This is page numbers 815 - 849 of the Hansard for the 14th Assembly, 3rd 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 power.

Topics

Members Present

Honourable Roger Allen, Honourable Jim Antoine, Mr. Bell, Mr. Braden, Mr. Delorey, Mr. Dent, Honourable Jane Groenewegen, Honourable Joe Handley, Honourable Stephen Kakfwi, Mr. Krutko, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Lee, Mr. McLeod, Mr. Miltenberger, Mr. Nitah, Honourable Jake Ootes, Mr. Roland, Honourable Vince Steen, Honourable Tony Whitford.

-- Prayer

Item 1: Prayer
Item 1: Prayer

Page 815

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Delorey. Bonjour, mes amis. Good afternoon. Orders of the day. Item 2, Ministers' statements. The honourable Minister responsible for Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, Minister Handley.

Joe Handley

Joe Handley Weledeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the first Canadian Arctic diamond certificates will be reaching consumers in late November.

This is part of the Government of the Northwest Territories' program to certify selected diamonds as mined, cut and polished in the Northwest Territories. Two Northwest Territories manufacturers, Arslanian Diamond Cutting Works NWT Ltd. and Deton'Cho Diamonds Inc., are participating in this voluntary program.

Each official certificate will provide consumers with proof that the purchased diamond is mined and cut in Canada's Northwest Territories, is authentic and meets a high standard of cut. It will also provide proof of ownership through the inclusion of a Gemprint. This international computerized identification system provides a unique image of each certified diamond. Manufacturers will pay a fee for each certified diamond. Those fees will help offset the costs required for the program.

Mr. Speaker, there is considerable interest in buying Canadian diamonds which are now selling at a premium. Diamonds from Canada have an appeal because Canada has strong laws to protect the environment, its people and the rights of its workforce. Diamonds from the Northwest Territories have appeal because of the NWT's uniqueness, remoteness and pristine wilderness. The GNWT Certification Program will help us capitalize on the appeal of Canadian Arctic diamonds and will position them as quality items in the competitive diamond marketplace.

Mr. Speaker, we are confident that Canadian Arctic diamonds will be a much sought after luxury item, thereby contributing to the growing diamond value added industry in the Northwest Territories. Thank you.

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Merci, Monsieur Handley. Item 2, Minister's statements. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Great Slave, Mr. Braden.

Bill Braden

Bill Braden Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am pleased today to rise and speak to the issue of an energy policy in the Northwest Territories. It is something in which I have a particular interest in and some familiarity based on some experience I have had with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation. The issue of power generation and rates are of particular interest to our citizens, Mr. Speaker, as we are certainly in a high cost service area. Almost all aspects of our life, food, shelter, transportation and the traditional economy are impacted by this issue.

Mr. Speaker, an overall energy strategy is the foundation of the long-term prosperity that we all hope to build. There is a huge need for a broader approach to managing all our energy and utility needs, subsidies and costs and their impact on the environment. The review announced by the Minister and being conducted by Mr. Jim Robertson goes in the right direction, but it needs to go much further in addressing an overall energy strategy. In this respect, I was disappointed to hear recently that the Minister responsible for Finance is declining to take this kind of approach at this time.

We now have the opportunity in new energy initiatives like exporting power from the Taltson hydro station, Dogrib hydro initiatives and building new energy hydro capacity to feed the emerging diamond mines. These, along with chances to pipe natural gas into communities, are new opportunities for us.

I want to make it clear in regard to the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, Mr. Speaker, that any moves to dismantle it or sell it are wrong. The customers of the corporation are the ones who have paid for it. Mr. Speaker, this government as the steward and the keeper of this asset is obliged to take care in what it does with it. The corporation has built a formidable and effective management structure and performance record, Mr. Speaker. It has performed well in the 12 years that this government has owned it. It has paid off a $54 million long-term debt, it has provided dividends of over $30 million and supported a subsidy program that has benefited residents who need help the most, those in small communities.

It has achieved a team of workers who have two-years-and-plus counting zero lost time accident record, an enviable record in any utility. It has successfully implemented three energy utility related projects with aboriginal groups in the Northwest Territories. It has increased reliability and developed a workforce of over 50 percent Northerners. It has negotiated the painful, difficult, but I think practical separation with our neighbours in Nunavut.

It is the kind of investment and success that governments dream of with Crown corporations, Mr. Speaker, and I would ask for unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Braden. The honourable Member is seeking unanimous consent to conclude his statement. Are there any nays? There are no nays. You may conclude your statement, Mr. Braden.

Bill Braden

Bill Braden Great Slave

Thank you, colleagues, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, the corporation has proven to be an investment that is enviable. Today, because of government interference and lack of purpose, we have a corporation that I believe is paralyzed. Its people are demoralized. Its healthy financial performance is under threat because the government is not permitting it to look after its core business. This freeze has restricted its ability to move ahead and this is costing us money, efficiency and morale.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that when my colleagues and I ask further questions about these issues, the Ministers involved will give us answers and will not hide behind the review now in progress. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

-- Applause

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Braden. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Thebacha, Mr. Miltenberger.

