Co-operation financial key
Sharing resource revenue said to be solution to GNWT's cash crunch

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Fort Providence (Feb 14/00) - Members of the legislative assembly last week painted in broad brush strokes their vision of the future.

If the caucus -- which includes all MLAs -- has any say, that vision will not include any major changes in the next budget.

"It's too soon," said caucus chairman Bill Braden. "That's not to say dramatic things can't be done. If we're going to do dramatic things we have got to go and talk to the people who would be effected by them."

The government is facing the prospect of spending $60 million more than it takes in during the next fiscal year if all construction projects proceed as planned and services are not cut.

The NWT's financial situation -- some have called it a crisis -- was central to most of the discussions during the four day strategy session, held in Fort Providence.

"You could say that, to some degree or other, all of it was focused on finances," said Braden. "Even when we were talking about social programs it came back to the fiscal consequences -- how much is it going to cost and where are we going to get the money."

Smoothing the often rough waters between the public government and aboriginal governments emerged as the top priority for the next four years, the Yellowknife MLA said.

Aboriginal-territorial relations will be critical to escaping the GNWT's cash crunch. The federal government has indicated it is ready to devolve responsibility for managing resource development, and passing along a greater share of tax and royalty profits of development to territorial governments.

As caucus deputy chair and Tu Nedeh MLA Steve Nitah stated, "The assembly is resolved that equitable control and sharing of our tremendous natural mineral and petroleum resources is what we deserve."

Nitah also pointed out that co-operation will be the key to getting the additional revenue. Aboriginal governments and the territorial government will have to come to an agreement on how to share the responsibilities and revenues.

Finance minister Joe Handley pointed out the paradox the territorial government is currently facing.

"It's a bit ironic that while we're having such a tough time financially, we've got so many opportunities in front of us."