This is page numbers 1441 - 1471 of the Hansard for the 12th Assembly, 7th 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 know.

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Item 9: Replies To Opening Address
Item 9: Replies To Opening Address

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Michael Ballantyne Yellowknife North

A-plus.

Item 9: Replies To Opening Address
Item 9: Replies To Opening Address

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Jeannie Marie-Jewell Thebacha

...of Public Works and Services and Housing. What can I say about this Minister, Mr. Speaker? I probably could say a lot, but the truth of the matter is...I'll tell you, when this Minister likes you, he really likes you. I know that because he used to like me.

---Laughter

But when this Minister hates you, he doesn't try to tell you off, all he does is he takes you to court. Mr. Speaker, I opened a Chinese fortune cookie after eating out last week, and the little paper inside said, "Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you." Well, Mr. Speaker, I'm troubled with this Minister. I'm troubled not only because of the court case and not because of the financial or the legal implications, but because of the bad precedent it sets in this House.

Actually, that's not what I want to talk about this afternoon. In fact, I think this probably says more about the ineffective leadership style of the Premier, that she would actually allow a Minister of the Crown to take an MLA to court, than it does about Mr. Morin himself.

I do want to talk a little about this Minister's performance and about some of the other things that he's done that trouble me and that also trouble a lot of people across the Northwest Territories, particularly in my riding. I want to say from the outset that there are many things that Mr. Morin is very, very good at. I believe, for instance, that he's extremely skilled at manipulating the system. How else could the Housing Corporation have lost millions in federal funding cuts but still retain the same complement of PYs?

I believe, as well, that he's the only Minister with the ability to interpret the BIP and time and time again, he gets away with it. I think he's skilled at selective hearing; if you listen to the number of times he's asked a question in this House and then gives you an answer that has no bearing whatsoever to what he's been asked. It's a marvel how he can chew his way through a Member's supplementary without ever once saying anything he doesn't want to.

But seriously and on a positive note, I must say that this Minister has brought a lot of innovation and creation to two portfolios that lack these qualities. The ownership program he has launched is an excellent direction for us to be taking in tight fiscal times. I also think that he's done well with the community consultation system that we're undertaking. I know that he's done a lot to encourage import substitution and foster a strong base for northern business.

However, all is not perfect in the Housing area, Mr. Speaker. I think that the Minister should be concerned about the fact that there are some real inequities emerging in seniors' housing, with some seniors getting free rent while others are having to pay a mortgage from meagre pension monies under the now discontinued rural and remote program. Some civil servants, I understand, are also selling their home units in order to get into public housing.

The length of time it takes to build these houses is causing my constituents concern. Houses that are still being built that were allocated from last year's funding. These are matters that Ministers should attend to, but generally I believe there has been marked improvement in housing programs and policies since he took over.

Mr. Speaker, I sometimes wonder where on earth does he get such a defensive attitude from? I think sometimes he's the sort of individual who doesn't expect to be challenged by a woman, and he expects a woman to walk two steps behind him. I've told him before exactly what I think about his particular attitude. I strongly believe that he still has to work to overcome that.

Of course, I have some very concerns about his handling of the heavy land-based air tanker contract and fixed-wing contract for fire suppression. He can conduct as many internal studies as he wants. I still believe, and there are many people who agree with me, that he made an error in judgement to downgrade the specifications of the request for proposals that was published for this contract. In any other jurisdiction, I believe that sort of manipulation would have gotten him bounced out of Cabinet on his ear.

Mr. Speaker, I saw him on a CBC special the other night, dressed up in his suit and standing in front of the expensive Legislative Assembly building, telling northerners that it was a non-issue. That's wrong, Mr. Speaker. It's not a non-issue.

In the summer of 1994, fire suppression costs were in the neighbourhood of $200,000 a day. Before last year ended, the costs had skyrocketed to $400,000 a day to address fires. That was simply incredible, Mr. Speaker. The Legislative Assembly should have called for a public inquiry at that point, but we were diverted by the suggestion that the government would undertake a public review. Indeed, many of us were helped to believe that a public review would be undertaken following last year's heavy fire season. No public review took place, no public meetings, only an internal review; maybe.

Specifications in the request for proposals were varied except for the level of pilot experience, which was downgraded. This was all done without public input and behind closed doors. Here we are, in this situation now, with the Minister laying off experienced, well respected members of my constituency because they are in fear for their own safety on the job. Other Ministers are having to undertake reviews of labour procedures that were used. The union is concerned and has every right to be. The chief safety officer is having to investigate the government itself. How embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone involved, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, my honourable colleague from Yellowknife South raised concerns about political interference in the work of a safety officer.

No decision, Mr. Speaker, again, has been made on the air tanker base and, again, it's because of this Minister. This is despite the fact that the Premier has come to Fort Smith on several occasions and has made commitments that have been unfilled. It's hard to know who's to blame, Mr. Speaker: the Minister for placing our Premier in such an embarrassing situation or the Premier for allowing him to do so.

