This is page numbers 303 - 340 of the Hansard for the 15th Assembly, 6th 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 health.

Topics

Members Present

Honourable Brendan Bell, Mr. Braden, Honourable Paul Delorey, Honourable Charles Dent, Mrs. Groenewegen, Honourable Joe Handley, Mr. Hawkins, Honourable David Krutko, Mr. Lafferty, Ms. Lee, Hon. Michael McLeod, Mr. McLeod, Hon. Kevin Menicoche, Mr. Miltenberger, Mr. Pokiak, Mr. Ramsay, Honourable Floyd Roland, Mr. Yakeleya

---Prayer

Speaker's Opening Comments
Item 1: Prayer

Page 303

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Good afternoon, colleagues. Welcome back to the House. Welcome back as we sit together for the last time as Members of the 15th Legislative Assembly. I know that the summer recess has been brief and very busy for all Members. In addition to your constituency work, committees have been travelling on the public review of bills and Cabinet has continued with the work of government. In spite of the schedule, I hope you have all managed to savor a few minutes of our glorious, but all-too-short summer season and found some time to enjoy the company of family and friends.

As the summer began to wind down, the Speaker's Outreach Program paid a special visit to the residents in the High Arctic community of Sachs Harbour on the south shore of Banks Island. This historic visit marks the first time the Mace of the Northwest Territories travelled above the Arctic Circle.

---Applause

Our visit was extremely well received by community residents. I had the pleasure of having tea with the elders, playing sports with the children and youth and enjoying caribou stew and bannock with the community-at-large. Community members, students and staff were an enjoyable audience and regarded the Mace with awe and delight.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the man who selected the stone that was placed inside the Mace to represent the voices of the people of Sachs Harbour, Mr. Geddes Wolki. On behalf of the Legislative Assembly, I extend gratitude to the residents of Sachs Harbour for their hospitality.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the late Rosie Firth, respected elder, mother and artisan from Fort McPherson. The late Mrs. Firth is the artisan who provided the beaded Delta braid featured on the Mace of the Northwest Territories. I would also like to take this opportunity to extend condolences of the House to those communities who suffered tragic losses this summer. Our thoughts and prayers have been with you.

Colleagues, we have a full agenda for the next seven days and I know that you are all eager to begin. I remind Members to continue to act with respect for each other and for this institution, allowing us to work for the benefit of all residents of the Northwest Territories and to complete the mandate of the 15th Legislative Assembly.

It is my duty to advise the House that I have received the following message from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. It reads, "Dear Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise that I recommend to the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories the passage of Supplementary Appropriation Act, No. 4, 2006-2007 and Supplementary Appropriation Act, No. 2, 2007-2008 during the Sixth Session of the 15th Assembly. Yours truly, Anthony W. J. Whitford, Commissioner."

Thanks for your attention, colleagues. Orders of the day. Ministers' statements. The honourable Premier, Mr. Handley.

Minister's Statement 26-15(6): Sessional Statement
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 303

Joe Handley Weledeh

Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome all Members back for this last session of the 15th Legislative Assembly. I know that it has been a busy summer for everyone in your constituencies and attending the various annual assemblies.

Given this is the last session of the 15th Legislative Assembly and, therefore, my last sessional statement as Premier, I want to take this opportunity to formally announce my own intentions regarding the impending election. After talking it over with my wife, Theresa, and my family, I have decided it is time to seek new ways to serve the people of this territory and so I am formally announcing I will not seek re-election this fall. I am glad to see so many people here to celebrate that.

---Laughter

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the accomplishments of our government and this 15th Legislative Assembly. At the outset of our term, we promised we would act with honesty, integrity and transparency and uphold the highest ethical standards in carrying out the responsibilities entrusted to us as a government. We committed to running a government that made decisions in a clear, competent and consistent manner. I believe we have lived up to our promise.

While it is not my intention today to speak about all the specific accomplishments of this government and Legislative Assembly over the past four years -- many of these have been outlined in previous sessional statements -- I want to highlight some of our most important accomplishments in terms of the goals we set at the beginning of our term.

After listening carefully to the people who elected us, we stated at the outset our primary goal was to achieve greater self-reliance through shared responsibility as a territory, as communities, as individuals and as northerners. In the past four years, we have worked to

meet this goal by designing programs that provide residents with a "hand up" not a "hand out."

We have made significant investments in education and training facilities and programs that have contributed to record graduation rates from high school, ever-increasing numbers of northern students pursuing post-secondary studies and more and more trained workers. This has resulted in record employment and labour force participation rates throughout the territory.