Need For A Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Item 3: Members' Statements

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Michael Miltenberger

Michael Miltenberger Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I as well would like to briefly speak to the issue of energy, the provision of energy in the Northwest Territories and the need for a broad energy strategy. Broader, Mr. Speaker, than what is being undertaken now by the government.

This is an issue that I have raised in this House for the last five years. The government has responded and they have indicated reasons that I am not convinced are on the table. I look forward to the opportunity to meet with consultants, hopefully next week. Mr. Speaker, if we are going to be serious about this, we have to broaden the scope eventually. We are spending well over $400 million as a Territory on the provision of fuel alone in the Northwest Territories. It is a huge cost and the prices are rising. It affects everybody, every community, every aspect and facet of our life. We need a way to regulate it. We need a way to plan for the future. We need a way to integrate the various components on the regulatory side, with the provision side, with the supply side, with the usage side, with the environmental concerns.

Mr. Speaker, I would hope that the government would use their initial consultation as a springboard to do that. It is going to be critical that there be proper public consultation and that it be an open process. There is a lot of interest out there. There are a lot of good ideas, a lot of creative ideas in this area. People have spent a lot of time working on this particular area and it is going to be critical that the government tap into that aspect of the energy and ideas.

We also have to look at the communities on a community-by-community basis with community energy strategies. Each community will have their own needs, their own requirements and their own aspirations in how they want to deal with the issue of energy, the provision of energy and energy efficiency.

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this whole process is off to a shaky start with the decision by Cabinet to interfere in the franchising process in Hay River followed up by their direct intervention and decisions in terms of layoffs and decisions made by the boards as it related to the upcoming division. Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the Cabinet has in mind or if they are sure, but if they want a process, it should be arm's length. They should not be interfering with a corporation and the day-to-day running of corporations and definitely not in public community processes that are covered under legislation.

I would hope that the government would use this as a springboard to do a comprehensive energy strategy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

-- Applause

Need For A Comprehensive Energy Strategy
Item 3: Members' Statements

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The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Merci, Monsieur Miltenberger. Déclaration des députés. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Frame Lake, Mr. Dent.

Charles Dent

Charles Dent Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, since 1988, the Northwest Territories Power Corporation has been run at arm's length from this government. It has been run as a business. A significant number of directors have been experienced business people. In that 12 years, their goal has been reliable power delivered at as low a price as possible. I think, by and large, Mr. Speaker, they have done a pretty good job. Often times, people that I have talked to in the North have suggested that the Power Corporation could be run better as a private corporation. I have always pointed out that by eliminating political interference and letting a business-based board run the corporation, it can, in fact, be an efficiently run operation.

This fall, Mr. Speaker, I have growing concern. The level of political interference in the operations of the Power Corporation are unprecedented in the last 12 years. First, with the Hay River franchise, this government gave the power to the municipality to make a decision on the franchise and then took it away. I would also have to point out that same level of interference did not happen in the franchise in Fort Simpson, so there seems to be a real micro-management here as to how they are going to deal with this corporation.

The second instance of interference was, as Mr. Miltenberger pointed out, the directive not to give the staff in Hay River a heads-up about whether or not their position might be impacted by the division of the corporation.

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand how or why this ties into the review underway. If this review is being done to help justify the sale of the corporation and the sale is recommended by this government, it would still take a couple of years. It would have to be debated in this Legislature. There would have to be legislation passed and it would take some time. I cannot see anything in the future that would not cause the need for some reorganization because of the division that is going to take place at the end of this fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, my fear now is that political interference could create that inefficiency that people have been warning me about over the years. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Dent. The honourable Member is seeking unanimous consent to conclude his statement. Are there any nays? There are no nays. Mr. Dent, you may conclude.

Charles Dent

Charles Dent Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My fear now is that if this level of political interference is going to continue, it could create that inefficiency that people have been concerned about.

Is this government really committed to reliable power at the lowest possible price? If so, let the Power Corporation run like a business. It is not an instrument of social policy. Mr. Speaker, I hope the review now underway will come back with that sort of recommendation and that this government will take that direction to heart and make sure that the Power Corporation does continue to provide reliable power at the lowest possible price. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

-- Applause

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Dent. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Inuvik Boot Lake, Mr. Roland.

Fuel Stabilization Fund
Item 3: Members' Statements

Page 817

Floyd Roland

Floyd Roland Inuvik Boot Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the area of concern I have also has to do with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, mainly in light of the fuel stabilization fund and the subsidies that are provided throughout the Northwest Territories and impact all ratepayers.