Mr. Speaker, earlier I mentioned the lawsuit that Mr. Morin has brought against me. Of course, it would be inappropriate to go into the details of this matter here in the House. However, I will say that I think it's regrettable that a Minister of the Crown, a Member of our territorial Cabinet and an aboriginal leader should need to resort to court action, as opposed to dealing with any issues he has had with me on the floor of this House. It's certainly a precedent that I don't like to see.

I've spoken to elders and also to many young aboriginal people in my constituency about this, and they all agree with me on one thing: never before can they remember an aboriginal leader having to resort to take another one to civil court because of a disagreement. They wonder if the Minister is losing touch with his aboriginal values. Frankly, I'm interested to see how the courts will decide the matter; and that's all I have to say about that particular issue.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker, there has been a tendency on the part of some people to question my decision to file a conflict of interest complaint against the Minister. They seem to feel that the commission finding that no conflict existed has drawn that decision into question. I would tell those people to read the report more carefully. The Commissioners were very clear about the fact that there were grounds to bring forward a complaint, and that there was nothing frivolous to these concerns.

The Commissioners' report had also concluded that while the act itself had not been breached, the Minister had committed an error in judgement. We need to ask ourselves in this House how many errors in judgement have been attributed to this Minister. He committed an error in judgement in the way he filed his financial information regarding conflict of interest; I believe he committed an error in judgement with the way he buried the specifications for the air tanker contract; many people have wondered if he hasn't committed errors in judgement in his administration of the business incentive policy; Nunavut Members argued strongly that he committed an error in judgement in the way he finalized and realized the social housing rent scale; and, on and on and on.

Several contractors in Fort Smith have told me that since my conflict of interest complaint was filed against this Minister, the same spirit has not been there for local involvement initiative on Public Works projects; and I find that to be very shameful. Our mayor, very recently, went on CBC radio to say that the Minister was politicizing the management of the fire suppression operation. If in fact those things are happening, I can assure the House that there will be further errors in judgement on the part of this particular Minister.

So let me sum up my comments about this Minister's general performance. I think that the honourable Members would need to agree with me that for creativity, innovation and just plain energy, this Minister should get at least an A-minus; but for his defensive attitude, for his over-political handling of the fire suppression contract, and for his manipulation of the air tanker base issue, he clearly deserves a low, low F. That averages out somewhere between a C-minus and a D-plus. I think I'll give him the D-plus, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, that's my assessment of the Cabinet. But in doing so, I also sit back to assess some of the things that have been accomplished in my own constituency over the past four years. Like many Members, I set a number of goals at the outset of this term, and one of them was to encourage progress on the paving of Highway 5. I noted that in a Member's statement a couple of weeks ago, I want to advise the Minister that paving now has been completing; the chip sealing of 20 kilometres on Highway 5. I thank the Minister of Transportation for the support on this particular project. I'm hopeful that it will be possible to continue putting a priority on this development in subsequent years' capital planning.

As well, with the support of the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment, construction is nearing completion on the new academic building for Thebacha Campus. The building is in excess of $6 million, if not $8 million. This facility is now expected to open in October 1995, and I hope that even in the midst of the busy time, the Minister will be able to accept our invitation to attend.

I also need to thank the Minister of Education for his support of another one of my constituency goals: the renovation of JBT Elementary in Fort Smith, the oldest school in the Northwest Territories. Even though the school has seen a lot of years and many students have passed through its doors, I've always said that it's a more cost-effective decision to renovate it than to attempt the construction of an entirely new facility. I've been pleased to see that the Minister agrees, and that he followed through with earlier capital plans for these renovations.

I also note with some satisfaction the facility formerly used as a seniors' special care home. A building locally known in Fort Smith as "the pink house" has now been successfully converted to a day care facility, a much-needed facility in the community.

I think that these are initiatives that demonstrate how even in lean financial times a little creativity and commitment still makes it possible to meet the capital needs of communities. For some time I have been hoping that it will be possible to proceed with renovations to the old Regional Building in Fort Smith where many government offices are located. The Department of Public Works and Services has now spent money on the study of the facility; now they should proceed with ensuring that they have a proper facility, even if they look at a lease-to-own type of concept. These are some of the goals that I've wanted to see achieved for my constituency.

Mr. Speaker, of course Fort Smith residents are also quite concerned about the fate of the air tanker base; not only because of the jobs and training opportunities it will bring, but also it will enhance the need for Fort Smith to divert its dependency on government. It will encourage the younger generation to look at taking advantage of other training opportunities, whether it be engineers, aircraft engineers or pilots. I've already spoken about that this afternoon, and I suspect I'll need to deal with it again in the future.

But, Mr. Speaker, I did want to speak on an issue that people in my constituency have talked a lot about; particularly about these various priorities. They've also talked a lot about what's happened in this House. One of the items that they've mentioned has to do with the matter of the unsigned letter that I chose to table in this Legislative Assembly earlier this spring. Mr. Speaker, I recall your ruling on this issue very carefully, and I'll be sure to respect the guidelines that you have set down. But in talking to many of my constituents, they've encouraged me to clear the air by returning to the issue just long enough to respond to a widely-circulated letter from the Deninoo Community Council and to the larger questions involving inappropriate use of government property by GNWT employees.