---Applause

After a significant consultation process with stakeholder groups throughout the territory, we have reformed and restructured our income security programs to better meet the needs of individuals who utilize these programs. These changes are intended to provide relevant programming that help move people who rely on these programs from poverty to self-reliance.

We transferred funding and responsibilities to community governments so they could take greater control of decisions affecting their communities. We have been pleased to work with strong, focused mayors and councils throughout our territory who are committed to taking more and more responsibility and building strong, healthy, sustainable communities.

We have introduced and supported new health prevention programs such as the Don't be a Butthead campaign that has contributed to the decreasing trend in the number of our residents who smoke. We have expanded critical health services throughout the territory, such rehabilitation services in the South Slave and Beaufort-Delta regions, outreach services provided through Stanton Territorial Hospital and dialysis services in Hay River.

We have invested significantly in much needed new housing for NWT residents, increasing the housing stock in our communities. We have revamped housing programs to promote the transition from public housing to homeownership so individuals and families can achieve their personal goals and reach new levels of success. At the same time, we have increased resources to address the serious issues of homelessness across the territory including innovative projects such as Bailey House, which will assist homeless male clients seeking to make the transition to permanent community residences.

---Applause

We have worked towards the very important goal of eliminating the incidence of domestic violence by introducing new legislative and policy tools that remove abusers from the family environment, improve education and awareness, enhance prevention activities and services, and improve training for shelter workers.

We have developed an Energy Strategy and Greenhouse Gas Strategy with new energy efficiency and conservation programs and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northwest Territories. We have worked to maximize our recycling efforts through programs such as the Beverage Container Program, which has dealt with over 25 million containers that would otherwise have ended up on our streets or in our landfills.

We are working to make our communities safer by increasing policing in many communities, increasing funding to victim services programs and putting in place legislative initiatives which provide our communities with new tools to address the insidious problems caused by illegal drugs and alcohol.

We agreed at the outset of our mandate to work in partnership with other governments in the Northwest Territories. We have established new funding arrangements with aboriginal governments to help build capacity in these organizations to deal with intergovernmental processes and have developed modern, forward-thinking, formal consultation processes.

Our government's relationship with emerging aboriginal governments continues to evolve and grow stronger. As I have noted in this House in the past, governance in the Northwest Territories is changing as aboriginal rights negotiations are concluded and agreements are implemented. This environment is a complex one and future governments will have to work hard to address the larger constitutional and intergovernmental issues that are developing.

Through cooperative relationships on the Taltson hydro project, our support for the Aboriginal Pipeline Group and our active participation in the Protected Areas Strategy, we are working with aboriginal governments to advance our common goal of balanced development. I want to thank aboriginal leaders from all parts of this territory who have shared their vision, shown resolve and determination and never wavered in their commitment to building a more prosperous, sustainable future for their people.

---Applause

While we continue to have a strong economy fuelled mostly by resource exploration and development, we have made real progress in efforts to balance our economy regionally and to respect traditional economies so that no one region or community gets left behind. To maximize economic opportunities in the resource sector, we have negotiated solid socio-economic agreements with the diamond mines and partnered with other governments and the private sector to deliver successful training programs in the mining and oil and gas sectors.

Mr. Speaker, we have also worked hard to address the large issues we identified at the outset of the 15th Legislative Assembly. Our first priority was to put our own fiscal house in order by making decisions that ensured a balanced budget. It also meant negotiating and concluding a fair Territorial Formula Financing Agreement.

I am pleased to say we have been successful on both fronts. We have made significant investments in some of the key priority areas I spoke of earlier, while ensuring our overall financial position was stabilized. This was in large part because of new arrangements reached with Ottawa on territorial formula financing. This new arrangement recognizes the challenges facing northern governments in providing basic public services in a territory with a small, dispersed population, developing economy, underdeveloped infrastructure, high living costs and challenging social conditions relative to southern Canada.

We have also been successful in negotiating flexible fiscal arrangements with the federal government in a number of other priority areas such as health wait times, infrastructure, climate change and the environment. Our borrowing limit has been increased to $500 million,

providing future governments with the flexibility to make strategic investments in critical infrastructure and other priority areas. This responsible approach to managing our finances resulted in an upgraded credit rating of Aa1 being issued by Moody's Investors Service.

