This is page numbers 303 - 319 of the Hansard for the 13th 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 corporation.

Topics

Item 20: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
Item 20: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters

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The Chair David Krutko

Welcome to committee of the whole. What is the wish of the committee? Mr. Erasmus.

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Roy Erasmus Yellowknife North

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. What we really want is more money for education, but good luck. Continue with Bill 17 and committee report 1-13(7) and we will do the Housing Corporation and, if time permits, perhaps we will go on to

Justice. Thank you.

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The Chair David Krutko

Does the committee agree?

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Some Hon. Members

Agreed.

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The Chair David Krutko

Thank you. We will take a short break at this time, ten minutes.

--Break.

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The Chair David Krutko

I would like to call the committee to order. We are dealing with the NWT Housing Corporation. I would like to ask the Minister, Honourable Floyd Roland, if he has any opening comments.

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Floyd Roland Inuvik

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to present to the Legislative Assembly the 1999-2000 Main Estimates for the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation. Before I provide the Legislature with comments specific to the Housing Corporation's Main Estimates, I would like to make a few comments about my new portfolio. I am very pleased to be the Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation because addressing housing needs is extremely important to the residents of the NWT.

Mr. Chairman, as you and all Members of this House are aware, two of the most basic needs for all human beings are food and shelter. It is the second basic need that the Housing Corporation works to provide. The corporation is requesting a total contribution from this government of $43.27 million: $21.64 million for capital programs, and $21.63 million for operations and maintenance. When we add in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding, the corporation will spend over $82 million on housing here in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Chairman, the 1996 housing needs survey showed that there was a dire need for adequate housing. Many of those in the greatest need are aboriginal families. The total withdrawal of federal funding for new social housing has put a severe strain on the corporation's ability to meet the housing needs of our residents. One of the most important challenges for the NWT, as well as for all of the provinces and territories, will be to work together to ensure that CMHC funding to operate and maintain units stays in the housing system. The long-term sustainability of our social housing stock depends upon it.

By increasing the number of homes and repairing and renovating existing homes, the corporation helps to address other important social problems which children and families face. We all know that for our children to become successful and happy adults, able to lead productive lives, they need a safe, stable and secure environment to grow up in. Providing good housing to our families goes a long way in providing our children with such an environment.

Now that we have made the transition to the new Northwest Territories, the NWT Housing Corporation will now be able to spend all its time developing and implementing housing solutions for the west. I believe, because of this western focus, housing programs can be better targeted. A good example of this has been the Minimum Down Payment Assistance Pilot Program. MDAPP was implemented as a way to stimulate the north's economy and has clearly been a very big boost to the western territory's housing markets.

Mr. Chairman, to further assist the economy of the Northwest Territories, the corporation is working hard to find new markets for northern manufactured products. In Alaska the corporation is providing the building materials, including northern manufactured products and other materials purchased from northern suppliers for at least five homes in Barrow, on the North Slope. The quality of northern products and the corporation's expertise in house design, packaging and shipping, coupled with the low Canadian dollar, gives us an advantage in the Alaskan market. The long-term aim is to sell housing packages to many of the communities in northern Alaska.

The corporation has participated in trade missions to the Russian far east and the People's Republic of China. Mr. Chairman, both the Russians and the Chinese are interested in purchasing housing packages for their remote communities. These housing packages will contain products manufactured here in the NWT or bought through northern suppliers, thus improving the profitability of northern businesses and keeping northerners working. Although the corporation is taking an aggressive approach to marketing northern building products, we also recognize the need to proceed cautiously.

Training Initiatives, providing enhanced training opportunities for employees of local housing organizations and northern students.

Mr. Chairman, the corporation's aggressive approach to human resource development will encompass a minimum of 18 initiatives to be carried out this year. One of these initiatives has been the completion of an employee satisfaction survey, the results of which are being used as a baseline from which to work to improve the corporation's work environment. Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would like to mention one other initiative. The corporation is working cooperatively with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment on integrating the social housing and income support programs. The aim is to ensure both programs work together at the community level to help northern families in need of shelter and basic assistance. I am pleased that preliminary work on this study will be going to Cabinet shortly. I believe this initiative is an excellent example of how separate government agencies can work cooperatively to assist northerners. This concludes my opening remarks and I will be pleased to answer any questions. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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The Chair David Krutko

Thank you, Mr. Minister. I will ask the committee responsible if they have any comments. Mr. Henry.

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Seamus Henry Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With your permission I would read the committee's report on the NWT Housing Corporation.

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The Chair David Krutko

Please continue.

