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Budget misses mark on mental health: MLA
GNWT budget sees increased spending on social services

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 12, 2015

The GNWT budget unveiled last week doesn't do enough to address the need for more mental health services says Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche.

NNSL photo/graphic

Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger speaks during a budget consultation meeting in Fort Simpson last year. - NNSL file photo

He pointed particularly to Fort Liard where there's only one mental healthcare worker who is in high demand.

High turnover at the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority has been disruptive for those seeking support, he said.

"Our members, when they get distressed, these supports need to be there for them," Menicoche said.

He's hoping to raise the issue in the assembly during the current session and wants to see some way to retain staff.

"How do we keep people?" he asked, rhetorically.

Asked what should be included in such as strategy, Menicoche said he's not sure.

The budget includes up to $112 million in additional social services spending, including in Fort Simpson.

The Fort Simpson's Elders Care Home is one of several facilities that will receive funding to extend hours of patient care.

After continuing to call for more positions to be decentralized from Yellowknife to regional centres like Fort Simpson, Menicoche said he's happy to hear that up to two will be relocated in the coming year.

The GNWT has budgeted for six more positions in the region than it did last year, three of them working part-time.

Despite a costly forest fire year and warnings from government officials that 2015 could be as bad, there's less money allocated to fight fires.

Last year, the government expected to spend $7.48 million. It ended up spending more than $55 million.

This year, $7.37 million has been budgeted, a decrease of $118,000.

However, the government's capital budget last year included $7 million to start replacing the air tanker fleet that supports fighting forest fires.

The proposed budget for the GNWT will hold the line on taxes as the territory approaches what the finance minister describes as a "fiscal cliff."

Michael Miltenberger unveiled the final budget of the 17th assembly Feb. 5 in the legislative assembly, highlighting several spending priorities that will affect communities in the Deh Cho.

The government forecasts to bring in $1.83 billion while spending $1.68 billion, leaving a surplus of $146 million.

Menicoche said the biggest benefit he sees for residents is no new taxes except to keep rates in line with increases to the cost of living, a measure known as inflation.

"I'm happy there's no increase," he said.

"There are some new initiatives, but mostly it is a maintenance budget," he said.

The hot water heater replacement pilot program run in the Deh Cho and Sahtu will be expanded, though it isn't clear what communities will be involved.

The minister has budgeted for $300,000 to be spent on the program that changes electric water heaters for fuel-fired units.

The change is expected to reduce power bills for users while also cutting power generation costs tied to fuel for the GNWT.

Other spending in the energy category includes $325,000 to finish a liquefied natural gas feasibility study in Yellowknife.

The study will also include either Fort Liard, Fort McPherson or Tuktoyaktuk.

The budget must still pass in the assembly.

Lab planned for Fort Simpson

The capital budget, outlined last year, also includes a plan to build a 150 square-metre level two laboratory with secure storage and workspace at the Environment and Natural Resources compound in the village.

The total budget for the project is $1.76 million, wrapping up in the 2016 to 2017 fiscal year.

The lab will allow ENR biologists and wildlife officers to carry out sample tests locally instead of sending them away to Yellowknife or Edmonton.

"It's something that's much needed for our region," Menicoche said.

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