Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you colleagues. Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the Financial Administration Act, the Northwest Territories Workers' Compensation Board is required to submit to this Assembly, an annual report of its activities. I am pleased to table this document for the period January 1 to December 31, 1996 today. This report is an accounting of the boards financial affairs including audited financial statements and an actuarial opinion regarding the adequacy of its liability reserves. It is not often I am stuck for words Mr. Speaker. Beyond that, Mr. Speaker, this document reports on the programs and activities undertaken by the board in the interest of its stakeholders.
In 1996, assessment revenue from the Northwest Territories' employers totalled $23 million while the boards' investment income totalled almost $15 million. Meanwhile, the Workers' Compensation Board paid or set aside $26.6 million in benefits to injured workers. Over and above its liabilities, Mr. Speaker, the board has nearly $28 million and in its operating catastrophe reserves, an increase of over $9 million in 1995.
In response to this strong financial position, the average employer assessment rate was reduced by 10 percent in 1996 and, in July, this year's maximum insurable remuneration (YMIR) was increased for benefit purposes to $49,000.
Mr. Speaker, fully funded status is the general measure of an effective compensation system. It means that the Workers' Compensation Board has adequate assets to meet all the present and future commitments to injured workers by maintaining this balance. The Workers' Compensation Board can ensure that assessment rates continue at their lowest and most cost-effective level.
Last year our government entrusted the responsibility for Occupational Health and Safety to the Northwest Territories Workers' Compensation Board. In spite of the additional costs, the board not only maintained its fully funded position, Mr. Speaker, but improved it by five percent. More than ever before, the focus of the Workers' Compensation Board is now accident prevention. In 1996, the Workers' Compensation Board addressed this new mandate with a balanced approach to education and enforcement. Workers' Compensation Board safety advisors provided safety training to over 1,000 workers and employers in 15 communities. An additional 375 individuals, many of them young workers, receive training made possible by the Workers' Compensation Board materials.
The Workers' Compensation Board Industrial Safety Unit made 55 community visits last year, completing 1,047 inspections. At the same time, the Workers' Compensation Board Mine Safety Unit conducted 100 mine inspections, an extensive mine safety audit and considerable maintenance testing and monitoring. The safety incentive and rate reduction program was implemented in 1996, 52 employers were targeted with additional assessments and safety training. Revenue collection from this program will support safety education activities in the future.
Mr. Speaker, while the accident prevention was and will continue to be a major focus of the Northwest Territories Workers' Compensation Board, it will not detract from the primary responsibility for compensating injured workers. In 1996, the Workers' Compensation Board began a concerted effort to improve and evaluate its existing compensation programs. A new program policy manual was developed along with operational procedures to support the manual. Ongoing training was provided to the staff and education programs were delivered to service providers, workers and employers. A performance review of the WCB service providers was completed, as was an evaluation of the WCB's early intervention program. A client satisfaction survey was distributed to hundreds of employers and claimants.
Mr. Speaker, while balancing its role as educator, regulator and compensator, the NWT Workers' Compensation Board, like other organizations, must prepare for division. Options are being researched for the delivery of compensation following division. A legislative review of the board's four acts was also undertaken to identify amendments that may be required as a result of division. I plan to introduce these amendments early next year. Mr. Speaker, the 1996 annual report of the Workers' Compensation Board contains a financial, statistical and philosophical overview of the work performed by the WCB last year. It confirms the WCB's accountability to me, as the Minister responsible to this Assembly, and it reaffirms its commitment to the workers and employers of the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.