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Notes from the legislative assembly
Aurora College board member throws in towel over program cuts

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Monday, February 27, 2017

The mayor of Fort Smith has resigned from her role as the South Slave representative of Aurora College's board of governors because of the school's decision to cut its social work and teacher education programs.

In a letter tabled in the legislative assembly Feb. 22, Lynn Napier-Buckley writes that she will have to support the college through other avenues as she does not agree with the program cuts.

"The degree-granting programs at Aurora College are critical to the future of the North and these employment needs," she said.

The letter, addressed to Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses, details how Napier-Buckley built a successful life for herself thanks to Aurora College.

As a single parent, she was able to afford her tuition and rent, eventually graduating with a 4.0 GPA and going onto a successful career with a global consulting company.

"Aurora College is an important part of our community and of the North," Napier-Buckley writes. "My story is only one of thousands of children, students, and staff who have benefitted from their experiences at the college."

Aurora College needs overhaul, says MLA

The Education, Culture and Employment minister agreed to look at the possibility of a foundational review of Aurora College on Feb. 21, after one MLA suggested recent program cuts are a result of a larger problem with the school's administration.

Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said he blames the department for allowing the college to operate in a way that led to the programs needing to be cut in the first place.

"I put the blame on (the department) for handing over tens of millions of dollars over to the college without the oversight to ensure that the people of the NWT get what we pay for," Simpson said.

Education Minister Alfred Moses said his department is working on an accountability framework with the college, holding more meetings with its board of governors, and has provided board members with mandate letters for the first time.

"Government is good at taking half measures, but it is not very good at fundamental change," Simpson said. "I think what we need here is fundamental changes to an organization that has been now entrenched in their ways after decades."

Moses promised to have discussions with other departments and Aurora College's chair and

president to see what the "next steps" of a review of the college could look like.

Job woes hindering small communities

While the minister of Human Resources was tooting the GNWT's horn for making it onto a list of top employers for young people, one MLA was reminding the assembly of the bleak economic reality in his region.

"The employment rate in Fort McPherson and Aklavik is barely over 40 per cent," said Mackenzie Delta MLA Frederick Blake Jr. "Only one community in the Northwest Territories has an employment rate lower."

Families in his region are making little money each year while the cost of living remains high, painting a disappointing picture for high school graduates, he said.

"For some, it could take years to find a job in the region," Blake Jr. said. "Our young people are fighting against the odds, Mr. Speaker, but they are fighting just the same and I am proud of them."

Earlier in the afternoon, Minister Robert C. McLeod said the GNWT is committed to including young people in the public service and values young Northerners' contributions.

But Blake Jr. said the government is hurting small communities and local economies by cutting jobs in its proposed budget.

"We seem to forget about the savings and revenue to be gained and people who need work to support their families," he said.

Assembly celebrates Pink Shirt Day

The legislative assembly was a sea of pink on Wednesday as 50 students from Yellowknife-area schools gathered in the Great Hall to learn about anti-bullying.

Public Service Alliance North regional executive vice-president Jack Bourassa and Education, Culture and Employment Minister Alfred Moses spoke to the students about the day.

"This initiative was started by two brave young men in Nova Scotia - David Shepherd and Travis Price - who gave away 50 pink shirts after a Grade 9 student was bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school," Moses later said in the assembly during his minister's statement.

He said the government has been working on spreading the anti-bullying message throughout NWT schools since amending the Education Act in 2013 to include bullying prevention measures.

Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart added that bullying - in schools and by global leaders - shouldn't be tolerated.

MLAs also adorned pink carnations in honour of Pink Shirt Day.

Homeless shelter coming to Sahtu

The minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation announced Feb. 22 the Sahtu region can expect to see not one but two homeless shelters go up in the region within the coming fiscal year.

Caroline Cochrane said the department received two proposals for shelters, both of which the department will be able to accommodate.

Cochrane said this means there will be a shelter in every NWT region by the next fiscal year.

The announcement came after Sahtu MLA Daniel McNeely pressed the minister for a timeline on the issue.

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