---Applause

There have, of course, been frustrations and it will be of no surprise that the most important piece of business that remains unfinished is the completion of an agreement-in-principle on devolution and resource revenue sharing. However, the good news is we have reached a common front with four aboriginal governments, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Gwich'in Tribal Council, Sahtu Secretariat Incorporated and the Northwest Territories Metis Nation, on this important issue.

Over the past few weeks, we have been working with our aboriginal partners and the federal government to resolve the remaining issues surrounding an AIP. I am encouraged we have narrowed the issues substantively. It is our intention to work to resolve these issues before the end of the 15th Assembly and we are hopeful this can be achieved. It is my fervent wish the 16th Assembly will achieve a final devolution agreement that will give our territory the means to determine its own future course of action with regard to development and, most importantly, ensure the people of the NWT will become, as the Prime Minister has promised, the "primary beneficiaries" of our own resources.

---Applause

We would have liked to have greater certainty the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline will move ahead. However, our government believes the challenges facing the project can be overcome if government and industry work together to resolve them. The Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is a basin-opening project that will provide significant benefit to Canada beyond the direct economic benefits from its construction. Our government believes the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is too advanced, too desirable, too necessary and too beneficial to the North and to Canada to allow it to fail.

This Assembly has worked hard to ensure northerners will benefit when this project proceeds, including our work with the federal government to establish a $500 million socio-economic impact fund for impacted communities in the Mackenzie Valley. We also negotiated a socio-economic agreement with the project proponents that include a $21 million fund and provisions for northern employment and procurement.

As I have noted many times in this House, the single greatest impediment to economic development and the growth of our communities is the lack of infrastructure. Over the past four years, we have taken a number of important steps including the completion of the paving of Highway No. 3, the reconstruction of 60 kilometres of highway, the resurfacing of 52 kilometres of road, the construction of permanent bridges and improvements to the Mackenzie Valley winter road including the construction of bypasses of Norman Wells and Tulita. We have also worked on new critical infrastructure projects throughout the territory, such as long-term planning for an all-season road to the Arctic Ocean.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, it is also important to note the strides we have taken as a Legislature to build a strong voice for the Northwest Territories within the federation. We play an active role and have a very strong voice at national tables including the Council of the Federation and the Western Premiers' Conference. At every meeting, we continue to gain support from the provinces for attention and action on northern issues. Last week, I attended the Council of the Federation meeting in Moncton and dealt with a number of issues critical to the Northwest Territories including the effect of climate change in the Arctic and the release of a national energy plan, developed in part by the Northwest Territories.

We have established strong working relationships with our federal colleagues. I would like to congratulate the Honourable Jim Prentice on his new assignment as Minister of Industry and thank him for his good work for the Northwest Territories. We look forward to working with the new Minister responsible for Indian and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Chuck Strahl.

Mr. Speaker, even though an election is near, we still have significant work to do in the remaining life of this Assembly. There is a significant legislative agenda remaining for the current session.

As well, we have continued to work with the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation for over five years to reach an agreement to build the Deh Cho Bridge. It has been a challenging process that has taken longer than any of us thought, but I am pleased to report this project is proceeding.

---Applause

Mr. Speaker, the project, as originally conceived, was to be self-financing. A combination of savings from the elimination of the ferry and ice crossing and a toll on commercial vehicles was proposed to provide a revenue stream to cover all the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation's expenses and a minimum return on their equity. However, due to construction cost escalation, the total project cost is now over $150 million. To address this issue, and as a result of our strong fiscal position, the GNWT has committed additional funding of up to $2 million per year to make the Deh Cho Bridge a reality. It is also important to note we can do this and meet our commitment to maintain the toll rate at $6/tonne in 2002 dollars. This is the only direct cost to consumers.

At the same time, we are continuing to work with the federal government as they develop the criteria for their infrastructure programming to ensure a federal contribution to this important project.

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased a highly reputable construction company, Atcon Group from New Brunswick, has stepped forward with a formal offer to build the bridge for a guaranteed maximum price with a completion date of fall 2010. Atcon Group's price is contingent on starting preparatory work this fall and allowing for three full seasons of construction.

It will take another six weeks to wrap up details surrounding the financing of this project. In the interim, the GNWT will issue a limited notice to proceed. This will authorize the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation to carry out, through Atcon, up to $5 million of preliminary work, under an increase to the loan guarantee.

This government strongly supports this important project. We have taken a measured approach to this project every step of the way and are completely satisfied that this is a good and fair deal. Given the rising cost of construction in western and northern Canada, this is probably our last realistic opportunity to build a bridge across the Mackenzie River. Now is the time to bring this vital piece of northern infrastructure from planning to completion. Members of this Assembly should be proud they have been instrumental in making such an important contribution to a project that will provide a legacy of improved service well into the future.

