This is page numbers 41 - 61 of the Hansard for the 13th Assembly, 1st Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was communities.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Jim Antoine, Hon. Goo Arlooktoo, Mr. Barnabas, Hon. Charles Dent, Mr. Enuaraq, Mr. Erasmus, Mr. Evaloarjuk, Hon. Samuel Gargan, Mrs. Groenewegen, Mr. Henry, Hon. Stephen Kakfwi, Mr. Krutko, Mr. Miltenberger, Hon. Don Morin, Mr. Ningark, Hon. Kelvin Ng, Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Ootes, Mr. Picco, Mr. Rabesca, Mr. Roland, Mr. Steen, Hon. Manitok Thompson, Hon. John Todd

---Prayer

Item 1: Prayer
Item 1: Prayer

Page 41

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mr. Enuaraq. Good afternoon. Orders of the day, item 2, Ministers' statements. Mr. Premier.

Item 1: Prayer
Item 1: Prayer

Page 41

Don Morin Tu Nedhe

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There are a number of important statements prepared and ready for delivery, including reports from Ministers on recent meetings with their federal and provincial counterparts. Since the session will likely conclude today, I would like to request the indulgence of the House and seek unanimous consent to waive Rule 34(6) which specifies a 20-minute time-limit for Ministers' statements so that all statements can be given before the session prorogues. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Item 1: Prayer
Item 1: Prayer

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you. The Premier is seeking unanimous consent to waive Rule 34(6). Do we have any nays? There are no nays. Proceed, Mr. Premier. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Mr. Todd.

Minister's Statement 4-13(1): GNWT Fiscal Situation
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 41

John Todd Keewatin Central

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Premier spoke about the challenges faced by the 13th Legislative Assembly and about how this Legislature intends to meet these challenges. My purpose in speaking today is to elaborate on some of the fiscal challenges outlined by the Premier.

I have just returned from the Finance Ministers' conference in Ottawa. It was obvious during our discussions that the federal deficit reduction agenda is once again coming to the forefront. The federal Minister was quite clear that the federal government intends to meet its deficit reduction targets. Unfortunately, we have little clarity concerning federal plans and their potential impact on the NWT until the federal budget comes down in February.

What these national developments emphasize is the need to address our current financial problems and achieve a balanced budget as early in our term as possible. Although there are no quick fixes to our fiscal situation, the problem is manageable and our goal of a balanced budget can and will be reached. However, to do this we must take the time to develop a comprehensive recovery plan based on fair and quality decisions.

Mr. Speaker, later today I will be tabling the Interim Financial Report for the year ended March 31, 1995. The report will show that we closed the last fiscal year with a $26 million deficit. This represents two per cent of our total revenues of just over $1.2 billion. This took us to an accumulated deficit of $12 million. For the current fiscal year, our revised forecast is for a deficit of $30 million, due in large part to higher social program costs than budgeted for. This will increase our accumulated deficit to $42 million. Under normal circumstances, this level of deficit could be eliminated with only moderate spending reductions.

However, in the last federal budget a five per cent reduction to our 1996-97 formula funding revenue was announced. This translates into a $60 million decline in our revenues for next year. When coupled with the increased spending required to meet the relentless growth in our social programs, the financial shortfall for next year could climb to over $100 million, Mr. Speaker. Unchecked, the deficit would soon compromise our ability to respond to the needs of our residents. But, Mr. Speaker, we will manage the looming deficit; we will not let it manage us.

Avoiding a major deficit next year will not be easy. There are no quick and easy solutions. As our social spending indicates, many of our residents depend on government support. As our unemployment statistics show, the jobs are simply not there in the smaller communities to allow people to become more self-sufficient overnight. Although we must improve education and training levels and support job creation, these are long-term solutions. In the meantime, we cannot abandon support to those most in need.

Our new Legislative Assembly has taken major steps to prepare itself, to plan for and make the difficult choices that will be necessary. The new standing committee structure, the significant measures to improve communication and cooperation between ordinary Members and Cabinet, the adoption of a multi-year planning process and the commitment to a more open and consultative approach with the public will position us to develop and implement a quality plan that will have the support of the large majority of NWT residents. But we must take the time to allow these new approaches to work to find opportunities to do things in better ways and to develop this plan.