Mr. Speaker, I want to comment that when I received this letter, I carefully researched the rules of the Legislative Assembly and noted that there are no requirements regarding the tabling of documents. If there had been, I would have been certain to adhere to the rules of the House. But in the absence of any rules to the contrary, it was not improper for me to make that decision, as was alleged by the Deninoo council letter.

Now, I note that in your Speaker's ruling on the matter you've set out a number of guidelines and limitations that will be helpful to all Members if they are faced with similar circumstances. I appreciate your ruling in this regard and only wish that this had been a matter addressed by the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and Privileges ahead of time so that an appropriate framework could have been built into our rule book before I was confronted with this information.

But more important than those procedural details, Mr. Speaker, I remain concerned that the concern that should have been at the heart of the matter certainly has been overlooked. There are, in my view, far too many instances in which government employees are taking advantage of their position and using GNWT equipment and resources in a way that runs contrary to established policy. This has been brought to the attention of various Cabinet Ministers on several occasions during the life of this Assembly, and many times nothing has happened and that the problem still continues. It's the kind of problem that may not seem like a big deal to the headquarters officials who sit in their respective office in Yellowknife; but in smaller communities and regional centres, it is an occurrence that gets people talking that becomes divisive and it lessens the credibility of the government operations overall. When that happens, it is the MLAs who hear about it.

When I received information that this problem had again surfaced and there were concerns being overlooked by the department, I asked a question of the Minister of the day, the Honourable John Pollard. The response I received in this House was a mild and non-committal offer to circulate a notice to employees. There was no mention of a new policy review, no commitment, once and for all, to address this concern. To this day, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether the Minister and his department has done anything to act on this matter. At the same time, the information I had in hand suggested that a serious breach of policy had been taking place and that it had been condoned by senior officials and even the Minister of Public Works and Services.

I will, however, not refer specifically to information contained in that letter, Mr. Speaker, because of your ruling on the matter, and also because the item is now a tabled document. I respect the actions you took from the chair. However, I don't think there are any northerners who would support the notion that a GNWT employee should be driving a government vehicle while intoxicated. Yet, when the letter in question was tabled, I was blamed for making unfounded allegations, for making unwarranted accusations and many other terrible things. The fact of the matter is there was foundation for the concerns that were brought out at the time. I have obtained a copy of the court transcript of the matter in question and I will circulate it to honourable Members to let them know that, indeed, there was truth to the content of the letter.

From this public document summarizing court proceedings relative to the comments in the letter I received and I know that other Members may have had brought to their attention in their own constituencies, it will be clear that there are problems that this Cabinet has been overlooking. Mr. Speaker, I am hoping that this matter can now be considered closed. As I said, I will be circulating the court transcript to all Members.

Just so long as Members are aware, contrary to some of the remarks made when the honourable Member for Mackenzie Delta raised his point of order during my absence, that I am not inclined to deal in unfounded allegations or improper actions in this House. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to clear the air on this particular issue which has caused me some difficulty.

Mr. Speaker, I would like now to turn to some other matters in my constituency. With regard to the recent results on the election of chief in Fort Smith, I would like to congratulate Chief Jerry Paulette on his re-election as chief for the Salt River First Nations. I have had the privilege of being able to work closely with this young leader for a number of years, Mr. Speaker. I have always been impressed with his thoughtful approach to public service and with his commitment to advancing the cause of aboriginal people in the north and everywhere.

Just as I mentioned about my honourable colleague, Mr. Kakfwi, I believe that Chief Paulette is one of the emerging group of aboriginal leaders who has made the right choice in how to go about living his life. That is so wonderful to note for a young leader. Chief Paulette is not only a good role model for young people, but he is a tireless worker when it comes to bettering the social conditions of aboriginal people in Fort Smith and the South Slave, while still taking on an active part on the constitutional and administration level.

Mr. Speaker, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work closely as an MLA with such a competent and effective chief. When we were younger, Mr. Speaker, Chief Paulette and his family moved in from Fort Fitzgerald to Fort Smith to the area which was called the Indian Village and had recognized how government had oppressed native people. I think he has taken a great attitude in attempting to address many of the injustices that happened in the past. I wish him well as he continues on with being chief, and I think he will continue to serve the people of the Salt River First Nations effectively.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to acknowledge the fact that the mayor of Fort Smith, His Worship Dennis Bevington, was recently elected to serve as the president of the Northwest Territories Association of Municipalities. This is an important post and I wish Mayor Bevington a lot of success in fulfilling his responsibilities.

Mr. Speaker, before I move on, I want to make a few comments about the media. I believe that radios and newspapers in the Northwest Territories could be an important vehicle for informing and educating the people about issues and happenings. Mr. Speaker, this is essential if we are ever going to see our goals achieved. I simply cannot understand why we find ourselves so often in a situation where the media does not report the facts of the stories accurately. Maybe it is their amount of funding cuts and they are trying to get a few people to do so much, or maybe they just have selective hearing, I don't know.