Mr. Speaker, as I noted earlier, I believe we have delivered open, honest and competent government over the past four years. I am grateful for the enormous support I have personally received. It truly has been a great privilege to serve the people of the Northwest Territories as Premier, to have the chance to help contribute to the future of the territory in these exciting, volatile and historic times.

I want to extend my deep appreciation to a dedicated and strong team of deputy ministers. I believe our team of deputy ministers serves the people of the Northwest Territories with an energy, commitment and degree of expertise and professionalism that is exceptional for any jurisdiction. I also want to pay tribute to the many public servants in the GNWT that toil tirelessly across the territory. Their hard work and commitment to excellence and services are a credit to us all.

Finally, on a personal note, I wish to thank the people of Weledeh for the privilege of serving them for eight exciting years as their MLA. I also want to extend my sincere thanks to the staff in my office who have worked with me over the past four years, indulging in my idiosyncrasies and consuming more than enough Tim Horton's coffee as a duty, and working to make my job easier, all with great good cheer, loyalty and wise counsel.

Mr. Speaker, for Theresa and I, it is time to seek new challenges. We will, of course, be remaining in Yellowknife. The North is in our hearts. It is where our family and closest friends reside. It is our home. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 26-15(6): Sessional Statement
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 306

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Premier. Ministers' statements. The honourable Minister of Human Resources, Mr. Dent.

Minister's Statement 27-15(6): Human Resources Information System Upgrade
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 306

Charles Dent Frame Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, in early July, the Department of Human Resources implemented an upgrade to the Government of the Northwest Territories' human resources information system. The older version of this system, also referred to as PeopleSoft, required upgrading as support for this version is no longer available.

While the upgrade has provided some benefits, the upgrade did not go as smoothly as had been anticipated. I recently sent a letter to all MLAs explaining the issues with the upgrade; however, on behalf of the Department of Human Resources, I would like to apologize to all GNWT staff for any inconvenience the upgrade may have caused them.

There were problems with processing pay for July 13th and 27th. Some employees did not receive their pay at the usual time; while some employees received an incorrect amount of pay. Letters of apology have been sent to these employees. This letter also offers a letter to financial or credit institutions for employees who are concerned that their credit rating may have been adversely affected. In addition, it offers to reimburse employees for charges incurred as a result of the delay in pay due to the system issues.

Although there were still some problems with processing the pay for August 10th, many of the previous issues had been corrected. HR determined that many of the problems with the system stemmed from the Absence Management module. The contractor, Answerthink, has been unable to correct the problems, and the Absence Management module has been turned off for the foreseeable future. Self-service is now fully operational again. Work is being done to ensure leave balances reflect the time taken through Absence Management. Revised leave balance sheets will go to all employees later in August for their information.

Once again, I would like to apologize to GNWT staff. Their patience and assistance have been very much appreciated by the staff at Human Resources.

Minister's Statement 27-15(6): Human Resources Information System Upgrade
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

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The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Dent. Ministers' statements. The honourable Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Mr. Bell.

Minister's Statement 27-15(6): Human Resources Information System Upgrade
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 306

Brendan Bell Yellowknife South

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to waive Rule 34(6) to allow Ministers' statements filed with the Clerk to be delivered today. Thank you.

Minister's Statement 27-15(6): Human Resources Information System Upgrade
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 306

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Bell. The Minister is seeking unanimous consent. Are there any nays. There are no nays, Mr. Bell. You may proceed with your Minister's statement, Mr. Bell.

Minister's Statement 28-15(6): Gahcho Kue Rough To Support NWT Secondary Diamond Industry
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

August 15th, 2007

Page 306

Brendan Bell Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. I am pleased to inform the House today that the Government of the Northwest Territories and De Beers Canada have reached agreement regarding the provision of rough diamonds from the proposed Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine, currently in the environmental impact review process.

The agreement will ensure continued support for our secondary diamond industry by making available 10 percent of diamonds by value from the proposed Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine for sale to approved NWT diamond manufacturers.

To ensure the continued integrity of our government certification program, our agreements with De Beers also include provisions that will allow us to monitor the sorting process for these diamonds.

This deal, together with the Snap Lake arrangements confirmed in February of this year, reflects the continued commitment of De Beers to the Government of the

Northwest Territories value-added diamond manufacturing program.

