This is page numbers 5061 - 5094 of the Hansard for the 16th Assembly, 5th 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 communities.

Topics

The House met at 10:11 a.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Good morning, colleagues. Welcome back to the Chamber. Orders of the day. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Miltenberger.

Minister’s Statement 47-16(5): Fiscal And Economic Update
Ministers’ Statements

Thebacha

Michael Miltenberger Minister of Finance

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, two years ago the world economy experienced a downturn unprecedented since the Great Depression. The turmoil touched everyone including Canada. The NWT economy shrank in 2009. Employment fell by 5.2 percent and mineral exploration by 80 percent.

We are encouraged by the fact that the positive signs of growth observed earlier this year appear to be confirmed. Forecasts of NWT economy are predicting growth in 2010-2011 fuelled by a rebound in the diamond industry. The Conference Board of Canada forecasts that our economy will grow by 4.8 percent this year and 9.3 percent in 2011. Mineral exploration is forecast to increase by 125 percent this year to almost $100 million from $44 million in 2009, although it will not reach the levels seen in 2008. However, because labour markets have yet to gain the same traction, employment growth will lag the recovery somewhat. This is consistent with the outlook we presented in the 2010 budget last January.

Despite these positive reports, we cannot assume that we are out of the woods yet, economically speaking. The world’s economic outlook continues to be uncertain. Economic growth in Canada appears to be slowing and the state of the U.S. economy is troubling. We have adopted a fiscal strategy to see ourselves through these uncertain times. We know that our plan is a sound one. We must manage our way ahead with continued caution and vigilance.

We entered the downturn in relatively good financial shape, which allowed us some room to respond to the decline in economic activity in the NWT.

The 2009 and 2010 GNWT budgets were prepared based on a conscious decision to mitigate the effects of the recession. This included maintaining spending levels and pursuing an aggressive plan of infrastructure investment.

Over the previous and current fiscal years we will have invested more than $700 million in infrastructure in the NWT, not including the Deh Cho Bridge. However, we do not have the fiscal resources to maintain current levels of investment indefinitely.

The budget we approved last March assumed a slow economic recovery following the upheaval of late 2008 and early 2009. We recognized, however, that our fiscal plan needed to include measures to return to a sustainable path over the next few fiscal years; measures such as maintaining a tight rein on spending growth and reducing capital investment over time to historical levels.

We are not alone in the fiscal approach we are taking. All governments in Canada are expecting a period of tight fiscal control as they seek to return to balanced budgets.

The fiscal strategy laid out in our 2010 Budget calls for new spending to be capped at 3 percent per year starting in 2011-12, net of compensation increases. It also calls for a return to lower levels of capital investment once current projects are completed.

Yesterday I tabled the 2011-2012 Capital Estimates. Our capital plan proposes investments of $126 million, not including infrastructure contributions to communities and the NWT Housing Corporation. These will bring the total planned investment in 2011-2012 to $171 million. This means that over the life of the 16th Legislative

Assembly we will have invested over $1 billion in badly needed infrastructure in the Northwest Territories.

Despite the forecast growth in the NWT economy, we should not expect dramatic growth in our own tax revenues.

We will be monitoring corporate tax information in the coming months, to learn what effect the downturn had on 2009 corporate income in the NWT.

In late September the Department of Finance issued a discussion paper seeking input from NWT residents on options for introducing a revenue-neutral carbon tax to encourage a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and hotel tax to fund tourism strategies. Both of these options have been brought forward in earlier consultations and while neither of these options reflects current GNWT tax policy, they are intended to stimulate public discussion that can inform further work.

Last week the department hosted the third roundtable on fiscal and revenue options, where representatives from a broad range of business, social and environmental organizations, as well as community and aboriginal governments, talked about these options and provided their thoughts. While there was not unanimity, there was a general consensus that both of these options deserve more thought and research. I encourage all NWT residents to read the discussion paper and submit comments by the end of October.

Mr. Speaker, the approach laid out in our fiscal strategy will return us to a sustainable fiscal path. But achieving this will require strong discipline on the expenditure side. We are entering the final year of the 16th Assembly. With the limited time left to us

we need to focus on consolidating the gains we have made, and finish and deliver what we have begun. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 47-16(5): Fiscal And Economic Update
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. The honourable Minister responsible for the NWT Housing Corporation, Mr. Robert McLeod.