---Laughter

But just as my honourable colleague from Baffin Central pointed out when she rose to correct misinformation about her conduct and comments in the House, I certainly believe that the media does have a responsibility to report accurately on issues that are of importance to the people of the Northwest Territories.

---Applause

I can't emphasize how important it is to report accurately.

Item 9: Replies To Opening Address
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Some Hon. Members

Hear! Hear!

Item 9: Replies To Opening Address
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Jeannie Marie-Jewell Thebacha

I have been in the position of having to make similar comments in this House on many occasions, as well. As Members, we should not have to use up our valuable time in this House by repeatedly raising points of privilege to correct misinformation or to correct shoddy reporting. Think back over the numbers of times this has been an issue during the life of this Assembly. Think about the time the CBC made a big story out of a hotel employee who released one of the MLA's bar bills. I think about the inaccurate reporting on the proceedings on my committee motion about the age of eligibility plebiscite when we were considering the liquor law review. I think about the way they described Ms. Mike's behaviour as pounding her fists on the desk. I know she pointed her finger, but I don't remember her pounding her desk. It just wasn't the way it had happened. I think we certainly could be better served by CBC. That is regrettable because many of the people who work for CBC, people like George Tuccaro, Patricia Russell and Clive Tesar...

---Applause

...and others who are familiar with northern issues and sensitive to telling things the way they are. They make every effort to report fairly. It is unfair for those people who try to put things into perspective.

I will say, though, that one of the positive developments I have seen over the four years has been the emerging tradition of the annual hockey game between the media and the Members of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Speaker, that you have taken the time to coordinate. I thank you for that.

---Applause

I certainly hope this tradition will continue and that some day it may be possible to expand the event to include representatives from other communities on the media team.

In fact, I think I would enjoy watching the editorial staff from the Slave River Journal out on the ice, Mr. Speaker.

---Laughter

So, we should think of including other media personnel in the next event.

Mr. Speaker, now I want to move to priorities for the next government. I know in its report titled, "Investing In Our Future," the Standing Committee on Finance indicated that this government should be working now to set priorities that could be followed up by the 13th Assembly after this fall's election.

I know that the government has already started working on this, and I have listened with the thoughtful suggestions made by my honourable colleague from Yellowknife North and others about items that should be highlighted in the transition document.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer a number of priority items that I hope to see this new government tackle when it takes over; fiscal control being the first and foremost. I believe that the major challenges facing the Northwest Territories over the next few years are going to arise from our financial situation and the difficult times ahead of us as we face federal government cutbacks. I think it will be incumbent on the new government to find new methods for cost recovery and to explore new revenue-generating methods.

The new government is going to have to make some tough decisions. This government has lowered the price of imported liquor and I found that quite shameful for this government to do. Also with regard to tobacco prices, I think they are going to have to start looking at raising these prices and try to encourage a deterrent to the use of these types of products. Whether we recognize it or not, the reality is, many times these products -- liquor and tobacco -- create many of the other problems we have in the health area.

The 13th Legislative Assembly is going to have to find new strategies for reducing government overlap and for increasing cost-effectiveness. Mr. Speaker, this may involve more department amalgamations. Now may be the time to start looking at combining the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and the Department of Renewable Resources, as suggested in the Strength At Two Levels report. Or, perhaps, greater economies of scale could be achieved by combining the Department of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism. Fees for government-issued licences and permits are likely to be increased to bring them more in line with what is being charged in other jurisdictions or to recover a greater percentage of the true costs to government.

Layoffs of redundant positions may have to take place, but it won't be enough to cover all the staff reduction costs through attrition, so the government may need to take more direct action. In this respect, there will need to be a more positive, constructive approach to working with public service unions than we have seen over the past couple of years. There will have to be some very tough decisions made, Mr. Speaker.

Item 9: Replies To Opening Address
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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Mrs. Marie-Jewell, I understand you want to break your old record of two and a half hours, so we will take a 15-minute break. We also have a book launching in the great hall, as well.

---SHORT RECESS

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Before we took a break, Mrs. Marie-Jewell was giving her reply to the opening address. You can continue, Mrs. Marie-Jewell.

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Jeannie Marie-Jewell Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying with respect to the transitional items that this government will be addressing, I certainly hope that the new Assembly prepares itself by seeking the mandate to do so from its electors and by surrounding itself with the officials and plans that it will need to follow through.

I want to be clear about one thing, Mr. Speaker, and I think it is critically important. Even though the future government will be looking at the hard economic times we are facing, it should not lessen our ability as a Legislative Assembly to meet the basic human and social needs of constituents who are in need. We continually remember that we are here to strive for constituents who are at a disadvantage and have a difficult time in everyday life. It is important and critical that these social needs are met, even though hard financial times are going to be faced. I think that the new government will need to take a new approach to bringing forward supplementary appropriations. The new Minister will need to make every effort to keep the amounts of supplementary funding to a minimum.

Mr. Speaker, as we move to constitutional development, I believe that it is going to be one of the items taking the energy from many people in the future. Many Members agree that the matter of western constitutional development can't help but become a major priority for the next government. The new government is going to need to drive its bureaucracy to make up for lost time in planning for the division of the Northwest Territories.

April 1999 is less than four years away, Mr. Speaker. I know that our current government has been planning for division. I wanted to give Mr. Alvarez and his officials in the Cabinet Secretariat credit for what I would call "kick-starting" the process. When you really think about it, Mr. Speaker, how far along are we in comparison to what NIC is doing and in comparison to what the eastern Arctic is doing in preparing for Nunavut? We will be breaking new ground; splitting assets and liabilities; moving person years; and, building two new public service structures. The new Legislative Assembly is going to need to ensure that support is in place for the system and processes we will need to complete our planning and implementation strategy for division. If it isn't, the feds are simply going to take us to the cleaners. When the time comes to open the doors in Nunavut, nothing will be in place.

Mr. Speaker, we all have a stake in the process of division, not just honourable Members from constituencies in Nunavut, but after April 1999, the north will no longer be the same. We need to plan and to work toward an effective government-building process. Sometimes, Mr. Speaker, I think this has sunk in some of our public servants. There still seems to be some scepticism that things are really going to change; that for years from now, there will be two bureaucracies, two governments and two territories. It is going to affect the work that every member of our public service will be doing after that. Nunavut will be a reality; the new territory will be a reality. I believe that public servants really have to get used to that concept. Mr. Speaker, getting used to that concept will mean developing not only the processes, systems and organizational charts that are needed to make division take place, but it also means changing attitudes at all levels.

The new Legislative Assembly will need to realize that in the west, as well as in Nunavut, there will be a new set of expectations as to how government will be conducted. Everyone has been willing to give lip-service to the notions about several orders of government that were so thoughtfully outlined in the Bourque Commission report. Some Members, especially the Cabinet, always are ready to talk about strengthening community government; to see a strength at two levels, like the Beatty report talked about. You know, Mr. Speaker, and this is why I referred to lip-service, last Friday I was appalled that when the same Cabinet led an assault on the motion that my colleague from Nahendeh, Mr. Antoine, brought forward respecting the invitations of western aboriginal leaders to appear in committee of the whole; I found it amazing that this request was denied. Mr. Speaker, I believe strongly that this was a legitimate request. These are the leaders of claimant organizations and regional groups. They are the ones in which the hopes for aboriginal self-government lie for our future. I believe, at least for those honourable Members who voted to defeat the motion, it looked like a slap in the face for the western leaders. I don't think it was proper for us to conduct ourselves in that manner.

Mr. Speaker, contrary to some of the comments that have been made on this issue, it isn't extraordinary to have representatives up here before committee of the whole. During my time in this House, we have had representatives from women's organizations here to comment on Mr. Kakfwi's Justice House Report. I recall, when I was a Minister, having the suicidologist from Alberta appear before committee of the whole because we were concerned about the high rate of suicide in the territories.

Many times, we have had representatives of both Inuit and the Dene/Metis organizations appear to share their views on boundary issues and on constitutional matters. Yet, this time, when the western Arctic aboriginal leaders wanted to meet with this Assembly for a discussion, they were given the option of meeting only in camera with a portion of the Members of the House. Mr. Speaker, how many times, when you were a Member, did you remind your honourable colleagues that this isn't the way aboriginal leadership is exercised? Our tradition is not to deal with important issues behind closed doors; to deal with only a part of the whole group. For centuries, our leadership has addressed important matters out in the open and as part of the holistic political process that has seemed to make our culture so strong because we have always dealt with things out in the open.

Mr. Speaker, defeating Friday's motion was a very bad precedent. With the direction being discussed in our western constitutional development, we are going to see more sharing of responsibilities with other orders of government, and many northerners believe that this is a good thing. But how can we work towards this sharing when we slam the door before they even get through it to share?

My honourable colleague from Yellowknife Frame Lake had made a good point, Mr. Speaker. There may come a time in the future as we prepare for division of the territories and a new government in the western Arctic, that representatives of other groups -- perhaps from tax-based municipalities, from women's groups or even from Inuit organizations -- want to meet with us. Are we going to continue to follow with this precedent? Are we going to tell them that we will only grant them an audience if they meet with us behind closed doors? I believe that is something serious to think about, because if you want to, in preparing for the transition to a new government, Mr. Speaker, I would hope that we can build some expectation for a more cooperative, open relationship between this House and other orders of government in the Northwest Territories.

I would strongly recommend that the government's transition document should mention this and that it should set the stage for the establishment of another body, similar to the Special Joint Committee on Division. This time, though, the special joint committee should be resourced by staff who understand the north and are in tune with the issues that are important for our people.

Constitutional development, of course, also includes looking beyond our own borders in the territories. I have been increasingly concerned about this government's failure to develop a position, particularly on the Quebec question. Nothing has really been said, and it concerns northerners. I know some northerners in my riding have expressed this to me. As my honourable colleague for Yellowknife North has pointed out, it is too simplistic to think that we will not be drawn into the impending debate on the sovereignty referendum. I believe that the development of a firm position on this should be one of the priorities undertaken by the new government.