Mr. Speaker, approximately 100 people are currently employed in various aspects of this emerging secondary industry.

Our secondary diamond industry is contributing to our region's exports of manufactured goods enhancing economic diversification. Other benefits include increased revenue for the local retail jewellery industry and tourism spin-offs.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, the government is collecting revenues associated with trademark royalties and authenticity certification. Over 20,000 certificates were issued in 2006-07 for diamonds mined, cut and polished in the NWT. It is estimated that we will issue approximately 24,000 certificates in 2007-08.

This agreement, Mr. Speaker, is a testament to the partnership approach that we are taking to build our northern economy.

I would like to commend De Beers Canada for their support and investment in this unique and challenging economic environment, in which we are building a sustainable local and growing diamond cutting and polishing industry.

---Applause

Minister's Statement 28-15(6): Gahcho Kue Rough To Support NWT Secondary Diamond Industry
Item 2: Ministers' Statements

Page 307

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Ministers' statements. Members' statements. The honourable Member for Range Lake, Ms. Lee.

Labour Dispute At Trailcross Childcare Facility In Fort Smith
Item 3: Members' Statements

Page 307

Sandy Lee Range Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, for the last few years, we seem to begin the first day of each session with an active ongoing labour dispute. Today seems to be no exception, Mr. Speaker. During the lunch hour, I had a chance to meet and talk to the employees from the Trailcross group home in Fort Smith who flew here in large numbers in order to make their cases known, their voices heard and to highlight their issues and the importance of resolving this labour dispute.

Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, if past example is anything to go by, all labour disputes that have come to our attention in this way have concluded with a settlement, and most, if not all of them, with positive results for the employees and employers and, most importantly, for the clients they both serve and the services they provide.

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that we have also had the opportunity to get a brief update from the Minister of Health and Social Services on this issue. I have also had a chance to talk to not only the workers, but the union leaders. I also had a chance to talk to the representatives from Bosco Homes. I have to say that I remain optimistic that this can be resolved.

Mr. Speaker, I do understand that there are a couple of issues that are still a point of strong contention, but given that there are only a few issues outstanding, there is a hope for resolution soon. But both parties will need to work. In all of these labour disputes, I have taken a consistent approach to this and that is to encourage both parties to get back to the table and keep talking. I do understand that there are no more negotiations scheduled since they met last minute on Wednesday. I would like to take this opportunity again to encourage both parties to get back to the bargaining table and I will call upon the government to do what is possible within their mandate and jurisdiction to urge and facilitate this process so that we can all see this come to a quick resolution and make it possible for the group home to be open and operating again. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

Labour Dispute At Trailcross Childcare Facility In Fort Smith
Item 3: Members' Statements

Page 307

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Ms. Lee. Before I go on, I would like to acknowledge and draw your attention to the visitors gallery and the presence of a former Member of the House. Mr. Leon Lafferty is with us.

---Applause

Labour Dispute At Trailcross Childcare Facility In Fort Smith
Item 3: Members' Statements

Page 307

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Members' statements. The honourable Member for Thebacha, Mr. Miltenberger.

Labour Dispute At Trailcross Childcare Facility In Fort Smith
Item 3: Members' Statements

Page 307

Michael Miltenberger Thebacha

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to first thank my colleague from Range Lake for as well raising the issue of Trailcross in this House. I would like to briefly speak to the current circumstances at Trailcross as well.

Trailcross is a childcare facility that has a long history in the Northwest Territories in Fort Smith. In fact, in the last century, I had the privilege and good fortune to manage the facility and work there for a number of years. I know the type of work that is done, the type of children that require the service, the needs that are out there, and the stresses and the pressures of the job.

It was at one time a government facility where the staff were all employees. There was a decision to privatize it in the mid-1990s. Now we have a circumstance where there are contractual discussions that have reached an impasse. While it is part of the negotiating process, clearly a strike serves nobody in the long run. Hopefully, it will bring resolution to the outstanding issues. But, like my colleague from Range Lake, my hope is that an encouragement to both parties is to get back to the table and resolve the issues that are outstanding.

I have been in discussion with the union. I have met with them a number of times. I have been on the phone, as well, to the Minister and his senior staff a number of times, as well, encouraging them to try to move this process forward. I would like to thank both sides for their recent activity and some of the suggestions that were made.

Mr. Speaker, I know that we are close. I know that there is a willingness and interest by both parties. I hope they do get back to the table. There are a host of children that require the services that Trailcross provides. Every day that this strike goes on is every day that these children don't get that service. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause