Inuvik Boot Lake
Thank you, Mr. Clerk, and thank you, colleagues. I just want to make note that it’s great listening to all the optimism, the energy in this 18th Assembly and the work that everyone is looking at focusing on. Being through, I guess you could say, the wringer for one term already, and really understanding some of the realities that we’re facing in this government moving forward and some of the challenges that we have, that we’re still looking to do the best for the people who put us in this seat. Throughout the campaign I heard a lot of really meaningful concerns, some that were strictly related to Inuvik, to the region, and then some that were territorially needed to be pushed. I just want to highlight a few and then I’ll get into more details around legislation, around strategies and action plans that have been done and that are made public; accountability and how do we move on that – we’ve heard some of that here today already – the environment; the economy; health and well-being; as well as education.
Some of the things that I did here when I was going door to door and having some of my meetings and meet-and-greets in Inuvik were the high costs of living, and you’ve heard that already on numerous occasions. Heating and electricity costs, there’s a big disparity between the rural and remote communities and what we see down in southern parts of the Northwest Territories. I had some really good discussions with some of our leaders up in the Beaufort-Delta region. How do we address that for all Northerners? Child care was a big one. Support for small business. Homelessness and housing. We do also have some collective bargaining agreements coming up this term, that’s going to be a priority for our public workforce, and also jobs was a big one, and education, and more specifically, how do we use some of our facilities that we have in Inuvik right now, such as the Aurora College facility, and get that more up and used?
In the 17th Legislative Assembly, when we went through our discussions and went through our orientations, like we did over the last couple of weeks here, what was a big note for me, and has always stayed as a priority for me, was mental health and addictions. It’s the biggest cost-driver for this government. If we want to reduce costs and put more money into other programs and services that we’ve heard here today, we’ve got to tackle the mental health issues and the addictions that we see in the Northwest Territories. It has always been a big priority for me, and in the 17th Legislative Assembly with the Mental Health Act, and you’ve heard it here today, as well as the child and youth mental health strategy that we need to develop in this government. We’re the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn’t have one, and I think that’s going to be a big priority not only on the health system but also in the education system, so that they, the teachers and the families, have the supports in place so that each child has the right to get education, and I think that is hopefully one of our big priorities moving into the 18th.
Moving a little bit further in terms of legislation, a lot of good work was done in the 17th Legislative Assembly and I hope it will continue with the strong momentum and energy that we see here with the new Members and with the experience and knowledge that is coming with Members returning from the 17th.
The Mental Health Act was a big one. Child and Family Services Act needed supports and I think that is another one that needs to be opened up again and looked at. Not during the campaign trail but ongoing during the consultations with the Child and Family Services Act, kinship care came up many times, and that is something that is missing in the Child and Family Services Act. We have to support the grandparents. We have to support the families that are taking care of their family’s children. It is a big hardship on our small communities and I think that needs to be addressed. If that means opening up the Child and Family Services Act again to get it amended so that we have kinship care in there, it is going to make a lot of families a lot healthier.
A big one, which I have also mentioned, is the Hospital Insurance Health and Social Services Administration Act, the governance act. We are putting all the health authorities into the one territorial health and social services authority that will better give services to all residents of the Northwest Territories and will cut down on some of the duplicated costs of ordering supplies as well as competing for doctors, competing for nurses. I think it is going to make a big stride moving forward. Also, just the other ones like the Health Information Act and the Pharmacy Act, which is going to have a big impact on people’s lives when we start monitoring some of the pharmaceuticals that we are giving to some of our residents.
Moving forward into some of the other areas like the strategies and action plans that we need to continue to support to have an impact and have an effect on a lot of concerns that were mentioned here today by some of our other Members, the Economic Opportunities Strategy, creating jobs, helping small businesses, Oil and Gas Strategy. Even though we are in a downturn with the oil and gas, we can’t let Canada, we can’t let the world know that we are not still interested in resource extraction and resource development in the regions that do have the resources.
Leading up into that, it goes right into the Transportation Strategy. We are seeing the benefits up in Inuvik with the Inuvik-Tuk Highway and we want to see those benefits in the Sahtu; we want to see those benefits in the Deh Cho; we want to see those benefits here in Yellowknife and in the Tlicho region to make sure that they get the benefits of jobs and creating those highways to reduce the cost of living, but also creating jobs for people in the Northwest Territories.
Another one is the Anti-Poverty Strategy. A lot of work went into that. Collaborative work went into that, I must say, with NGOs, with municipal governments, between departments, Education, Health, Justice, all working together to try to make the territory with focus on our people. We always said in the last government, healthy, educated people free from poverty, and I think that is what we have to continue to focus on.
Early childhood development was big, as mentioned over the weekend as well. There was a document that was tabled on June 4th, Universal Affordable Child Daycare. That needs to be something we need to address within our government, because what that is going to do is get families being able to be double-income families where child care will be affordable so both people in the house can go do work, have double income and help with the reduced costs of living.
We heard education as a priority. I heard it in the community of Inuvik. With the Education Renewal and Innovation Strategy coming out, I think we need to continue to support that, so that we do support not only our students but our teachers and those in the workforce.