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Seamus Henry Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The NWT Housing Corporation works with the local housing authorities and other concerned citizens and non-governmental organizations to achieve acceptable results in the provision of housing in the Northwest Territories. The Housing Corporation aims to ensure there is adequate social housing available for those who need it and that there are affordable housing options available for those who can look after their own needs. The Housing Corporation also works to develop a NWT-based construction and manufacturing base with high aboriginal participation.

The Standing Committee on Social Programs met on November 20, 1998, to review the draft business plans of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and again on March 19, 1999, to review the NWT Housing Corporation's draft 1999-2000 Main Estimates. Committee Members were generally satisfied with the business plan of the NWT Housing Corporation. Committee Members realize that the corporation is doing what it can with the reduced federal social housing funding that it receives. Recent initiatives such as the Extended Down Payment Assistance Program are proving valuable in making northerners responsible for their own housing choices. The committee notes a $283,000 reduction in operations and maintenance funding and $125,000 reduction in capital funding in the 1999-2000 draft Main Estimates over the number contained in the 1999-2000 business plans. Under the P3 initiative, the Housing Corporation plans to replace energy inefficient appliances in public housing stock and test other energy- saving systems.

While the committee does look forward to being informed on the result of cost-saving exercises as the grey water recycling system presently being tested in N'dilo, there is some trepidation, on the part of Members, on the introduction of energy-saving appliances and systems at the community level. There is no doubt that the replacement of old energy inefficient appliances would result in savings for the public housing programs administered by the Housing Corporation. However, particularly in the small communities, this could result in the Northwest Territories Power Corporation having to increase the power rates to all residents of the community to meet their necessary revenue requirements. On a positive note, the replacement of older appliances could benefit communities whose power supply infrastructure is operating at near capacity by lowering the demand on the system. This would save the cost of the Power Corporation having to add excess power generating capacity which would be, in any event, passed on to the consumer.

Mr. Chairman, the committee recommends that the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation work in conjunction with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation to ensure that any energy-saving programs under the P3 initiative not have an adverse effect on the power rates for any community. Committee Members are optimistic about the opportunities the Housing Corporation is developing for northern businesses in Alaska. There is a great economic potential for northern businesses and for the generation of more power funding realized through profit. Members were encouraged to hear, during the review of the Main Estimates, that there is a potential for a supply of more housing units than originally envisaged. While committee Members encourage the corporation in developing this curiously untapped Alaskan market, they also urge a degree of scepticism in dealing with any of the former Russian republics to provide housing units due to the possible logistical and financial difficulties.

The committee made note of the ongoing negotiations on the transfer of some housing units to community governments. This is an initiative that may have a positive effect on the ability of smaller communities without a viable rental market to attract and retain health care and educational professionals. The committee encourages the Housing Corporation in further dialogue on this issue. The committee understands and supports the devolving of the tendering process to the local level. However, if the corporation is to achieve its end goal of promoting the development of a viable manufacturing sector, it will be necessary to adopt a proactive approach to ensure that all qualified northern companies are able to bid on projects. Presently the only resource the Housing Corporation has to deal with failure of local organizations responsible for tendering neglecting to ensure northern content is to withhold the funding relating to the portion of the tender under dispute.

The committee recommends that the local contracting authorities performing the tendering function on behalf of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation be required to file with the corporation a copy of all tendering documents as they are let. The Housing Corporation should then file the tender documents with the NWT Construction Association or other appropriate agencies so that any qualified northern contractor or manufacturer can bid on the tender.

Mr. Chairman, during the present business plan review, the committee noted that the social housing program run by the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation is closely intertwined with the Income Support Program run by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. Both programs contain provisions that discourage people from working. There is no point for a person on income support and living in social housing paying $32 per month to take a job paying $10 per hour when he or she is no better off because of higher rent and loss of income support. The departments must work together to develop common policies that are not at cross purposes with each other. These policies must also be re-examined in light of division, the realities of life in the future Northwest Territories, the implementation of a new western revised rent scale and the interrelationships between government departments and policies, particularly within the social envelope.

During the business plan review, committee Members were disappointed in the apparent lack of cooperation between the departments; however, during the Main Estimates Review, the committee noted a solid beginning in increased cooperation among the departments involved in delivering programs in the social envelope. It was particularly encouraging to committee Members to hear that an interdepartmental paper, on a combined social housing and income support system had been forwarded to Cabinet for their consideration. The committee looks forward to being kept apprised on the progress made on this important decisive issue in our communities. Committee Members are interested in seeing the final recommendations on the implementation of the rent scale as it applies to the new Northwest Territories and look forward to providing their input.