Let me, Mr. Speaker, give you an example. In the Premier's statement, he talked about empowering communities to have more control over decisions that affect them. With this goal in mind, we need to discuss, among many other ideas, whether title to all government infrastructure used to deliver community-based programs should be transferred to each community.

We need to discuss whether the community should take over full operating and maintenance authority for this infrastructure, whether all communities should have access to block funding for construction and maintenance, and whether communities need more authority and flexibility to raise revenues and finance new infrastructure. And we must consult with the communities on these options.

If we are going to make government more responsive and more efficient, we will need to address these questions and many more. We need to balance the urgency of dealing with the financial situation with the time needed to make good, quality decisions. Today I will be tabling the results of the public consultation on eliminating the deficit. This report shows the value of seeking public input. We must continue to explore new and innovative ways of getting public views on options and approaches. An achievable timetable for developing a multi-year plan was identified by the Premier yesterday. And let there be no doubt, this will be a plan for managing the looming deficit. We will make the hard choices and the changes necessary to achieve a balanced budget as soon as we can.

Mr. Speaker, in the short time before this plan is fully developed, we must still provide for the ongoing operation of the government. Even the relatively small deficits of the past few years have meant that a former accumulated surplus is now a small accumulated debt. This has reduced our cash position to a point where we must, during the lean months, borrow money for cash-flow purposes. This cash-flow requirement has been rising and has meant that we must seek increased borrowing authority this year.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to note, increasing this borrowing authority does not allow the government to increase spending. Spending can only be increased with the authority of an appropriation act. But we must ensure that we always have the actual cash in the bank to honour the cheques we write. Later today, I will be speaking on this issue in more detail during consideration of the Borrowing Authorization Act.

Mr. Speaker, while there is an urgent need to deal with the current fiscal difficulties and plan for the future, we must also move quickly and decisively to ensure that the NWT is not set up for an even larger fiscal and political disaster with respect to division. The most immediate issue related to division is the incremental costs of funding two new territories. Recently, the federal government has been evasive about the nature and the timing for the provision of incremental funding.

Without this funding, training cannot proceed, infrastructure cannot be built and the GNWT planning is being done in a vacuum. Now that the question of the capital has been decided by the people of Nunavut, there is no reason why a decision on funding should be delayed.

The federal Finance Minister is committed to discussing this issue with me early in the new year. It is our intention to aggressively pursue a federal commitment to fund incremental costs so that we can adequately fund two new territories on April 1999.

As we develop our long-range plans, we must also look down the road at our financial ability to meet the needs of our population. Once we manage our way out of our current financial situation, how will we ensure that we have the resources needed to address the structural, social and economic problems we face? How will we ensure that future generations will have access to a healthy future, to get a good education and to get a decent job?

Mr. Speaker, we will all be called upon to make hard choices over the next few months. Changes must be made on how we do business and to what people can expect from government. Our financial problem must be solved. But we cannot abandon support to those most in need. We must ensure that our actions are fair and equitable to all. This will require a comprehensive recovery plan for managing the deficit based on quality decisions.

We have taken the first important steps to prepare this plan. Through the process we have started, through the leadership we will show and through ongoing consultations with our constituents, I am confident that we will solve our financial problems.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 4-13(1): GNWT Fiscal Situation
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 42

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mr. Todd. Item 2, Ministers' statements.

Minister's Statement 5-13(1): Provincial-territorial Council Of Ministers For Social Policy Reform And Renewal
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 42

Kelvin Ng Kitikmeot

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, at the annual Premier's conference in August 1995, an agreement was reached on the establishment of a Provincial-Territorial Council of Ministers for Social Policy Reform and Renewal. Premiers supported the establishment of the council because Ottawa was acting unilaterally on changes to Canada's social safety net.

The social safety package includes a variety of programs and services relating to health care, education, welfare, unemployment insurance, training and care for children, single parents and the elderly.

Premiers directed the Council of Ministers to prepare a set of principles which the provinces and territories would use to guide changes to Canada's social policy. Since August, the process of developing these principles has involved consulting with other provincial/territorial ministerial forums which meet regularly to deal with health, social services and labour market training issues.

