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Finance minister wants more people on the job

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 11/05) - Finance Minister Floyd Roland launched into his budget address yesterday with an appeal to residents to take "personal responsibility" for their own needs while the NWT economy continues to boom.

Roland boasted that the NWT's "fiscal house is in order."

The 2005/2006 budget handed down by Roland yesterday shows a reversal from last year's estimated deficit of $45.6 million to a projected surplus of $48.6 million for this year.

Finance minister Floyd Roland made an impassioned plea for residents to take advantage of the NWT's booming economy after unveiling the 2005/2006 budget yesterday. - Mike W. Bryant/NNSL photo

Total revenue:

$1.05 billion
Last year -- $931.6 million

Total operating expenditures:

$974.3 million
Last year -- $965.2 million

Operating surplus:

$48.6 million
Last year -- $45.6 million deficit

Total capital investment expenditures:

$105.7 million
Last year -- $81.2 million

Total debt:

$153.6 million
Last year -- $148.3 million

Spending by department (last year in brackets):

  • Legislative assembly: $14.4 million ($14.9 million)
  • Executive: $47.2 million ( $49.9 million)
  • Finance: $7.8 million ($7.3 million)
  • Municipal and Community Affairs: $82.5 million ($77.4 million)
  • Public Works and Services: $44.2 million ($44.6 million)
  • Health and Social Services: $252.7 million ($246.9 million)
  • Justice: $79.8 million ($79.3 million)
  • NWT Housing Corporation: $35.9 million ($35.1 million)
  • Education, Culture and Employment: $245 million ($247 million)
  • Transportation: $77.4 million ($76.9 million)
  • Industry, Tourism and Investment: $34.9 million ($33.2 million)
  • Environment and Natural Resources: $52.1 million ($52.3 million)

  • Overall, revenue is expected to top $1.05 billion, with the total operations expense coming in at $974 million.

    No taxes were included in the budget.

    Nonetheless, despite Gross Domestic Product growth 63 per cent higher than the Canadian average and the second highest employment rate in the country, the picture remains very different in smaller communities, said Roland.

    "As a child growing up in Inuvik, I remember it was seen as a bad thing to go to the welfare office," said Roland during interviews with the media after the budget was revealed.

    "Now it's changed where you got some of our younger generation who know the system, and as human nature is, we have situations where people like what's there, and try to stay in the system."

    Roland said the unemployment rate in some smaller communities is almost 40 per cent while Yellowknife's rate is a comparatively negligible five per cent.

    This year's budget estimates spending on income assistance programs to top $16 million, plus more than $30 million for public housing subsidies.

    Although this budget remains relatively status quo on social program spending, Roland said his government needs to be doing more to break people's dependence on government hand-outs.

    "We shouldn't have to go to the income support office if we really don't want to," said Roland.

    "We have the ability to go out and get some jobs. And if we don't have the training, then we should have the avenue to go out and get that training to get that job."

    Thumbs up mostly

    The overall budget, meanwhile, was mostly given a thumbs up by residents and MLAs who were present to hear Roland's address at the legislative assembly.

    His address came with news that Moody's Investor's Service - a renowned international credit rating agency - has given the NWT an "Aa3" credit rating, putting the territories in between Manitoba and Quebec in terms of credit risk.

    It's a relatively high rating overall, and a first for a territorial jurisdiction in Canada. The highest rating is "Aaa."

    Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president Steve Meister said the government is taking the territories in the right direction with this budget.

    "We're looking favourably towards this," said Meister.

    "(There's) more on capital investment, more emphasis on increasing transfer payments or resources revenues from the federal government to offset some of the increased expenditures."

    The budget predicts an added $110 million in federal grants over what was expected for last year's budget. The total federal grants expected this year is $724 million.

    Great Slave MLA Bill Braden said, however, he is worried about the unpredictability of federal transfers to the territory.

    "It illustrates a really big underlying problem," said Braden.


    ball relationship'

    He compared the relationship with Ottawa as a "ping-pong ball, back and forth relationship."

    "(The $110 million) is 10 per cent that we couldn't predict, and it turned around in one year. It tells us we have a very volatile fiscal situation."

    Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, on the other hand, said the budget shows the government is taking capital investment in communities seriously.

    The government plans to spend $105.7 million on capital investments - roads, buildings, water and sewer, etc. - over the next year.

    "There's some concentrated effort going to the community infrastructure," said Yakeleya.

    "We want to make sure if we're mortgaging the Northwest Territories that we get some things in place that we can feel secure enough that we can count on our mortgage."

    As for Roland's comments on personal responsibilities, Yakeleya said more skilled-job training programs are needed to encourage youths to enter the job market.

    "I think it's looking at the education system," said Yakeleya. "The young kids are losing interest, so we got to do a real radical shift to get the programs for them."