Budget Address 2021
Mr. Speaker, approximately one year ago, I stood in this Assembly and introduced Budget 2020 as part of a journey. I described it as a foundation from which we could build a positive fiscal path towards long term economic growth and stability. There were already negative economic indicators but I said that we should not describe our circumstances as a crisis. I said that I was cautiously optimistic that achieving our priorities and building from a solid foundation was possible with discipline and planning.
At the time of tabling Budget 2020, I did not predict that last year’s budget session would end abruptly to focus government efforts on a pandemic that was creating a public health crisis, not only in the Northwest Territories, but across Canada and around the world. The need to shut down to contain the virus resulted in an economic crisis for the Northwest Territories; a crisis that has impacted people in different ways, as many have lost their livelihoods or face precarious financial futures.
Mr. Speaker, the world has and still is experiencing a crisis. While all levels of government moved with speed and collaboration to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still experiencing how quickly things change.
In tackling the pre-existing challenges of our undiversified economy, made only more immediate by the impacts of the pandemic, we should remember that the economy is not a ‘thing.’ An economy is the way that we as a society choose to allocate our resources to serve our families, our communities and our society’s needs and wants: education and opportunities for our children and grandchildren, appropriate health care, housing, and food. Challenges and crisis provide opportunity and motivation for needed change and for unified effort towards common goals.
Knowing all this, I remain cautiously optimistic about our future.
I do not arrive at this optimism lightly. I will share three reasons with you.
First, the people of the Northwest Territories have confirmed that our brand of Northern spirit, resilience, and community is stronger than ever. We all saw the power of coming together to follow health protocols, supporting our local economy, taking staycations and finding creative ways to continue to deliver goods and services.
Second, our fiscal structure has insulated us from even greater economic shocks and allows us an opportunity to preserve stability as we look towards recovery. While in other times many, including me, have expressed concern over the challenge of an undiversified economy, in the present economic climate having a large public sector has helped support continued levels of employment and disposable income. Territorial Formula Financing, among other federal supports, has kept our revenues comparatively stable.
Last, and where I will spend the majority of this Budget Address, is on the foundations we have started to build for a healthy, resilient and more diverse economic future for the Northwest Territories. With the anxieties of the pandemic ever present, I did not realize just how far we have actually come in the journey I spoke about one year ago until I began to prepare for this Budget Address. As I will soon describe, we are building foundations for a well-educated population, healthy and safe families and communities, and economic opportunities both territory-building in scale and at community levels and we are changing the way we do business to get better value for the people of the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Speaker, while delivering the Budget this year, it is important to directly acknowledge the need for economic recovery. That fact does not diminish the reasons for optimism I shared earlier. Just in time to be reflected in Budget 2021, we have the benefit of the Business Advisory Council’s report speaking to both relief and recovery from COVID-19. The report highlights the need to focus on education, green technology and our opportunity to not only move towards greener energy solutions but to be part of a critical mineral value chain that will supply the world with the technological requirements for greener energy, as well as business support through government procurement, catching up our infrastructure across sectors, and more and better opportunities for equity participation by Indigenous governments. I feel optimistic knowing that we all share similar goals and, again, the foundation to achieve those important asks are reflected throughout this Budget.
The strength, resiliency and creativity of the Northwest Territories population cannot be overstated as an economic benefit. I heard directly from many residents and organizations during Budget Dialogues last summer that although there is anxiety and worry, people continue to believe we can achieve stability and growth. There was a desire for fiscal stability, which this Budget provides by avoiding cuts or new taxes. There was also a strong connection drawn between long-term investments in people, including education and health, and future financial wellbeing, which is also reflected in this Budget. Another strong theme was the need to know that the government will be efficient and fiscally responsible with an eye on the future.
This last ask is the goal of the Government Renewal initiative that I announced in October and which is now underway. This does not require new funding from this Budget but it will be a significant government-wide effort to ensure our fiscal house is in good order.
Mr. Speaker, I present Budget 2021 as a stability budget that builds on the foundations we have set over the past year and allows further opportunity to advance many important projects. In this time of uncertainty we propose to carry on with $2 billion in expenditures and no spending reductions. Over the next few minutes I will share details of the work happening across departments that will support our economic future; describe ongoing investments in our people, our anchor industries and our communities, and what is being done to ensure government efficiency so that I can continue to stand in the Assembly and say that we should look with optimism towards our future.