Mr. Speaker, there is going to be a lot of work in the next Legislative Assembly, the 13th Legislative Assembly, regarding our whole process of division.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to speak with respect to the evolution of the Legislative Assembly. I think that some of the factors I've been discussing are at least in part due to changes that have been taking place in this Assembly.

I believe that when we moved into this wonderful building, we also underwent a change in our whole approach. I can recall quite vividly, being a Member in the old Assembly, the approachable atmosphere in our House. It was so easy for people from our communities, for aboriginal leaders, for the media or for people off the street to come in and mingle with Members outside the Chamber because we were right in downtown Yellowknife. Now we are kind of out of the way where they have to make a point of wanting to come here, and they sometimes feel they have to come for a specific reason in order to come here.

With our new Assembly building, we certainly recognize, Mr. Speaker, that those days are long gone. There has been a change in the spirit of this Legislature, with visitors now checking in to receive their official badges and with a whole new formality to the way this House operates. I recognized the need for it when you had to stop the proceedings of the House last week when we were interrupted; but, at the same time, to quite a degree I am somewhat saddened by the transition where you don't have the openness of the Assembly that people can come by and see fairly easily.

I certainly think sometimes that these new surroundings are great. They are wonderful. They get us away from all the hustle and bustle of downtown Yellowknife. But in some respects, the new surroundings do set a somewhat more distant tone. At times, I guess, even as a Member I feel that we've become sophisticated with regard to addressing the people we serve; and we shouldn't be, because if it wasn't for the people who elected us and want us to serve them, then we would not be here.

I certainly hope that Members of the new Assembly will place a priority on talking and thinking about some of the larger principles of the way our democratic system is supposed to operate. I also want to make some comments on this, Mr. Speaker.

When you think back many years, the native people have always operated by consensus. We have always somehow come to some level of agreement, no matter how many times it took to discuss an issue. Until recently, actually, the Dene Nation and stuff didn't accept things like motions all of a sudden. They discussed an issue over and over. I remember going to their assemblies and seeing how their process worked. They took many issues and discussed them over and over and then took a position, if they felt comfortable.

I know that there is no such thing as democracy in many countries, and in many countries for many years, things were settled with violence. They were settled through wars. They were settled in violent fashions. As we have become more sophisticated, we moved away from that, and we have developed a system we call democracy.

There are some flaws in a democratic system, all right. There are some areas in democracy that really allow for manipulation, to the point where it becomes undemocratic; and I think that is really unfortunate, because the more manipulative the system gets, the more undemocratic it gets. Then it forgets about its purpose and what it's here to serve. People's personal goals get in to what you are basically supposed to try to achieve. Elected Members are supposed to be there to be representing people on the people's wishes.

So I really think that somewhere, when we look at democracy, we have to look at finding a way, and I don't know if party politics might be the answer to it. I don't believe so, but we certainly have to find a way from allowing less manipulation in a democratic system, because right now there is a lot of manipulation in the democratic system. I recognize that there is a lot in this system of government.

Mr. Speaker, you know that I am not one to be manipulated, and people are aware of that. It seems like that because of the fact that I don't do things the way people want me to. I want to speak my mind. I want to speak about what my constituents want me to say. I want to express concerns on behalf of my constituents, but that may not coincide with government or may not coincide with other areas.

Some people may feel that I am not being cooperative, and I know that is certainly not my intention. But, at the same time,

if you're not cooperative, let me tell you, they try to find ways to punish -- I guess that's the word -- you.

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Yes. Mr. Whitford, point of order.

Point Of Order

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Tony Whitford Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are here listening intently to what is being said, but there seems to be some distraction coming from somewhere. We can't hardly hear on this side.

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

So, what is your point of order? There's nothing in the rules book with regard to it.

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Tony Whitford Yellowknife South

Sorry, Mr. Speaker, maybe a point of privilege. I am thinking tonight of the full concentration of what's being said.

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

Okay. We will take just a brief break then and try to see if they'll be finished shortly in the great hall, and then we'll continue.

---SHORT RECESS

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The Speaker Samuel Gargan

The House will come back to order. I want to apologize for the disruption that has occurred. We're still on replies to opening address and Mrs. Marie-Jewell still has the floor. Mrs. Marie-Jewell.

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Jeannie Marie-Jewell Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, before we had our break, I was talking about how our democratic system works and even though we have a democratic system that we, as Canadians, all enjoy, there are still ways to manipulate the process. I think that takes away from the way democracy should work in Canada. I think I went into enough detail about that, indicating that particularly with this Cabinet, I have many times felt that if you can be manipulated to the point where it's to their benefit, it's all the better for them. But if, as an individual, you challenge the status quo at times, there is no doubt that Members feel that there will be reprisals also, particularly with respect to punishment with regard to constituency-related concerns.

I know that the lack of a decision with respect to the tanker base has been because of the fact that many times, I have been very candid and have challenged the Cabinet. They certainly know that, as an elected Member, I can't be manipulated in any way, shape or form. I've always been very candid in telling the Cabinet whether I support them or whether I disagree with them. I'll often indicate publicly in this House why I don't agree with issues. I'm not afraid to indicate at any point in time what I state behind closed doors. I'll say it again in public.

