Mahsi, Mr. Chair. [English translation not provided.]
I realize there is no translation, just quickly addressing some of the elders. [English translation not provided.]
Mr. Chair, I would like to discuss my priorities at this point. I would like to first of all thank the people of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh for re-electing me on November 23rd. I would also like to congratulate the other Members of the Assembly here today. I know how hard you have to work in order to be elected and I am sure that the people have made full efforts and work harder sitting in the room today as all candidates have worked hard.
The number one issue that we face, not only in my riding but in the small communities across the Northwest Territories, is employment. I find that if we increase employment and people have their incomes, they would be able to address their issues on their own. Right now the highest number of complaints come from people wanting assistance from the government. Whether it be income or whether it be assistance to repair their homes, it is always something they need because they don’t have the money or the income. Many people live on income support, and I have said many times in the House and many times during my campaign that we are dealing in small communities where employment rates are 35 percent. In some cases, lower.
I and another Member in the House here who represents small communities, at the beginning of last term had no communities that had an employment rate of 40 percent. When you think about that and when you think about the employment rates across the country, it is about 70 percent, so seven out of every 10 individuals in a household, or four in Yellowknife, and it gets as high as 80 percent, which is good, and that is a positive thing. That is four out of every five members of a household have jobs. In our small communities that is just a dream. We have aspired for employment rates of 60 percent or even 50 percent so that at least half of the people in households have jobs. Anytime you get a job, it is always better than income assistance. We all know there is a direct correlation between income and addictions, income and education levels, income and health outcomes of our people. It is a proven fact that the lower your income, the less healthy you are. So that makes income so, so important. It will also lower the costs to government.
Another priority for me is early childhood development. This has to be a priority of this government. Early childhood development spending has tremendous returns, the highest returns anywhere, including on the markets. The returns of early childhood development is tenfold. The government must invest in prenatal work, Healthy Family programs, and work on developing the communities. Investments must be made into daycare, into child care in order that we benefit, that the communities benefit from this.
Infrastructure spending must be done close to the people who need it most. We need to spend our money out there so that people have jobs, so that people become less dependent on government. That’s what we need to see.
We need to continue to work with Infrastructure Canada to get the Mackenzie Valley Highway approved, to get the highway to Whati built, to get the road built in the Slave Geologic Province so that it makes it more efficient for the resource industry to get the resources out onto the land and start paying resource revenues but, more importantly, to extend their lives so that people have work. Because at some point when the margins aren’t there they are going to shut down, and that’s going to be more people unemployed.
Health and social services is now spending $1.12 million per day. However, there is not enough being spent on prevention. We need to spend money on prevention. We know that there is a lot of spending that can be done in addictions, mental health, and all of the various issues that people are faced with like alcoholism and smoking. We must do everything we can to provide people the tools they need to prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer. That’s where we’re spending our money, on those diseases and the addictions. We must develop a strategy to lower the hospital stays in our territory by promoting healthy lifestyles. I think we all know how much it costs to keep a person in the hospital.
Land claims, on another topic, is very important. Akaitcho and Dehcho must be brought to the agreement-in-principle as quickly as possible. The GNWT must look at changing the way we do business with Aboriginal governments so that we can get to an AIP. We have the tools and we have the Aboriginal governments to work with and we have the federal government to work with. All we need to do is move forward on that. We have made progress, but more has to be made.
I am going to briefly touch on the seniors. I consider that to be very important and a very important way of saving money. I’ve always promoted what we call aging in place. If we look at other jurisdictions, some jurisdictions have a real good program, Aging in Place. Aging in place saves a lot of money to the government. To put one senior in long-term care is a minimum of $100,000. When I was the Minister of Health, I asked for those statistics, and the low end was $98,000 and the high end was $124,000 per senior per year. I’ve always said, we should fix up their homes, we should provide nursing care, home care right in their homes. We would spend way less than that, way less. Right now, we’re faced with a huge, huge infrastructure cost of having to build more seniors homes, more long-term care for seniors.
For the most part, that can be avoided. As is, only 20 percent of seniors end up in long-term care anyway. If we could cut that number in half… I mean, if in one place we could, say, have 10 less seniors in a home for one year, that we’re able to extend their life in their own homes for one year, 10 people, that’s a million dollars, and imagine that’s $2 million if they’re all couples that we’re deferring. We’re actually not spending. It’s not really a savings, but it’s preventing us from spending that money.
I think that’s a very important initiative that we have to look at, and that’s work between the Housing Corporation and Health and Social Services. A collaborative work between other departments, as well, and then we would be able to prevent individuals, seniors from going into these homes and saving the government money.
Caribou is probably the single greatest food source for Aboriginal people across the Northwest Territories, and they should have a greater say in how that resource is managed. I know that our government has talked to the Aboriginal groups, have met with the Aboriginal groups and the Aboriginal governments when they’re talking about the herds that are in their area, but still, they’re not 100 percent comfortable with it. People recognize it’s a long ways to travel in some of the regions in order to access caribou because the heathier herds are a long ways away. We need to be able to manage it, work with the Aboriginal governments and allow people to get the caribou closer to home without having the herd diminish any further. There are ways that we can do that, and I think that’s something that we would need to do a lot of work with the traditional knowledge that people have been living with the caribou for thousands of years.
I can’t address all of our priorities in detail with the amount of time I have, so I’m just going to just briefly touch on a couple of other priorities that I think are important.
I think that we have to develop a youth strategy. As important as early childhood development is, youth are also important for different reasons, and that the youth being put in the right track is very important to the North and very important to the people across the territory.
We must work with the Association of Persons with Disabilities. I believe that’s over 5 percent of our population. We have to ensure that those individuals are there, that they have employment, that they’re taking care of their own, that they’re taking care of themselves. I think that’s very, very important.
I believe that we have to develop housing plans, housing development plans in every community. I think that we have to ensure that we are maximizing the use of the inventory that’s on the ground. Whether it be social housing, market housing, or private housing, the development of markets in communities is so valuable that it’s unbelievable. When you have a community moving from a nonmarket community to a market community and when the individual that owns a house is putting his own money into a home and he’s seeing a return because that house is marketable, that makes all the difference in the world. When we’re unable to develop community markets, then people lose pride in putting money into their homes and making their homes look beautiful so that they’re able to live in it and live in it with pride, and then at the end of the day, if they decide to move to another community, they’re actually able to sell their unit.
What I talked about will help people in many areas. It will decrease the cost of living; it will increase education levels; it will reduce costs to government; and it will increase our health indicators across the Territories. It will make our citizens healthier. Our government needs to spend strategically in those areas and our government will become more efficient, and it will be the government that the people who voted us in want. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.