Caroline Wawzonek: Northwest Territories COVID-19 Economic Relief

Yellowknife — March 20, 2020
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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It was only eight days ago, last Thursday, that the Legislative Assembly was part way through our winter budget session. Eight days ago the full Assembly came together, took stock of the growing risks of the COVID-19 pandemic and took action by deciding to end our winter session early. This past Monday, all 19 members of the Assembly supported the passage of an interim appropriation to provide a temporary budget for the functioning of the Government of the NWT until we can reconvene at the end of May.

The use of an interim appropriation might was the first step in our financial response to COVID-19. Those initial steps and further items are what I am going to outline briefly today. In these last few days, we have identified several other initiatives that we can take immediately to help support the financial health of our residents and businesses. What we are describing today is only phase 1. This has been a whole-of government effort including FIN, INF, ITI, ECE, MACA, NTPC and the WSCC. We are all working together to identify ways to help put money in the hands of people who need it for groceries,  and businesses who are trying to keep their payroll going.

This spirit of everyone working together applies to the private sector as well. There are many businesses continuing to provide services: plumbers and mechanics, drive through restaurants, grocers, water and sewage trucks, and supply chain transport and logistics. I believe they are all doing their best to follow the advice of the CPHO while also working hard to keep our communities running. I also want to acknowledge efforts from different sectors to at least temporarily reduce or remove fees, including the ongoing ask from NWTel to the CRTC. I want to encourage everyone to keep being creative and thinking of others during these unprecedented events.

With that, I want to describe this first wave of initiatives that provide an equivalent of at least $13.2m worth of financial supports to the NWT in response to COVID-19:

Interim appropriation budget:

  • HSS extra 25%: we want our health professionals to know, you are there for all of us and we will be supporting you
    • 615k for dialysis expansion in HR; expansion of regional health services and immediately, that means an injection of 615k to the HSS budget
  • ECE extra 25%, now set $2m for IA expecting a growth in demand and need; short term is going to be hard, we know that, and we have planned for it
  • 100% almost all dept’s grants and contribution funding ready to go out April 1
    • IGs, Community governments and NGOS will have access to their full 12 months worth of funding upfront on April 1
  • 100% of almost all contracting available for departments to commit as of April 1
    • Departments can commit to all of our business and community partners relying on the full 12 months worth of funds

Additional initiatives:

  • We will allow carry overs for all 2019-2020 contributions
    • IGs, CG and NGOs with money in their 2019-20 budgets can continue to use those funds for their ongoing operations
  • advance royalty payments to devolution signatory Indigenous Governments
    • Usually the payment is made in July once the previous year’s royalties are fully reported
    • Advance 50% of the anticipated royalties from 2019-2020 now
    • IGs can provide their own direct support to their people and communities
  • NTPC will remove load limiters and pause collections
  • Similarly, FIN will also be temporarily pausing collections owed to the GNWT such as payroll tax and ECE will defer all Student Financial Assistance payments until September 30

Next steps

  • Need to continue to support our most vulnerable
  • No one should worry about food, mortgages, heat or other basic needs
  • We will make sure that the Federal financial measures are accessible across communities
  • And we will look at what further supports GNWT can provide while we all navigate the realities of a global pandemic
  • We also have our eyes on the hopefully not too distant future and what kinds of steps we will need to take once the wave has crested
  • As I said in my budget speech last month, this government is going to be creative and collaborative in order to find solutions that are responsive and responsible
  • That has not changed. If anything, this is our opportunity to put those promises into action.