I really believe that if our democratic system in Canada is going to work, people have to be honest with each other. They have to trust each other, but it is critically important that they're honest with each other. I think those are some of the things we're losing sight of. It's going to be unfortunate, as we're going to be developing and setting up our own territories, if we don't have these basic values in our system, and if we allow manipulation to continue. Our democracy will break down.

Mr. Speaker, so far I have been speaking about transition issues that relate primarily to larger administrative, political and constitutional matters. There's no doubt that those are the important items for the new government to address. It is important, though, to remember this government's responsibility to strengthen the social and the economic fabric of the north. I certainly believe that this means that the new government has to place a renewed priority on addressing the devastation brought about in the north by alcohol abuse.

The new Legislature should, in my view, work hard to complete the excellent start that the Minister of Safety and Public Services has made in developing a new Liquor Act. But, I would remind them of the motions that were passed previously in committee of the whole as a guide for when he was to draft the new act. I recall quite vividly the public meetings held in my riding with respect to this act. It came out clearly that people felt we had to start addressing the underlying problems of our society, which have developed as a result of alcoholism.

Mr. Speaker, I think it became very clear to my constituents that we have to start dealing with bootlegging and other areas of alcohol abuse, like getting tougher with outlets selling alcohol; particularly outlets who sell alcohol to the point that people are so inebriated that they don't know what they're doing. We've got to start enacting laws to make people responsible for allowing others to consume so much alcohol. We also have to start toughening up on addressing drunk driving and to look at the laws regarding the sale of alcohol. The next government, as a creative measure with respect to revenue initiatives, may even want to look at other jurisdictions to see what they do with respect to privatizing the sale of alcohol. These are things they might want to look at. They privatized the liquor stores, all right, and allowed them to sell alcohol, but at a very low percentage and the revenue goes to the government. Very little of the revenue that is raised goes directly to address the problem of alcoholism. I know that for a fact.

Several Members have pointed out that...I don't believe new laws are going to be enough to address alcohol. I certainly hope the new Legislative Assembly will work towards a renewed emphasis on effective alcohol and drug prevention programming. We have made some great strides over the past four years, but there is still more that needs to be accomplished. I certainly believe, and I'm sure many Members will agree with me, that alcohol and drug worker salaries are still way too low. For the time and effort they put into addressing the concerns they have, they are still underpaid and overworked. There is a need for new and more effective treatment models. I know, for example, the Gwich'in have recently embarked on a new project and have drawn the expertise from the Bellwood Institute into their project, and I certainly wish them the best of success. I believe through their commitment they will be successful because they've done it on their own initiative, without the support of the government. I think it's commendable of the people of Gwich'in to do such a thing.

Mr. Speaker, I want to indicate that one of the things that the Department of Social Services has done and I did not agree with was the idea of dismantling and doing away with the board of management for alcohol and drug services. I felt that it was critically important to keep this board in place because I think that at the local level that's where you get what's really happening. The advice from that board to the bureaucrats in Yellowknife, I think, was well appreciated by many of the bureaucrats in Yellowknife because it gave them a different perspective on how to address alcohol and drugs. It gave them, certainly, a regional perspective. It certainly gave them a community perspective.

With all due respect, I know that the people in Yellowknife who have to deal with the alcohol and drug program are so busy because of the fact that this is a program that requires a lot of time and energy, a lot of people are asking them for support -- whether it's for going into a treatment centre or to get more funding for their alcohol program -- they don't have time to go out into the community. I think allowing for the input from this particular board to be able to give them a community perspective is critically important in how to address the abuse of alcohol and drugs in the north.

I know we do have many alcohol treatment centres; however, I recognize that...In fact, just today in my mail there was a letter of support for the solvent abuse program here in Yellowknife, done through the Northern Addiction Services. I want to take the time to commend Northern Addiction Services for looking at an issue that has been long overdue. I wish them well in attempting to address this. I know in many of the smaller communities there is a problem with solvent abuse. I certainly believe that the program that they have developed will help to address it. I think they certainly need the support of this government to address this type of program.

I would like to see some type of process put in place and set up in order to be able to look at a consultation process that utilizes the views of communities in order to look at alcohol and drug programs. If that's not in place, what will be happening is all the decisions will be made at the high level of the bureaucracy, being here in Yellowknife, without the perspective of the community and those types of decisions will be imposed on the communities. I think that will be a regressive step towards addressing alcohol and drugs and even solvent abuse. I would encourage the Department of Social Services to find some method or system that will take in viewpoints from across the north, whether it's a large, tax-based community or whether it's a small community, because I believe that the abuse of alcohol crosses all types of races and all types lines in society.