Mr. Speaker, we estimate that the Northwest Territories economy shrank almost 7 per cent in 2020 because of the immediate and severe economic disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of the year.
By the end of 2020 we saw the predicted economic rebound begin and we expect economic activity this year to continue to recover from the 2020 low. The Northwest Territories economy in 2021 will likely remain smaller than it was in 2019 and the risks and challenges remain the same as before the pandemic’s economic shock.
Until the global health crisis is under control, a full recovery of the territorial economy will be slow and uneven. Industries such as local retail, construction, and public administration have seen faster returns towards pre-pandemic strength, while hard hit sectors such as tourism, hospitality, airlines, mining, and wholesale trade continue to struggle. Global lockdowns and border closures, reluctance or lack of opportunity to travel by air, and reduced international demand for diamonds, fur and aurora tours, mean our hardest hit sectors will take more time to show signs of recovery.
Long-term challenges such as maturing diamond mines, an aging population, and a lack of economic diversification or private-sector activity will depress future growth unless there are substantial structural changes. Long-term structural challenges must not be underestimated. Meanwhile, we must remain vigilant about public health orders because more coronavirus cases in the territory could dampen economic recovery.
Putting forward a recovery plan while still in the midst of an evolving crisis is challenging. We need to invest when the moment is right to catch the wave of recovery while not underestimating the full extent of the pandemic and invest too soon. With a spirit of knowing what we can accomplish together, especially when collectively motivated, we are working to develop our recovery roadmap. It will evolve as the distribution of the vaccines changes the way we respond to the pandemic. We should all feel encouraged that with the vaccine, the “can do” attitude shown by the public service from the earliest days of the pandemic through to the vaccine roll out, the creativity and patience of the business community, and the investments proposed in Budget 2021, we can move quickly with a flexible and responsive recovery.
The GNWT is a large player in the territory’s economy. Budget 2021 has no reductions because right now the economy needs support. Despite welcomed additional federal transfers since last March to help us keep our residents safe and our economy working, we expect to spend more on programs and services in 2020-21 than we will bring in as revenues. For the third year in a row we anticipate that we will have an operating deficit. This means that we needed to borrow more than expected for the capital budget and debt is projected to increase to $1.33 billion by March 31, 2021.
In Budget 2021, thanks again to increased federal support, we are projecting revenues to be higher than operating expenditures, which will produce a $69 million operating surplus. However, we need more than this operating surplus to pay for the $441 million capital plan approved last October and to start reducing the debt that we have already accumulated.
Revenues are projected to be $2.2 billion in 2021-22. We are expecting lower amounts of our own revenues, especially corporate income tax, resource royalties and revenues from the Yellowknife Airport and Marine Transportation System revolving funds. The federal government is providing additional funds above the typical annual transfers and our fiscal independence has weakened as a result. The combination of increased transfers and lower own source revenues has increased the federal contribution to our total revenues from an average 81 per cent to over 85 per cent.
While Territorial Formula Financing arrangements provide a stable and predictable revenue base, we are facing serious risks to our own source revenues. A slowing economy will likely mean several years of declining tax revenue, especially corporate and personal income taxes, and potentially little resource revenues. Furthermore, we face significant risks to both our own revenue base and federal transfers if our population starts to decline.
Mr. Speaker, we have chosen to balance our need for revenue by supporting a competitive tax regime for small business, reducing the small business tax rate from 4 per cent to 2 per cent effective January 1, 2021. In an average year, this will result in foregone revenues of about $1.7 million annually but provides greater value by leaving small business with more resources to grow the economy.
Continuing our usual practice, we will increase property tax rates and some fees to match inflation.
As we agreed by signing the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, our carbon tax rates will increase to $40 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions on July 1, 2021. Although this will add 2.4 cents in additional tax to a litre of gasoline and corresponding increases to other carbon-based fuels, our suite of carbon tax rebates will continue and the Cost of Living Offset will increase on July 1 to $208 per adult and $240 per child to help residents adjust to the higher carbon price.
Mr. Speaker, we are proposing to spend $2 billion on programs and services in 2021-22, an increase of $117 million from last year’s budget, a result of $132 million in new spending that is partially offset by $15 million in savings.