Committee Members were also concerned that the providing of so-called free social housing to seniors is not in the best interest of the corporation. Committee Members have heard of cases where seniors have sold their own home or given them to children and moved into social housing. Many seniors do have a sufficient income to pay for at least part of costs associated with their social housing units. The money could be used to subsidize seniors who do not have the wherewithal to pay for housing and still allow them to maintain their independence. It may be necessary to attach a means test to the provision of social housing to seniors.

Mr. Chairman, the committee recommends that the Housing Corporation develop a revised rent scale that takes into account western realities and implement it as soon as possible. The committee recommends that the deputy ministers responsible for the departments in the social envelope work together in greater cooperation in developing programming and policies that meet the needs of northerners and accomplish the government's stated goals.

Program Survey of Local Housing Authorities. The committee wishes to encourage the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation in its desire to increase the level of cooperation between the headquarters function and the local housing authorities. The program survey of the local housing authorities to gauge corporation effectiveness is a positive step in developing programming and services at the headquarters level that respond to the needs of these local housing authorities.

Reduced Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Funding. Committee Members are well aware that the current level of CMHC funding will be sunset on a reduced sliding scale over the next 29 years. Members of the committee share the Minister's concern that this will have an extremely detrimental effect on the ability of the corporation to deliver new public housing and to maintain the existing housing stocks. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, the committee strongly recommends the Minister's continued cooperation with the other Canadian jurisdictions that were also adversely affected by the federal government's withdrawal from the provision of funding for public housing.

Committee Members also share the Minister's concern that because the Government of the Northwest Territories assumed the responsibility for aboriginal housing in the Northwest Territories, the NWT is not eligible for any federal housing funding that targets treaty aboriginal people. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, the committee recommends that the Minister continue to lobby his federal counterparts to ensure that the Northwest Territories receives a fair share of housing funding that targets aboriginal housing.

Informatics and Human Resource Plans. Committee Members were disappointed in the lack of detail in the Housing Corporation Informatics and Human Resource Plans as contained in the business plan. However, Members could appreciate the difficulties the corporation was having in attracting a computer systems manager given the demand for qualified computer professionals. The committee compliments the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation in its apparent detailed response to these concerns. The committee looks forward to discussing these issues further once Members have had a chance to analyze the information provided by the corporation.

Pilings in Inuvik. During its review of the business plan, committee Members expressed their concerns with the steps that the Housing Corporation was taking in dealing with the rotting piling issue in Inuvik. The committee was pleased to see that by the time of the review of the Main Estimates, the Housing Corporation was awaiting test results on its units' pilings. Members were also pleased to note in the corporation's response to the committee's concerns that extra money was identified for the Inuvik Housing Authority to deal with the rotting piling issue and that the corporation is committed to working with all adversely affected homeowners. The committee looks forward to the results of the tests and to the formulation of the long-term strategy to deal with the rotting piling issue.

Rent Supplement Program. During its review of the business plan, committee Members expressed concerns about how this program operated. Since the money used to support this program is hidden in the operations and maintenance costs it is impossible for the committee to know what the actual cost to the corporation is for the Rent Supplement Program. Prior to the review of the Main Estimates, the Housing Corporation did provide the committee with details on the Rent Supplement Program and which communities had units under the program. Mr. Chairman, that concludes the committee's report on the NWT Housing Corporation. There are some motions that, with your indulgence, I would like to deal with.

Item 20: Consideration In Committee Of The Whole Of Bills And Other Matters
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The Chair David Krutko

Thank you, Mr. Henry. I believe you have some motions. Proceed, Mr. Henry.

Committee Motion 3-13(7): Effects On Power Rates (nwthc)
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Seamus Henry Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, the first motion, I move that this committee recommends that the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation work in conjunction with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation to ensure that any energy-saving programs under the P3 initiative not have an adverse effect on the power rates for any community. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Committee Motion 3-13(7): Effects On Power Rates (nwthc)
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The Chair David Krutko

Thank you, Mr. Henry. The motion is in order. To the motion. Question has been called. All those in favour? All those opposed? The motion is carried. Mr. Henry.

Committee Motion 4-13(7): Tendering To Be Performed By Local Contract Authorities (nwthc)
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Seamus Henry Yellowknife South

Mr. Chairman, the second committee motion, I move that the committee recommends that the local contracting authorities performing the tendering functions on behalf of the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation be required to file, with the corporation, a copy of all tendering documents as they are let. The Housing Corporation should then file the tendering documents with the NWT Construction Association or other appropriate agencies so that any qualified northern contractor or manufacturer can bid on the tender. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.