Glen Abernethy: Anti-Poverty Update

Delivered on November 1, 2018

Mr. Speaker, over the last five years the Government of Northwest Territories has worked in partnership with people and organizations across the NWT to better understand and meaningfully address the root causes of poverty in this territory. This outreach supports our mandate commitment to reduce poverty in the Northwest Territories.

In 2013, the GNWT released Building on the Strengths of Northerners: A Strategic Framework toward the Elimination of Poverty in the NWT. The development of this Framework was a collaborative effort between our government, Indigenous governments, and the business and non-profit sectors. It is the guiding document for all the work that has been carried out since its release, including the development of a GNWT Action Plan and a multi-stakeholder Territorial Anti-Poverty Action Plan, as well as annual Roundtables to bring all partners together, significant new investments, and innovative new programs and services in communities across the NWT.

Next week, the Sixth Anti-Poverty Roundtable will be held in Hay River, continuing my commitment to host these annual meetings in a different region each year to help partners better understand the unique contexts of poverty throughout the territory.

Mr. Speaker, the Roundtable will focus on two critical pieces of work: informing the development of a progress report on the Strategic Framework towards eliminating poverty since its release five years ago, and working to develop a renewed Territorial Anti-Poverty Action Plan to guide our work moving forward. Co-creating these documents with involvement from all partners is critical to respecting the collaborative model we have embraced in our poverty reduction efforts.

Mr. Speaker, this commitment to working together is foundational to how we have chosen to address poverty. The Territorial Anti-Poverty Action Plan released in 2015, sets out three principles for action:

  • Respect and equality are essential to anti-poverty work;
  • People are our most important resource; and
  • How we do things is as important as what we do.

Elder Paul Andrew has said and I quote “we didn’t know we were poor until the government told us we were, and no one was homeless until someone told us we had to live in a house” end quote.

The GNWT has an essential leadership role in addressing poverty, there is no question. We also have a responsibility to carry out that role with humility, especially cultural humility, recognizing that people and communities are best able to drive solutions that are based on their lived experience and understanding, and informed by the needs and priorities they articulate for themselves.

Mr. Speaker, poverty is not an Indigenous issue, but Indigenous peoples living in the NWT continue to be disproportionately impacted by poverty and the negative health and social outcomes associated with it. This is the direct result of colonial policies that have removed people from the land that sustained them, forcing them to adapt to life in settled communities, residential schools, and other institutional environments.

Investments in community health and wellness, mental health and addictions, and opportunities to reconnect to land and culture have been essential elements of our work to address poverty and address the legacy of colonialism. Addressing the wrongs of the past and helping to create healthy, hopeful futures begins with and will be sustained by the personal development, wellness, and wellbeing of all northern peoples.

Mr. Speaker, one of the tools that we have established as part of our approach to eliminating poverty in partnership with our communities and partners, is the
Anti-Poverty Fund.  Since the Anti-Poverty Fund was established in 2014, it is conservatively estimated that 13,000 people have been touched by the programming it supports. Over the years, youth and families have been the most frequent recipients of program supports. Women, persons with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, and Elders have also benefitted from targeted programming. These efforts are essential to breaking the cycle of poverty for individuals, and from generation to generation.

This year, the one million dollar Anti-Poverty Fund has been allocated towards more than 40 projects across the NWT.

Through the Fund, food security for children, Elders, and those in need is being immediately addressed with meal and snack programs and soup kitchens. It will also support longer-term solutions by investing in initiatives such as community gardens, traditional harvesting programs, and training for small-scale agricultural and poultry production.

Employment and life skills, including traditional and cultural skills, are being supported by programs all over the territory including the Tlicho Government’s Dene Warriors Program; the Hay River Committee for Persons with Disabilities’ Life-Skills Employment Action Program; and the Deh Cho Friendship Centre’s Community Helper Program.

Housing is being addressed through numerous programs, ranging from emergency shelters to rapid rehousing projects, Housing First programs, and an extended stay program to provide extra support for women and children in crisis.

Mr. Speaker, these projects, led by community partners with financial support from our government, are examples that show how we are working together to alleviate the effects of poverty in the short-term, while meaningfully addressing the root causes of poverty in the long-term.

Poverty is not just an issue of income or economy. It cannot be solved by more jobs, or better paying jobs, if those opportunities are not accompanied by social policy that respects the dignity of those who are not able to work. Social and technological change everywhere is shifting the nature of work itself, and it is more important than ever that we find ways to invest in the creativity and ingenuity of northern people to create their own opportunities, generate their own employment, and drive the development of community-based economies that are meaningful, sustainable, and grounded in culture and way of life.

There is much work yet to be done. The GNWT is committed to ongoing leadership in the effort to address poverty in the NWT, and we are committed to continued collaboration and co-creation in the work that we do and the way that we do it. Today I want to recognize the progress that has been made so far, and acknowledge the sustained efforts of all partners, including my colleagues on both sides of this House, Indigenous and community governments, NGOs and community service providers, and the business and philanthropic sectors that support our work. Thank you to all of them for their continued support to advance these programs and initiatives; and I look forward to working with you all in Hay River next week.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.