Mr. Speaker, I did want to comment on a few other particular comments. I certainly wanted to make note of some of them very quickly, as I recognize the time, to look at concluding. I did want to state that, as a Member, once again I want to commend Mr. Dent on his bill with regard to zero tolerance. It was unfortunate that we couldn't expand the bill, but I certainly would like to encourage the next Legislative Assembly to look at finding either another bill or expanding our Executive Council bill to find ways of attempting to address the concerns that I've raised; particularly with regard to whether a Member is found guilty of an impaired charge, illegal possession of drugs or any type of illegal activity. I think a Member should be charged accordingly, whether it's the Criminal Code, the Narcotics Act or whatever type of act.

I don't think it's right that we start penalizing Members for certain things and not other things because then we're starting to set our Members up for double standards. I don't believe that was the intention of Members when we were looking at conduct of Members. I certainly would encourage the next Legislative Assembly to develop a bill on that particular area.

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak briefly on Bill C-68. As I said earlier, I was pleased to be on this committee. Currently, we have Mr. Patterson and Mr. Kakfwi in Ottawa lobbying the Senate to conduct public meetings in the north. I know that all northerners are concerned about this bill and how it will affect all northerners' way of life. I'm still, Mr. Speaker, somewhat puzzled, particularly when trying to figure out where all the silent support for this bill is. I understand that many northern people don't support this bill. It's just not our way of life.

---Applause

I have to state that I understand why our western MP voted for this due to her party line and her party obligations, but it's difficult for many northerners to understand. That's why we don't like party politics because we, each and every Member, have the right to get up and state our position on anything without any fear of reprisal. I appreciate that. Mr. Speaker, I certainly hope that the Senate will come up north to conduct public meetings. I certainly support that. Any way that we can attempt to address this bill so that it will lessen the impact on the way of life for northerners will, I'm sure, be appreciated by many northerners.

Mr. Speaker, I also wanted to speak on the issue of the road south. I want to state that, being a Member for two Assemblies, the motion to assist in the development of this road south through Wood Buffalo National Park and to allow for the creation of a loop road around Fort Smith has been an issue, certainly a priority issue, for myself. I was somewhat taken aback with Mr. Patterson's comments on June 9th with regard to questioning the Minister of Economic Development and Tourism in allowing the assistance of my constituents to go meet the Prime Minister to lobby on this road.

I will state that I commend the Minister for not only paying lip-service with regard to assisting me with this motion but to also commend the Minister for giving us the support when we need it with regard to such an important initiative. I believe that any type of transportation linkage that we can create for the north will only help the north. It will not only help the north but will benefit all Canadians.

I was somewhat saddened to hear Mr. Patterson asking all these questions because when the motion came up when he was Government Leader, I'll tell you, Mr. Patterson didn't seem to do too much but he paid a lot of lip-service to the motion, which I was disappointed with. I want to commend Mr. Todd for all the work and support that he's given on this and certainly encourage him to continue the support regardless of what the NDP says or whatever any other party says. This piece of infrastructure in transportation is critical to the north, it's important to the north. He shouldn't be ashamed of it at all.

---Applause

I think he should happily continue to do his work and support it.

---Laughter

Mr. Speaker, I also wanted to speak on a couple of other issues. While I'm speaking of Mr. Todd and while he's in the House, I think he has done well in Transportation and I continue to encourage him to continue with his initiatives, providing he doesn't take any PYs from my riding.

---Laughter

I congratulate him on the acquisition of Arctic A airports.

Another thing I wanted to talk about, Mr. Speaker, is about Economic Development and Tourism. This afternoon, I asked Mr. Todd about the lack of an agricultural policy and the need for the development of such a policy. I want Mr. Todd to understand why the community of Fort Smith feels such a policy is important. Mr. Todd has been to Fort Smith a few times, I think he recognizes the size of trees we have in that riding, compared to his, and our ability to grow things. If we had an agricultural policy developed by this government, his department would be able to support different kinds of farming industry in the north.

Currently, we don't have too many. In Fort Smith, Mr. Sudom has done very, very well with his farm. I commended him earlier about the many kinds of potatoes he supplies to the communities and institutions. He's an elder and works hard to produce. If Mr. Todd's department had an agricultural policy, it would allow people in Fort Smith to grow potatoes, for example, and export them out of the community. We can probably even provide potatoes, carrots or whatever, to the whole north. Years ago, the mission used to do that but, because we don't have an agricultural policy, it's difficult for people to do it now. I certainly would encourage Mr. Todd, as eager as he is with northern accords, to be just as eager in developing an agricultural policy for his department.

Prior to concluding, Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on a couple of other items. I wanted to mention when I was speaking about alcohol and drug issues that I really believe Social Services has to develop some kind of disability program for northerners. I think that the disability program has to address individuals who can work but still need assistance. If the Department of Social Services looks at programs developed in other jurisdictions, they might be able to pick up some concepts with regard to a disability program. We all know the former deputy minister, Mr. Doyle, who I had a lot of respect for, has gone to the Alberta government. I'm sure he would be more than willing to help this government develop some kind of disability program for northerners.

When you look at a disabled person, what do they get when they don't work? They don't get a pension, they don't get an allowance; they depend either on Social Services or on their spouse's income. That's if they can't work. I think that's shameful. For all the progress we have made as northerners, we have overlooked developing some good programs for disabled people.

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An Hon. Member

Agreed.