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Housing, education biggest challenges
Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson looks to tackle social issues in new year

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, January 5, 2017

After a year of learning the ropes, Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson is preparing to address some of the longstanding issues in education and housing that are facing the Nahendeh region.

NNSL photo/graphic

Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson says a tough fiscal year will pose challenges for the legislative assembly this year. - NNSL file photo

The biggest challenge the GNWT will face in 2017 is tackling a fiscal reality that could include more budget cuts, he said.

In a year-end interview with the Deh Cho Drum, Thompson said regular MLAs need to pull together and work with Cabinet ministers to ensure any cuts are strategically made as the government goes through its business plan.

"We have to be realistic in the direction we go," Thompson said.

"Cabinet has their directive and ordinary MLAs have our directive - it's a process and it's hard (work)."

Thompson currently helms the GNWT's Standing Committee on Social Development. He said two issues that committee is working through are housing and junior kindergarten - both of which need funding to succeed.

As the government brings its junior kindergarten program to all Northwest Territories schools, Thompson said the government needs to ensure the program is supported by proper funding, or risk its failure.

"At the end of the day it's about our future ... (If) we don't fund it properly and we tell people to fund it from within, that's not going to work," Thompson said.

The committee is also tackling the issue of housing people who face challenges such as arrears and poor living conditions.

He praised the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation's decision to take a community-based approach to housing instead of trying to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

"We're hoping that works. I'm being very positive (that) the work (the housing corporation) is doing will benefit everybody across the North," he said.

As the population of the Northwest Territories continues to decline, Thompson says the GNWT needs to come up with a solution by supporting employment and income in smaller communities.

Thompson currently sits as an alternate for the Standing Committee on Economic Development and Environment. He said the population decline this year, which saw 222 people leave the territory, came as no surprise as businesses such as Dominion Diamond moved their headquarters out of the territory.

Thompson attributed some of the population decline to employees who felt they had to move as well in order to retain employment.

"If we don't help (our small communities), we could become a less-productive territory," he said.

"We're seeing people move . We need to come up with a process where we want people to come here, stay and make a difference."

He added that without jobs, tackling the territory's social development problems becomes more difficult.

MLA job a personal matter

Out of the past 14 months Thompson has spent in office, he said the highlight for him has been the ability to help dozens of individuals who have contacted his office for assistance in one matter or another.

Although he couldn't give specifics due to the personal nature of some of the requests, Thompson said the ability to help individuals has been "amazing."

"I feel good about that," he said. "It's part of the job but it makes (me) feel very valued at the end of the day."

But the crowning jewel of his time in office so far was his success in bringing three ministers to tour the Nahendeh. In October, Thompson escorted Housing Minister Caroline Cochrane, Health Minister Glen Abernethy and Education Minister Alfred Moses on visits to each of the Nahendeh's communities.

"That was the standout of the year," he said.

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