On Tuesday, I attended a meeting of provincial and territorial Ministers responsible for Social Services in Calgary. On Wednesday, I attended the meeting of the ministerial council; also in Calgary.

Mr. Speaker, the Tuesday meeting produced a consensus among Social Services Ministers on a number of issues. For example, Ministers reaffirmed that the federal government has the primary responsibility, in law and through policy, for funding social service programs for aboriginal Canadians. Social Services Ministers also confirmed their commitment to reducing overlap and duplication. Ottawa, the provinces and territories, municipal and aboriginal governments must be more efficient in delivering programs and services.

Social Services Ministers completed their one-day meeting with a package to forward to the Social Policy Council. I should also note that Health, labour market and Status of Women Ministers have separately forwarded their views to the ministerial council.

On Wednesday, the council reviewed a draft report which will be forwarded to Premiers in the coming weeks. Provincial and territorial Premiers are expected to meet early in the new year to review the report. Their job will be to confirm a set of guiding principles for future negotiations with Ottawa on reforms to Canada's social programs.

Mr. Speaker, I realize my remarks have focused largely on the process. However, getting 10 provinces and two territories to agree on anything requires an initial commitment to process from all participants.

Nevertheless I can report that:

-A number of the provinces, particularly in the West, are taking a strong stand on federal responsibility for aboriginal social programs;

-Ministers in the South have recognized the reality of self-government and how aboriginal institutions will be delivering social programs in the future;

-They have also recognized the special circumstances of smaller jurisdictions which need to work out cooperative and shared arrangements with Ottawa for delivering programs and services;

-Finally, all provinces and territories are committed to ensuring that Canadians in need will have access to the social safety net.

Mr. Speaker, it is my intention to brief committees of this House on what has and will be taking place leading up to Premiers' meetings early in the new year. I also intend to keep aboriginal organizations, health boards and other social services agencies informed of these initiatives in the coming months.

Finally, social policy reform has government-wide implications. Therefore, the government's position cannot be developed in isolation of the Ministers of Finance, Education, Culture and Employment, women's bureau and national constitutional affairs. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 5-13(1): Provincial-territorial Council Of Ministers For Social Policy Reform And Renewal
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mr. Ng. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Mr. Antoine.

Minister's Statement 6-13(1): Status Of Aboriginal Affairs In The Western Nwt
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 43

Jim Antoine Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Good afternoon to all the honourable Members of this House.

As Minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, most of my agenda will be driven by the commitment by Canada and the Government of the Northwest Territories to divide the Northwest Territories in 1999. While the task is challenging, processes are in place and planning for the establishment of a Nunavut territorial government is well under way. The circumstances in the West are much more complex.

The Constitutional Development Steering Committee held a successful conference last January which reached consensus on 22 principles to guide the western constitutional process. One critically important point of consensus was the recognition that aboriginal self-government processes and the public government process are equally important, that they are closely linked and that self-government processes must catch up to the CDSC process for either to succeed.

Timing is critical. Division will occur in 1999, but new legislation to replace the NWT Act for the West may need to be drafted two years in advance for introduction into Parliament. The next federal election must be held by October 1998, at the very latest, and could well take place in 1997. We have a two-year window of opportunity in which to move ahead on self-government and western constitutional development, or we may find ourselves faced with the status quo when the new Western Territory comes into being.

We must accept the advice of the CDSC conference and ensure that the self-government and western constitutional processes are proceeding in tandem and as quickly as possible. To do so means we must find better ways to communicate and cooperate with aboriginal organizations in Nunavut and the West.

The aboriginal summit, a group comprised of leaders of western aboriginal organizations, shares this objective and have expressed a desire to meet with Cabinet. Premier Morin has responded by arranging a first meeting between Cabinet and the aboriginal summit for this Friday to begin exploring common interests and to consider the establishment of a more formal mechanism for ongoing discussions. A similar meeting is being organized with Nunavut-based organizations early in the new year.

Members of this House should be aware that self-government discussions have been going on between Canada, the GNWT and most of the western aboriginal organizations for some time. A self-government conference scheduled for March 1996 is being coordinated by the Sahtu Secretariat on behalf of aboriginal summit members. The GNWT is cooperating with and supporting the efforts of aboriginal organizations to accelerate self-government talks with Canada.

