the ground who live there, day in and day out, to discuss their issues which are going to become more and more important as the future unfolds,” his office stated, noting that issues gathered from the Northern meetings will be delivered to the federal cabinet table.
Vandal was unavailable for an interview this week, however, in an interview with Canadian Press, he said ensuring Nutrition North is adequately funded and the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework is implemented are among his priorities. He also mentioned improving post-secondary education and infrastructure, but added that much work needs to done in collaboration with other ministers.
“Before I get too prescriptive – this is doable, that’s doable – I need to do some more of my work on the ground level with the people that live in the area,” he told Canadian Press.
“I need to make sure Northern priorities are reflected in the budget if we want to get things done.”
Michael McLeod’s office was unable to confirm the dates of the meetings as details were still being completed.
Shaun Dean, director of cabinet communications for the NWT Legislative Assembly stated in an email that the meeting agenda with the new minister is still being developed, but that Premier Caroline Cochrane is looking forward to working with Vandal on implementing the “federal Arctic and Northern Policy Framework, which is focused on reducing and eventually eliminating the gaps between Northern and southern Canada.
“Priority areas for the GNWT to discuss include federal investment in the NWT to address some pressing needs in areas like housing, health, education and infrastructure in cooperation with all partners, including the GNWT and Indigenous governments,” Dean stated. “We are interested in discussing the reality of climate change in the North and how Canada intends to help the Arctic to adapt to it. With continued international interest in the Arctic, we are also interested in discussing how Canada and the three territorial governments can work together to set a longer term vision for the Arctic and its place in the world.”