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Territorial budget raised by $3.72 million
Non-cabinet MLAs feel they don't have enough say in how money is spent

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 2012-2013 budget was approved in the legislative assembly after three weeks of overview by MLAs and cabinet ministers, but some MLAs want more say.

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Michael miltenberger says the budget process was a sucess, but some MLAs are feeling passed over.

The budget was looked at department by department and as a result is $3.7 million meatier than the main estimates initially proposed May 24.

Approved on June 7, there are some changes to the budget, made after hours of discussions and debate. In response to a motion introduced by Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, more funding is coming for climate change programs.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is receiving an additional $1.7 million dollars, which will be given to projects in September.

The motion introduced by Bromley passed May 31. It demanded more funding for renewable energy and climate change projects, like solar energy, wind turbines, wood pellet boilers and biomass.

The motion passed with the majority of support coming from the member side of the house. The cabinet ministers abstained from the vote.

At the time, Bromley couldn't say whether the motion would make a big difference in climate change funding, but he hoped cabinet was listening and would see the need for more support.

In total, the government added $3.72 million to the $1.4 billion 2012-2013 budget, including $250,000 to the Heritage Fund, $200,000 for the ground ambulance program, $900,000 for health prevention programs, $47,000 toward a legal aid family lawyer to reduce wait times, $215,000 for an alcohol and drug treatment program at the South Mackenzie Correctional Centre and an extra $416,000 for phase three of the Family Violence Action Plan.

But it's not all celebration. Bromley said the MLAs have to fight tooth and nail to have any impact on the budget. An additional $10 million for the Deh Cho Bridge was added without a hurdle.

"The guiding principles of consensus government point out that consensus government is defined by the ability and willingness of all members to work together within their respective roles for the collective good of the people," said Bromley.

"Opportunities for all members to have meaningful input on important decisions is fundamental. Yet over the past three weeks there has been a battle royal to have a significant impact on the direction of one-third of one per cent of the government's proposed budget."

Wendy Bisaro, MLA for Frame Lake, agreed with her colleague.

"The government is telling us we don't have any money, they're telling us that things are very tight and we can't spend, so to speak," said Bisaro.

"Yet we've been advised that we need to spend another $10 million on a capital project and we're looking at a supplementary appropriation already for this budget year and we haven't even gotten a quarter of the way through it."

Bisaro said the government's actions seem hypocritical.

"Although I agree with the fiscal strategy that the minister has put forward, I'm feeling like we are being asked to hold our nose and not spend money on the one hand, and yet the government can pretty much spend however much money they want on the other and the philosophy doesn't really jive for me," she said.

But Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger has another view. "We spend what the legislature votes for us to spend," he said.

"It is a collective budget of this body here. Yes, the fact is that we could always spend more money," Miltenberger said. "But the fact is that we are here spending and discussing how to spend $1.5 billion dollars and we have had no layoffs, we've had good collective agreements signed, we're going to continue to invest in all the things we need to."

I think we should take comfort and solace and some pride in the fact that our glass, in this case, in my opinion, is half-full."

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