Not all of this funding will be rolled into the operating budget expenditure base for future years, such as the $41 million for various COVID-19 supports included in the Budget to continue to keep our communities and residents safe. We are hopeful that our evolving response to the public health risks will make a portion of the $35 million for the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat included in this Budget unnecessary with the need for the Secretariat phased out over the 2021-22 fiscal year. The Budget includes $4.3 million for contributions to our schools to ensure that learning continues while we keep our children safe and an additional $1.1 million to Student Financial Assistance for extra support to post-secondary students for their increased education costs because of the pandemic.
Excluding the COVID-19 Coordinating Secretariat and other COVID-related supports, Budget 2021 includes $2.3 million more for new asset amortization costs and $90 million in new spending. This new spending includes $23 million to maintain existing service levels in some programs, $40 million to enhance programs and services already offered and $26 million to further our priorities.
Social Programs and Community Wellness
Over 60 per cent of our spending on programs and services goes to investments in our people and to keep our communities healthy and safe. Spending on social programs and communities underpins a healthy economy. We propose in this Budget to increase spending on these vital programs by $64 million, including $20 million for initiatives that directly address priorities of this Assembly; $28 million to continue or enhance work already underway; and $16 million to address funding pressures such as in income assistance, medical travel expenses and shelter funding.
Budget 2021 includes $4.5 million to complete the phased approach to bring child and youth care counsellors to all regions of the territory to support young people facing a range of personal or social issues. This program will provide year-round support and ensure that help is available after-hours.
We need to better protect vulnerable children and we are proposing to add $7 million to the Child and Family Services budget for this purpose. These new resources will expand the ability of Child and Family Services to address gaps in the system and to accelerate implementation of its Quality Improvement Plan. The additional resources will compress what was a five-year plan into three years with the second phase expected to be completed shortly and the third phase in 2021-22. The funding will increase the number of Community Social Services Workers, family preservation workers, child and youth placement coordinators, foster care and adoption workers, and case aid workers to help vulnerable children and their families. The Office of the Children’s Lawyer is experiencing an increased number of clients and we have included an additional $99,000 in funding to support service availability.
Mr. Speaker, we want our families to be healthy. We propose to renew and improve the Healthy Family program with $1.1 million to help parents ensure their children get a good start in life. The Healthy Family program was re-designed with support from families, communities and other partners to better reflect early childhood development and culturally-based prevention priorities.
A good start in life needs to include opportunities for early learning and quality child care. One significant reason for the lack of licensed child care spaces is the high costs of infrastructure to start up or expand operations. By providing ongoing funding of $500,000 in this Budget to subsidise facility repairs and renovations, we will help increase the number of daycare spaces and improve child care availability and affordability.
Before remote learning became a common concept across Canada last March, the GNWT had already introduced the Northern Distance Learning program so that youth in remote communities could remain with their families and still have access to educational opportunities available in larger centres. We are including an additional $1.2 million for the Northern Distance Learning program in this Budget to fulfil the next step in the multi-year plan to improve and enhance services and make the program available to more students.
If we want better education outcomes for our children, we need to ensure that our schools use the best practices and that these practices have the support of parents and students, education staff and Indigenous governments. This Budget includes $306,000 for the first year of a three-year plan to modernize and renew the Education Act to support an education system that will set our students up for success. We are also proposing to include $265,000 in this Budget to advance the development and implementation of competency-based professional standards for Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 educators.
Connecting students to jobs is good for the student, good for business, and good for the economy. With an additional $508,000, we propose to hire Career and Education Advisors in the Dehcho, Sahtu, and South Slave regions, similar to the advisors already in the North Slave region. These advisors will work with students and their parents and guardians to provide information for the transition to post-secondary schooling, provide advice to Aurora College students on Northern job opportunities, promote the Schools North Apprenticeship Program for skilled trades and certifications, and help post-secondary territorial students connect with employers.
As the territory’s population ages, the GNWT plans to significantly increase long-term care spaces where they are needed most. We have added $406,000 in this Budget to address increased costs for long-term care services currently provided by Avens. Budget 2021 includes $1.1 million to train more personal support workers and licensed practical nurses through Aurora College to care for long-term care residents with graduates who have gained their skills within our Territorial community.
Community governments deliver services that are vital for the survival of our communities and our economy. To help reduce the gap between the cost of providing municipal services and the revenues that communities can raise themselves, we propose to increase annual community government funding by $3.3 million. Communities can count on their share of this revenue to continue year-over-year to more adequately fund their operations and water and sewer services; however, we estimate that there is still a $16.4 million funding gap for these community budgets and we will continue to work with our community government partners to address this gap.
