Mr. Speaker, in February 2017 I stood up in this House and asked the Minister of Education, Culture, and Employment (ECE) to undertake a foundational review of Aurora College. I asked because I believed the College was both underperforming and underutilized.

Education is the cornerstone of every prosperous society. With a presence in 24 communities, Aurora College is key to achieving true and lasting prosperity across the NWT.

But, as they say, “be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” The foundational review has been completed, and, while the report echoed many of the concerns I heard from residents, it’s more of a proposal than an evaluation. The report essentially has one, overarching recommendation, which is to have government transform the College into a university centred in Yellowknife.

Because of time constraints, I’ll only list a few of the reasons why I reject this recommendation.

The first is simple – we must stand guard against the onslaught of the centralization of services in the capital, which come at the expense of our other communities. I refuse to allow this Assembly to pull the plug on Fort Smith.

The second, is that it’s irresponsible to embark down a path of spending an unknown, but undoubtedly immense, amount of our limited funds on a university, when we have a graduation rate of 67% in the NWT – which is actually closer to 40% in the communities – and, when many of graduates require upgrading before even considering post-secondary school.

After high school, there’s no shortages of universities to attend, but before graduation, our students usually only have one choice of school, and those are the schools we need to invest in if we want to effect lasting change for our residents.

Another reason is that although Aurora College is an arm’s length institution, attached to that arm is the hand of the GNWT, and it’s wrapped firmly around the neck of the College. The Department of ECE bears much of the responsibility for the state of the College, and for this Assembly to sign a blank cheque authorizing ECE to go ahead and build a university would be to neglect our core oversight function.

However, Mr. Speaker, with all that being said, I am not opposed to the eventual growth of Aurora College into a polytechnic university, but it is not something we should rush into based on a consultant’s report.

First, we must fix the issues at Aurora College, so that it can provide the educational services that our residents need and deserve. At the same time, we can begin to lay solid foundation so that the College can develop and grow, premised on successful program delivery and based not on the opinion of a southern consultant, but on the collective vision of our people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.