Empowerment Towns ready for reins?
NNSL (OCT 16/96) - Some MLAs say community empowerment plans should be suspended until communities show they're up to the task.

"Empowerment isn't handing over the reins and abandoning them," Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco said in the territorial legislature recently.

"We must ensure our communities have the ability to carry out the tasks we are transferring to them."

Under the community empowerment initiative, responsibility for administering government programs will be offered to municipalities.

The city of Yellowknife, for example, receives block funding for infrastructure projects and recently took over licensing of lotteries and bingos.

The government is also offering communities responsibility for administering social programs.

In presentations to communities, ministry of municipal and community affairs (MACA) describes the current system as ineffecient, uncoordinated and top heavy, with "extreme" administration costs.

Picco said the government is marketing the idea as a "motherhood and apple pie issue," and called for no further responsibilities to be transferred until the government is assured communities are capable of assuming them.

The sentiment was backed up by Yellowknife South MLA Seamus Henry, who said many of the communities "are not yet at the stage where they are capable of taking on more responsibilities."

Neither argument impressed Premier Don Morin.

"Nine years ago Oct. 5, the people of Tu Nedhe elected me. The clear mandate they gave me at that time was they wanted to make the decisions that affected their communities instead of having those decisions made for them in Yellowknife."

Morin concluded his defence of the empowerment initiative by stating, "Let me assure everyone in here, the people of Fort Resolution and Lutselk'e are ready to move ahead and make decisions on their own."

Responding to questions from Henry later in the debate, MACA minister Manitok Thompson said calls for empowerment are nothing new.

"For a long time, for the last 100 years, people have been saying they want more power.

Manitok noted she has visited and discussed empowerment with 23 communities. "We have told them this is an option, we're not forcing it on them," she said.