We are exploring better ways to keep our communities safe. This Budget includes a $303,000 proposal for a pilot Community Safety Officer Program that will be community-led and developed using best practices from other jurisdictions to guide implementation. Administered by a community government, Community Safety officers will be a visible presence in the community to deter crime and will develop close working relationships with the RCMP, municipal and territorial enforcement agencies. These officers will not carry weapons and will actively work with citizens in a culturally appropriate way to promote community wellbeing.
Budget 2021 includes a number of other investments in justice programs. We are proposing to continue work already started with the Government of Canada with an additional $158,000 in 2021-22 for finalizing and implementing the Gun and Gang Strategy. This work supports community-level prevention and enforcement efforts to address criminal activity arising from organized crime and to appropriately design a response to the violence, fear, and harm created by gangs. In response to increased demand for court sittings we propose to include $233,000 to create two new sheriff positions in Yellowknife. We have also included $123,000 in this Budget to address rising costs for providing services to inmates at the North Slave Correctional Complex. The demands of round-the-clock law enforcement in our largest city, combined with new training requirements, means it is necessary to include $422,000 in this Budget for three more RCMP constables in Yellowknife. Finally, we accept the recommendations in the 2020 Judicial Remuneration Commission Report by including $257,000 in this Budget for additional compensation and training opportunities for Territorial Court judges.
The 19th Legislative Assembly has a clear priority to increase the number of affordable homes and reduce core housing need. The 2021-22 Budget proposes to provide the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation with the first $5 million, out of a total of $15 million over three years, so that it can participate in the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and expand the number of housing projects it can undertake. We also propose to provide the Corporation with $300,000 to help low-income homeowners replace ageing fuel tanks and an additional $109,000 to assist emergency shelters facing increased costs due to inflation.
We are proposing to add $4 million to the Income Assistance program to address both an increase in clients and changes in allowances.
Escalating drug and non-discretionary supply costs, as well as more patients requiring out-of-territory care, have put huge expenditure pressures on our health system and we are addressing these pressures with a further $30 million for increased health care expenditures in this Budget, including $8.4 million in federal funding to improve services under the First Nations and Inuit Home and Community Care Agreement. This additional funding addresses some of the annual overage in the Department of Health and Social Services budget such as $7.5 million to reflect the 24 hours, seven days a week nature of operations, $3.4 million for medical travel, $1.8 million for supplementary health benefits and $4.2 million for out-of-territory hospital and physician services for residents.
We recognize that the need for $30 million in one year to address the fiscal challenges in our health care system is significant. The Department of Health and Social Services has developed a Sustainability Plan to ensure the long-term fiscal viability of our health services in the face of mounting costs so that residents continue to receive the best possible physical and mental health care.
We are proposing $280,000 in this Budget to extend the community-based peer support program started this year for people with mental health and addiction issues. Increasing evidence is showing that supportive relationships between people with common experiences help reduce hospitalization and distress and improve the quality of life of participants. As part of our ongoing partnership with Canada on home and community care, we are proposing a $290,000 increase in the Budget to further support the Paid Family Caregiver Project and fund project software to improve service delivery.
We are looking in this Budget to maintain the momentum to preserve, revitalize and strengthen Indigenous languages with $600,000 in continued spending to develop an Indigenous Languages Adult Immersion Diploma in partnership with Aurora College, the University of Victoria and Indigenous governments. This post-secondary programming will be used to help develop a new generation of proficient Indigenous Language speakers and a work force that can fill occupations requiring the ability to speak Indigenous languages.
We have also partnered with Canada on minority language development and propose to include $711,000 as a continuation of the Canada-Northwest Territories Agreement on Minority Language Education and Second Official Language Instruction. This funding will provide for French language education in schools and the Collège nordique francophone.
Job Growth and Economic Development
Mr. Speaker, the coronavirus pandemic has hurt some businesses more than others. Many businesses will take time to recover and others may close permanently. The pandemic was yet another reminder that the dependence on government and the resource industry makes the territorial economy extremely vulnerable and our past approach to implementing economic strategies has not done enough to provide economic diversity, stability and strength.
A successful future economy needs investments in lifelong education. That is one of the main reasons why we have done the legislative groundwork to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university. We also need to ensure that we have processes in place to monitor and evaluate our post-secondary programs so that students can be assured that our educational programs meet the required standards and quality found at other Canadian universities. To achieve this, we are proposing to add $177,000 for a Quality Assurance Coordinator to maintain quality instruction at the post-secondary level.