Minister’s Statement 48-16(5): Vacancies In Public Housing And Homeownership Units
Ministers’ Statements

Robert C. McLeod Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to update Members and the general public on recent housing construction and related vacancies in the NWT.

Over the summer, I, along with fellow Members of Cabinet and this Assembly, had the opportunity to tour communities in our Territory. One of the more common questions we were asked pertained to vacant housing units. It is understandable that concerns have been raised about vacancies in our housing portfolio, especially given the level of core housing need in many of these communities. Therefore, I would like to provide some context for why there are vacant units and outline our approach to put families into these much needed units.

The federal share of the $117 million in federal and territorial funding for northern housing under Canada’s Economic Action Plan was designed to put housing on the ground within a short time frame as an economic stimulus measure. Failure to build housing quickly would have put the NWT at risk to

having funds reprofiled to other jurisdictions if the funds were not utilized on a timely basis. As a result, the NWT Housing Corporation seized the opportunity to conduct an expanded construction and repair program to ensure that this funding would create a long-term and lasting impact, and improve housing supply and conditions in our communities. It meant recognizing housing needs in communities, building homeownership units before allocating through the normal program intake process, and repairing units to utilize this funding at a rate far beyond historical levels. While this approach allowed us to provide good quality housing to many families, it also meant that a number of units remain unoccupied pending the fall program intake.

The NWT Housing Corporation has over 4,000 public housing, homeownership and market housing units in its portfolio. At any given time, particularly during construction season, many of these units are unoccupied due to modernization and improvement projects to improve the quality of housing for NWT residents, resulting in many units not being available for occupancy. Given the significant federal investment, this situation was more pronounced during the summer of 2010. During this period we had the opportunity to undertake major renovations and retrofits to approximately 173 units. In addition, a further 44 units were beyond economic repair and targeted for replacement. Vacant public housing units are not a static number and changes often as allocations are made on a monthly or more frequent basis by our community partners, the local housing organizations.

Construction of public housing units is targeted at replacement as public housing stock has remained static at 2,400 units since the decline of federal funding for operations and maintenance was begun in the 1990s. While federal funding for the construction of new homeownership units has been appreciated, it is clear that the housing needs of the NWT cannot be fully realized through the construction of new homeownership units. This is particularly the case in rural and remote communities. The federal investment has proven to be a challenge as homeownership units may not be meeting all of the housing needs of NWT communities. While we recognize this challenge, we also recognize the importance of seeing these units utilized as quickly as possible in order to meet community housing needs.

Our approach to deal with the vacancies in our communities begins with our Housing Choices program intake. Over the past six weeks NWT Housing Corporation staff have been in all of our communities accepting applications for HELP, PATH, and CARE, as well as providing one-on-one counselling to applicants. As you may be aware, program intake ends today. Early indications are

that the interest and demand for these programs remains strong in many communities and I am confident that we will fill many vacant housing units in our communities through this process.

Should our program intake not fill all vacancies, the NWT Housing Corporation has developed other options to deal with vacancies. First, the NWT Housing Corporation will pursue a targeted program intake in those communities. This will ensure that any and all eligible clients are given an opportunity to benefit from available housing.

Secondly, should there continue to be vacancies following the second intake, the NWT Housing Corporation will undertake discussions with those communities to determine their priorities and suggestions for the possible use of these units to address their specific housing needs.

The NWT Housing Corporation will also discuss with the GNWT and communities the potential of converting these homes to public housing. As I stated earlier, the best housing option for many residents in need in the NWT is public housing. With the decline of O and M funding from CMHC, the NWT Housing Corporation continues to be limited in its ability to add new public housing to its portfolio.

We recognize that many communities have less public housing than they need and in some specific communities there is no public housing program. Therefore, the GNWT has to consider the addition of public housing units to our portfolio as an option, not just to fill vacant units but as a part of our overall approach to providing affordable housing now and into the future. I have also directed the NWT Housing Corporation to identify potential gaps and mechanisms in current programs in order to better meet the housing needs of NWT residents.