Mr. Speaker, it has come to my attention that it seems like a double standard when I speak to residents of Inuvik. We are doing a review to look at the whole area of power generation and distribution. That review also speaks of subsidies. I refer to the scope of summary, item 6 - Should current subsidy programs be maintained, expanded, eliminated or retained? If expanded, how should they be financed?

Mr. Speaker, this impacts everybody in the Northwest Territories. With all of the changes that have been made recently, constituents are getting concerned, especially in respect to the fuel stabilization fund. Residents of Inuvik who are now on natural gas have recently been hit with this Fuel Stabilization Fund. On the bottom of your bill, it looks rather simple. It says .034 cents per kilowatts/hour and that can be interpreted a couple of ways. In fact, Mr. Speaker, almost 11 percent of our power bill is going to this fuel stabilization fund out of Inuvik.

Mr. Speaker, that is extremely high. I have had constituents come to me and ask me, "Why is that happening when we are on natural gas? We are no longer on diesel fuel and Inuvik has always paid its fair share for the longest time." So, Mr. Speaker, with that I will be questioning the appropriate Minister in this area to see what they are doing in trying to make sure that all residents of the Northwest Territories are treated fairly and equitably. Thank you.

Fuel Stabilization Fund
Item 3: Members' Statements

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The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you, Mr. Roland. Déclaration de députés. The honourable Member for Nahendeh, Mr. Antoine.

Passing Of Respected Elders
Item 3: Members' Statements

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Jim Antoine Nahendeh

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. (Translation starts) Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will speak in my own language. The elderly people in the communities in the Northwest Territories are cared for and looked after and they have lived among us for a long time. The people in the community take good care of the elderly people, so I want to mention something about the elderly people who have passed away in the past year. They have children and grandchildren as well and I would like to say something about that.

We regret to say that some have passed on. The ones I would like to mention are Annie Mouse and Celine William from Wrigley; Margaret Douglas from Fort Simpson; Lucy McPherson from Fort Simpson; Andrew Root from Wrigley; Julie Deneyoua and Marguriete Edwards from Simpson; Harry Yendi from Wrigley; and William Cli who is the father of the current chief, Rita Cli, in Fort Simpson. I would like to mention these people that have passed on. They were hard-working people and they were very respected people from my home communities, so thank you for the opportunity to mention their names. Thank you. (Translation ends)

Passing Of Respected Elders
Item 3: Members' Statements

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The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Mahsi, Mr. Antoine. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Hay River North, Mr. Delorey.

Paul Delorey

Paul Delorey Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I would like to talk about an issue that has been tearing at the very fabric that makes up the community of Hay River. Mr. Speaker, I am referring to the roles of the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and Northland Utilities in the provision and distribution of electrical power to Hay River, and more importantly, Mr. Speaker, the role of this government in that process.

Mr. Speaker, the residents of Hay River were extremely happy back in 1988 when it was decided that the Northwest Territories Power Corporation head office would be located in Hay River and rightfully so, Mr. Speaker. The corporation has lifted the community enormously with jobs and financial resources. Hay River was also very fortunate, Mr. Speaker, in having another great company, Northland Utilities, that has been supplying power to the town for the last 50 years and it has been very beneficial both with jobs and financial resources.

The present franchise agreement with Hay River and Northland Utilities will expire in June 2001. In view of that fact, Mr. Speaker, the town council put out a request for proposals for a new franchise agreement which they felt was well within their mandate. This, Mr. Speaker, set off a chain of events too numerous to mention here. The town did receive two proposals that they felt would bring some benefits to the residents of Hay River. A decision was to be announced on September 18th; however, due to the amount of public opinion that was generated on this issue, the town decided to hold a public meeting on September 5th. Mr. Speaker, within hours of the public meeting, this government stepped in and requested both parties to withdraw their proposals, infuriating the town administration and leaving many unanswered questions and a bewildered public.

Mr. Speaker, when Nunavut shot off their political cannon and decided to form their own corporation, Hay River, Mr. Speaker, was directly in their line of fire. Jobs were going to be lost. How many, Mr. Speaker, is unknown. Notices of layoffs were going to take place on October 18th. However Mr. Speaker, again at the eleventh hour, this government stepped in and directed the board to put layoff notices on hold. That action on the part of this government, Mr. Speaker, is playing with many people's lives, and taking a terrific toll on the community. It is extremely important that this government clarify...

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Mr. Delorey, the time for your statement has expired.

Paul Delorey

Paul Delorey Hay River North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I seek unanimous consent to complete my statement.

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Thank you. Mr. Delorey is seeking unanimous consent to conclude his statement. Are there any nays? There are no nays. You may conclude, Mr. Delorey.

Paul Delorey

Paul Delorey Hay River North

It is extremely important, Mr. Speaker, that this government clarify these issues and Mr. Speaker, it is important that they do it soon. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker

The Speaker Tony Whitford

Merci, Monsieur Delorey. Déclaration de députés. Item 3, Members' statements. The honourable Member for Yellowknife South, Mr. Bell.