I have always said that our greatest resource in the Northwest Territories is our people. Once we put that effort into making them healthy and educated, it will pay tenfold in terms of having them ready to do the jobs when the economy picks back up, but it will also cut down on health care costs and hopefully cut down on some of the costs we see with income assistance and in housing.
I mentioned earlier about the Transportation Strategy. One thing that I think this next government should do is have a better monitoring system for the Business Incentive Policy. Every year we get a report that says contracts over $5,000, and how many of them were negotiated, how many of them came back for change orders, and we’re talking millions of millions of dollars.
We’re not the only place in Canada that’s having an effect with the economy. All jurisdictions across Canada are looking for jobs and they’re looking in other places and looking into the North, and when they come to work in the North, they don’t know the cost of doing business in the North. As a result, they underbid the people who really know how to do the job; and when they underbid, then they get change orders which come back and effect the government. So, we need a better monitoring system to support our local businesses and have a good understanding of what it costs to do business in the Northwest Territories.
There are many other strategies that I can continue to mention, the Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan that we need to continue to follow. One plan, however, that was not done in the 17th but I feel that it needs to be brought forward in the 18th Assembly is the Energy Plan. Two energy charrettes in the last government, no plan came out of them. Recommendations that came out of them were not addressed. One recommendation that came out of that is the NWT energy efficient act. Still no work has been done on it to date, and I think early on in the 18th that is something that we need to address and we really need to focus.
Also, we’re going through a low economic downturn in oil and gas. We’ve heard today about the diamond mines and their closing. We’ve got to look at where else we can focus, the traditional economy, Tourism Strategy, Film Strategy, arts, a biomass strategy, other areas that we can put our efforts in that will give us a good return moving forward. Caribou management is a big one, as well, as a priority moving forward.
I’m not going to get through everything that I want to say here today.
I’ll talk a little bit about accountability. Every year we get the Auditor General reports. They need to continue to be a priority of this government. That is going to make us do our jobs a lot better and more efficiently moving forward. The public accounts practice that was started in the 17th Legislative Assembly really needs to continue, because that’s keeping our government accountable, keeping people who we work with – organizations, health authorities, education authorities, Aurora College – accountable with how they spend the dollars that we provide to them and making sure that it’s being spent in the best possible way, as well as those reports that are coming from departments. The Housing First initiative was another big one that I think is doing really well here in Yellowknife, but you look at some of the regional centres, Inuvik, Hay River, even the small communities, the couch surfers, they really need a Housing First initiative to the communities that will address some of the overcrowding which leads to some of our health and wellness issues.
You heard it earlier here today, and I too want to give recognition to Ms. Bisaro who did a lot of work, and she did table a document on the ombudsman in the last government. I think we have to resurrect that document and look at it. That will give us an independent review of the programs and services that we have in this government.
Land and resource management is also a big one. You’ve heard it also here today with looking at land claims, looking at self-government, how we need to have a better Aboriginal engagement practice and not a strategy. All these strategies and action plans that I’m talking about, they can’t just be strategies. They’ve got to be action plans and we’ve got to put action to what we’re saying and not just putting them in documents or in words.
On top of that, settling these land claims and self-government. We’ve got to have a better federal engagement strategy. The last government did a great job, and I think this year having our MP in the government is going to give us a lot of leverage and a lot of momentum to get things done here in the Northwest Territories.
You heard people mention this earlier, but earlier this year we passed a $1.6 billion operations budget for 44,000 people here in the Northwest Territories. This government can’t sustain that. We’ve got to have a balance of both doing the work, providing the programs and also balancing getting the resources out of the ground and shipped to markets. One concern, and I know it’s going to be a priority and it was an election issue, was the horizontal hydraulic fracturing. With devolution, we have taken over a lot of those decision-making powers and I think we need to continue moving to create some type of strong regulations so that if that practice goes through, we’re protecting the environment, we’re protecting the people, but we’re getting revenues to offset some of these high costs for our operations and continue with projects that we currently have: the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Optic Link; the Inuvik-Tuk Highway, complete that project; and then start working on the Mackenzie Valley Highway. Like I said, we want to create jobs in all the regions for people in the Northwest Territories.
One other thing that was done in the 17th that I think we need to continue moving forward is the Midwifery Program here in Yellowknife, and also do a better job in terms of chronic disease management such as cancer and diabetes. A Cancer Strategy, a Cancer Action Plan was tabled just in the last government. I think we need to bring that up because we are seeing high rates of cancer in some of the communities.
Personally, another one that I brought forth in the last government that I’d like to see some work on is the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee. We had an unfortunate incident up in our region, and I think something brought forth like this where we get independent bodies that work closely in this relationship, giving us recommendations on what we need to do, will move forward in creating healthier communities and healthier relationships and healthier families.
As I mentioned, I didn’t get to everything that I wanted to talk about, but I like the energy in the room. I like the educated, well-thought-out priorities of every Member, and I look forward to working in the 18th the next four years with everybody, moving some of these action items forward, addressing the health care costs, education. With that, thank you, Mr. Clerk.