The tasks before us are challenging, especially in light of the time constraints. However, we can forge ahead successfully if we are willing to work together for our common goals. I will do my best to help build the consensus we need to succeed. Mahsi, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 6-13(1): Status Of Aboriginal Affairs In The Western Nwt
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 44

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mr. Antoine. Before I go on to the next Minister, I would like to recognize a former colleague of ours, Mr. Nerysoo. Welcome to the Assembly.

---Applause

Item 2, Ministers' statements. Mrs. Thompson.

Minister's Statement 7-13(1): Municipal Election Results
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 44

Manitok Thompson Aivilik

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, December 11th was election day for 35 hamlets and two settlement corporations across the NWT. This was the same day, as you know, that the Nunavut capital vote took place. I am sure the Members of this House can appreciate that election officials were extremely busy.

Mr. Speaker, there were 177 council positions available on community councils, for which there were 399 candidates. Of the 37 communities requiring to hold elections, only two communities acclaimed their full council. The department has advised that it is waiting for the official results from four communities. The information available at this time shows that there were 11,360 eligible voters, of which 7,623 cast their ballots. That, Mr. Speaker, calculates to a 67 per cent territorial-wide voter turn-out. Complete information respecting the election will be made available to this House as soon as we receive it.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of myself and the Members of this House, I would like to extend congratulations to all the newly-elected officials and extend our sincere appreciation to those who ran. There are many challenges facing locally-elected officials. I extend my best wishes to them as they take on their new responsibilities and offer the expertise and services of the Municipal and Community Affairs department to assist them as they undertake their duties.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased, as well, to inform this House of the department's efforts to ease the transition period of new councillors. We're offering...I'm used to speaking Inuktitut so it's getting confusing. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased, as well, to inform this House of the department's efforts to ease the transition period of new councillors. We are offering municipal and community governments the opportunity to train elected officials of their roles and responsibilities using training modules set up by the department. Our staff will be advising all hamlets and settlement corporations of these orientation sessions and scheduling workshops to occur in the near future.

Thank you and merry Christmas, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 7-13(1): Municipal Election Results
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 44

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mrs. Thompson. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Mr. Antoine.

Minister's Statement 8-13(1): Proclamation Of Mine Health And Safety Act
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 44

Jim Antoine Nahendeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Safety and Public Services, I am pleased today to announce that the new mining safety legislation will come into force on Friday, December 15, 1995.

Mr. Speaker, the new Mine Health and Safety Act represents a major step toward ensuring safer working conditions in the northern minerals sector. It places an increased emphasis on safety training and provides improved standards for technology and operations in the mining industry. This act will replace the Mining Safety Act, which is outdated and ineffective. Mine safety legislation in the Northwest Territories has been in need of reform for the past decade.

The process leading to this reform has included all facets of the industry: managers, unionized labour, non-unionized workers and government. Their involvement will not end with the proclamation of the new act. This legislation allows for the appointment of an expanded mine occupational health and safety legislation committee, with responsibility for advising the Minister and recommending any further amendments to the act and regulations.

While the act specifies that the Minister has up to 12 months to establish this committee, I want to indicate today that I intend to proceed with committee appointments as quickly as possible, and will be informing the House as progress is made in this area.

As well, the Department of Safety and Public Services will provide a series of technical seminars to explain new regulatory requirements. The chief mine inspector will also be issuing a series of directives to clarify the way in which some of the more complicated regulations are supposed to be interpreted.

Before concluding, it is important to acknowledge the leadership provided on this legislative initiative by previous Ministers, especially the Honourable John Todd, Mr. Nerysoo, Mr. Whitford and Mr. Patterson. I also want to note the many valuable comments and recommendations made by the last Assembly's Standing Committee on Legislation, which you chaired, Mr. Speaker.

Responsibility for reviewing over 750 new regulations was undertaken by the existing Mine Occupational Health and Safety Board. Representatives who served on the board during this period should be commended for their hard work and commitment.

I am sure that all honourable Members of this Assembly will join me in looking forward to the proclamation of the Mine Health and Safety Act, and to a new era of mining safety in the Northwest Territories.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 8-13(1): Proclamation Of Mine Health And Safety Act
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 45

The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Thank you, Mr. Antoine. Item 2, Ministers' statements. Mr. Dent.