Over the past year the tourism sector, and many of the hospitality and accommodation businesses associated with it, have been especially hard hit by the impacts of a pandemic that crippled travel and tourism world-wide.
The Northwest Territories remains a spectacular destination for Canadians and international travellers alike and we want to remind the world of all that we offer as a destination. The proposed $936,000 in this Budget for a renewed Tourism 2025 investment strategy is intended to help our tourism sector to return to 2018-19 levels of visitors and spending by 2024-25 by preserving funding of existing programs, and introducing new services and activities, providing training for operators and tourism staff and gathering data to better guide and evaluate investments.
The challenges in our resource sector are rooted in the global market but we can still find effective ways to support this vital part of our economy. We need to provide clarity, certainty and an inclusive approach to balancing priorities of exploration, development, community involvement and environmental stewardship. We have the opportunity to position the Northwest Territories as a leader in responsible resource exploration and development by drafting sensible regulations that do not discourage resource development while still providing the environmental protection that Northwest Territories residents expect. This Budget includes an additional $360,000 in 2021-22 only to develop the regulations for the Mineral Resources Act that came into effect near the end of the 18th Legislative Assembly. We also propose to maintain the Mineral Incentive Program by re-instating $400,000 for 2021-22 and propose $225,000 for the continued implementation of the Petroleum Resources Strategy.
We are continuing to implement our commercial fisheries revitalization strategy for a viable Great Slave Lake commercial fishery. To support commercial fishers on Great Slave Lake we propose to include $150,000 to expand the role of the fish officer position while the fish processing facility is being built in Hay River. We also propose a $100,000 contribution to assist the Tu Cho Fishers Cooperative to complete the work necessary to put the plant into operation.
On the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Accountability and Oversight, the Budget includes $510,000 to further address the mandate priority to increase the amount of food produced locally. We propose to direct $110,000 of this funding to the Sustainable Livelihoods Program to work with partners to develop and deliver harvesting training courses, including safety and navigation, harvesting and processing skills and food preparation. We also propose to allocate $400,000 of this funding to implement a food safety framework and develop appropriate food safety regulations that will help remove obstacles that prevent residents producing their own food and distributing to others.
We intend to sharpen the focus on our efforts to address unauthorized land occupancy by proposing $309,000 to address untenured and unauthorized occupancy on public lands. We will use these funds, along with participation from Indigenous groups and Northwest Territories residents, to identify ownership, determine if occupancy is based on traditional rights, offer tenure to land if appropriate or move ahead to remove unauthorized occupants. We also intend to support better land use planning with $253,000 to staff the Wek’èezhìi land use planning office.
We aim to link our support for regional economic development with opportunities in the knowledge economy by proposing to include $350,000 to capitalize on our knowledge economy strengths and establish regional economic development plans with our partners.
Climate Change and Environment
The Northwest Territories is at the forefront of the effects of climate change and sees its impact on our environment, wildlife, and people. In October 2020, the GNWT allocated $2.6 million to support five departments in staffing 14 new full-time and 2 new seasonal climate change-related positions located in Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith and Inuvik for implementation of the 2030 NWT Climate Change Strategic Framework action plan. Budget 2021 plans to continue this work with an additional $2.6 million. This funding will be used to help the Northwest Territories transition to an economy that uses fossil fuels less intensively and is better able to adapt to the effects of climate change on the natural environment, human health and wellbeing, culture and heritage, infrastructure, and the economy. The GNWT is also establishing a Northwest Territories Climate Change Council to include Indigenous governments and organizations, community governments, and other external partners, including non-governmental organizations and industry representatives, in the implementation of our action plan. The Council will play a key role in strengthening the leadership and authority of the GNWT on climate change.
We are pleased to honour the new Délı̨ne Got’ı̨ne Government Financing Agreement with $199,000 for incremental grant funding, equivalent to funding received by other communities.
As announced last July, we propose to invest $631,000 in this Budget to create a Gender Equity Unit to lead and coordinate all of the work being done to advance equality in the Northwest Territories. With these resources we want to better ensure that government decisions, including financial decisions, consider their sometimes unequal effect on people with different identity factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age or abilities. We want to support all departments and agencies to consider gender and identity factors so they can improve all services delivered and advance the goal of a more inclusive society. This work is just beginning for us but its purpose has been enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and called for in the Calls to Justice of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. With an expanded unit, the GNWT can better serve the public by incorporating the perspectives of people from across the gender spectrum in its activities and assessing how diverse groups of Northwest Territories residents experience government policies.
We have added new spending to this year’s operating and capital budgets without finding any savings or new revenues to pay for them in order to be a source of stability while we navigate globally uncertain times. As we advance in this Assembly, we will need to set ourselves on a better expenditure track if we want to be able to continue to make investments that will provide for a strengthened and diversified economy for the future.
Mr. Speaker, not every initiative requires significant new funding. Some of the most important work we are doing towards improving our economic outlook and fiscal governance does not have its own budget line.
For example, we have established a working group to find ways to reduce red tape for small business. The working group will look at regulations and processes used to enforce regulations that affect small business and will ask why we have certain regulations and assess the risk if the regulation is removed or the process is changed. We expect the working group to provide recommendations to improve regulations so they achieve their reason for existence with the least administrative burden possible. We have also recently announced the formal start of the procurement review. In addition, on October 30, 2020, I announced the next steps in the promise made in our first budget to use creativity and innovation to do better with the resources we have and move away from any pattern of spending that allows duplication. Starting immediately, the Department of Finance will be working with other departments to implement the government renewal initiative.
Government renewal must take a comprehensive and whole-of-government review. The renewal starts with individual departments but will quickly extend to reviewing programs and outcomes that are shared across departments. We will be using program evaluation techniques, gathering objective evidence, and reporting on outcomes associated with the spending of public money to help inform financially responsible and sustainable policy decisions. The vision is to help departments build their budgets based on the value delivered in the service of public priorities rather than on incremental growth.
This is a shift in the way we think about budgeting and the need for close coordination and clear communication between Government and the Members of the Legislative Assembly as the work progresses will be essential. We all have a role to play in ensuring that the GNWT is an effective and sustainable organization for the long term and that all of our decisions are driven by value and priorities that serve residents across the territory.
Once a stronger culture of outcome evaluation and the processes of value-oriented budget are in place, the ongoing benefit for delivering on priorities will make the time and resources spent worthwhile.
Conclusion – Looking Ahead
Mr. Speaker, the health, social and economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has showed us the power of pulling together as a society and as a government in pursuit of a common goal; as we have done across the Northwest Territories in order to limit and contain the spread of COVID-19. We need to take advantage of this collective spirit to keep the momentum going towards the common goal of supporting the recovery and future economic growth.
Budget 2021-22 is not itself a COVID-19 relief package. Our recovery cannot be a one-time event; it will need to reflect the changing landscape of this pandemic, including the vaccine roll out here and across Canada and the speed of the global economic recovery. Budget 2021 provides stability and builds on the foundations for economic growth that we already knew we needed last year.
I remain cautiously optimistic about our economic and fiscal future; a future for all NWT residents. Through engagements with the business community, I know the frustrations and fears are very real but what they have said about our economy and ideas for change is not a surprise. That leaves me optimistic because I see the work we are doing to address those calls for change. Similarly, after conducting extensive Budget Dialogues last summer, we heard the calls from residents to ensure investments in people, to avoid government duplication, find internal efficiencies and ensure value for public dollars, this also gives me the confidence that our initiatives are on a good path.
Budget 2021 continues to invest in health care, communities and community services, early childhood supports, education modernization including in distance education and progress on the Climate Action Plan. There are also investments towards a modern regulatory landscape for our mineral resource sector and public lands. Furthermore, we are advancing regional growth initiatives such as the Great Slave Lake fishery and exploring LNG feasibility.
The three mandated infrastructure projects, the Mackenzie Valley Highway, Taltson hydro expansion and the Slave Geologic Corridor, continue to progress. In addition, there is an expansion of the Mackenzie Valley fibre optic line to Tuktoyaktuk and the GNWT is supporting the Tłı̨chǫ Government to run a fibre optic line to Whatí in conjunction with the final work on the Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road. These projects, together with work announced by Northwestel last fall, means that all Northwest Territories communities will have access to high speed internet by 2023.
Mr. Speaker, the pandemic is still with us just as much as the economic problems that pre-existed it. Our work to respond to all of these challenges is underway. Added to that is the resiliency of the people of the Northwest Territories. That resiliency is not new but it has been particularly strong and present through the pandemic; a resiliency that includes creativity, innovation and collaboration. With these foundations, we will build a healthier and more sustainable economic future for the Northwest Territories.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.