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Legislative Assembly briefs
GNWT ups Heritage Fund committment
Annual contribution of $15 million now anticipated

Cody Punter
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 17, 2014

Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger did an about face last week, announcing the government will up its contribution to the Heritage Fund to 25 per cent during a sitting of the legislative assembly.

The government had previously maintained that it was only going to contribute five per cent of annual resource revenues that it will be splitting with the federal government after devolution to the fund.

However, pressure from MLAs to increase the amount devoted to the fund led to the minister to cave in.

"Members have clearly indicated that they disagree with the proposed allocation for the Heritage Fund," Miltenberger said.

"In the spirit of consensus government, we will be taking members' wishes on this matter into account."

The announcement was met with applause from MLAs.

"Twenty-five percent is a substantial amount," said Hay River North MLA Robert Bouchard.

"It's an amount that actually provides an amount of money of these non-renewable resources that we're taking from this territory, giving it to the future generations for capital infrastructure, for paying down debt, exactly what we told the people of the Northwest Territories we were going to do."

Not everyone was satisfied with the concession, with some pointing out the government did not plan on upping its contribution until 2015-16.

"Regular members want 25 per cent of GNWT's net fiscal benefit to also be booked for 2014-15," said Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, who called the minister's commitment to up the contribution the following year "bafflegab."

Miltenberger said the resource revenues would not start coming in until 2015, and changing the contribution in 2015 would require the government to borrow money.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins agreed that waiting until 2015 to change the percentage was the fiscally responsible thing to do.

With resource revenues expected to be $60 million, the fund will now see $15 million put into the fund every year instead of the previously anticipated $3 million.

The principal on the fund, which is intended to be held in trust in anticipation of declining resource revenues, cannot be withdrawn for a period of 20 years.

Mental health and addictions programming unveiled

The territorial government has developed a new strategy to deal with mental health and addictions issues in light of the closing of its Hay River treatment facility.

The $2.6 million plan, which was unveiled during a press conference last week, places a focus on culturally-based on the land programs.

"The message is very clear - the land itself heals people," said Andy Langford, director of territorial social programs.

Of the $2.6 million worth of additional funding, $900,000 will be directed to on-the-land programs.

Langford said the government would use that money to fund at least one on-the-land program in each of the territory's seven regions.

That contribution is in addition to $200,000 of funding the department already gives for such programs.

Indeed, the government will be funding three on-the-land pilot projects across the territory at the beginning of March, in conjunction with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the Tlicho government, and the Yellowknifves Dene First Nation.

Langford added that $2.1 million in annual funding that was used to operate the Hay River treatment centre has been diverted to placing patients in southern facilities.

Over the last year, 60 adults and 44 youth and children

were sent to southern facilities at an estimated cost of $18 million.

"Some of these people will be placed in specialized care for the rest of their lives," said Langford.

The government is also dedicating $305,000 to create a wellness court and another $895,000 for integrated case management.

Together, the programs are intended to divert people with mental health and addictions from the criminal justice systems so they can get the treatment they need.

Langford said the government still needs to develop a selection process for the programs.

MLA wants GNWT to join fight to protect Peel watershed

Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. wants to know what the territorial government is going to do to fight the Yukon government's decision to approve its Peel Watershed Land Use Plan.

"I can't sit back and not voice my disappointment in the Yukon government and its lack of understanding for the people who live in and near the Peel watershed and all those who are affected downstream," said Blake.

Blake was speaking on behalf of residents from Fort McPherson, Aklavik and Inuvik who fear they will be affected by the Yukon government's recent announcement that it will protect 29 per cent of the watershed.

It had originally been recommended by both Yukon aboriginal groups and the Gwich'in Tribal Council leadership that 80 per cent of the watershed, of which 11 per cent is located in the NWT, be protected.

Premier Bob McLeod would not commit to taking specific action. He said the government would be closely following a lawsuit, which was recently filed against the Yukon government by two aboriginal groups in the territory.

"When we review the court case, we will look at our options and decide if we will take any action, if any," said McLeod.

"As a government, we will be looking at that to see what kind of a role we should play."

He added that he hoped to re-negotiate and modernize the Yukon/Northwest Territories Transboundary Water Agreement.

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