The speech from the throne on Sept. 23 showed the era of “Ottawa knows best” is over, said Michael McLeod, the NWT’s member of Parliament.
In her throne speech, Governor General Julie Payette, flanked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outlined a slew of commitments and ambitious investments for Canada.
Even though Payette didn’t specifically name the NWT, McLeod said he believes the concerns of the territory are on the government’s agenda.
“There’s more of a team approach to try to defeat this pandemic. We’re looking out for our most vulnerable, we’re looking out for ordinary Canadians,” said McLeod.
“(The speech) made a lot of commitments to work with partners. It talked about dealing directly with First Nations, Inuit and Métis partners to address food security, to strengthen local food supply chains, to invest in public transit, energy efficiency, retrofits, broadband (internet), affordable housing, Indigenous peoples in Northern communities.
“And I was happy to see that that there will be investments to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system (and) to provide support to get more women back into the workforce.”
But one of the few things McLeod thought the speech was missing were the “actual measures” for implementing the pledges made.
“People are anxious to see the government back up and running, the government doing the business of the country,” he said. “The chambers are (still) through a virtual Parliament. And we certainly need the committees to be operating. From the time the pandemic hit to now, many, many initiatives and projects and investments were put on hold.
“We still haven’t seen a budget. We were right at the point where we were going to announce the budget. Many pieces of legislation have been sitting there waiting to report.”
The government had scheduled to release its budget at the end of March, but the onset of the pandemic derailed those plans.
Commenting on Payette’s pledge to invest $1 billion to eliminate homelessness, McLeod said that problem requires many initiatives. Some progress has already been made, he said, pointing to the joint NWT-federal investment of $140 million over 10 years for affordable housing, announced in 2018.
“But there needs to be more. Gaps are becoming very apparent and housing is one of them. We need to see more investment in the urban, rural and Northern housing. We need to see more investment in Indigenous housing and we need to do a lot more in the area of homelessness.”
Payette committed to continue working with Indigenous partners to address food insecurity.
Just last week, McLeod spoke at the Salvation Army in Yellowknife, where he announced $644,000 in federal funding for NWT organizations working to help meet the food needs of Northerners.
“There’s been a number of projects that have gone well. There’s some really good results from greenhouses and community gardens over the last while. During the pandemic we saw funding made available for Indigenous communities to go out on the land,” he said. “That’s resulted in a lot of people harvesting more from the lakes and streams and rivers where the communities are located. And we’re seeing more wild foods in their diet and more people spending time on the land. I’m going to continue to push that we work on food security in the North.”
Asked what in the throne speech should give the average NWT resident hope for the future, McLeod said he was glad that the issues he had been discussing “for weeks” with MPs, committees and caucuses were included in the speech.
“Our Northern caucus really emphasized the need to focus on infrastructure for our remote communities, our Northern communities, Indigenous communities,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that there was attention paid to the housing situation, the need for more broadband, clean energy. A reference to Northern communities can really go a long way to bring much-needed investment to the North.”