In closing, I believe Members would agree that our accelerated construction has resulted in housing on the ground in communities where there is a continuing housing need. The NWT Housing Corporation has been able to build nearly 700 units over the past five years and repair over 1,000 public and private dwellings, all within our fiscal capacity.

The NWT and other jurisdictions have benefited greatly from federal investment over the last several years. The GNWT has also recognized the importance of housing and has invested significant funds to ensure that we can achieve the maximum benefit from federal investments. With the sunset of federal funding for construction just a few months away, these investments are quickly drawing to a close. The past five years of construction has left an important legacy in our communities: adequate, suitable, and affordable housing that can meet the housing needs of our residents for years to come.

Our challenge now is to not only benefit from these investments, but build upon them as we move forward in an effort to promote further investment in housing that will continue to meet the needs of our residents.

Minister’s Statement 48-16(5): Vacancies In Public Housing And Homeownership Units
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. McLeod. Colleagues, before we proceed I would like to draw your attention to the gallery to the presence of a former Sergeant-at-Arms. Ms. Nicole Latour-Theede is there with us.

It also gives me pleasure to welcome my constituency assistant from Hay River. Ms. Diana Yaeger is in the gallery.

Item 3, Members’ statements. The honourable Member for Tu Nedhe, Mr. Beaulieu.

Remembering Chief Paul Biscaye
Members’ Statements

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe

Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker. It is with great sadness and honour at the same time that I pay tribute to the last chief of Rocher River, a community that has not existed since the early 1960s.

On May 24th of this year Mr. Paul Biscaye passed

away after being ill for almost two years. Paul leaves behind his wife of 57 years, Theresa, and six daughters, Anne, Sabet, Georgina, Julia, Violet and Gloria. Paul is predeceased by his only two sons, Raymond and Fred John. Paul was blessed with 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Paul was born near Big Gap outside of Rocher River in 1930 and was raised in the Rocher River area. After marrying Theresa, they continued to live there until around 1968. In his early years he trapped and lived around the Thuben Lake area and Rocher River, spending the summers fishing in the Simpson islands.

Paul was the last chief of Rocher River. He was a well-respected elder who lived a healthy life and was a role model for all. He got along with everyone and was known for teasing the young people and often made up nicknames for them.

Although Paul only had a grade 2 education, he was very knowledgeable. He was a trapper, a fisherman, and worked with prospectors at staking, worked at both Pine Point Mine and Giant Mine. However, his career was mainly in the sawmill in Fort Resolution where he retired as a self-taught millwright.

In his later years Paul dedicated his time to promoting the Chipewyan language and the Dene culture. He enjoyed being out on the land, playing cards with friends and watching hockey. In Fort Resolution he was voted the number one fan. He would even come to Yellowknife for the local Easter

tournament and spend hours at the arena watching hockey.

Paul was a very sociable person. He enjoyed getting out, visiting and meeting people. I remember him as being a very friendly person, and this was evident by the respect he was given by both young and old. Paul was awarded the Elder of the Year by Akaitcho Territorial Government in 2002.

Paul was the last Biscaye in his generation, he did not have any siblings. However, his name and legacy will live on through his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I would like to thank the family for allowing me to do this. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Remembering Chief Paul Biscaye
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Beaulieu. The honourable Member for Hay River South, Mrs. Groenewegen.

Delivery Of Specialist Health Services
Members’ Statements

Jane Groenewegen Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I would like to talk about a situation that has come to my attention in my constituency office from numerous constituents. Mr. Speaker, it has to do with the delivery of specialist health services. In theory, it would be a great achievement to attract medical specialists to the Northwest Territories Stanton Territorial Hospital and to service people of the NWT in their home territory and avoiding things such as the high cost of travel, accommodation when they have to go to the city, separating families when they need medical attention.

Mr. Speaker, when a new discipline or specialist service is brought on stream here at Stanton, what is expected is that anyone who is a resident here who had previously been seeing a specialist in southern Canada would then automatically begin to see that specialist. In order to justify having that specialist, it is necessary to ensure they have a caseload that would warrant their attendance and residency here in the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, like I said, in theory this is a wonderful achievement and it is a great idea, but the complicating factor in this is that some people have been receiving medical treatment from a specialist in the south over a number of years. They may have a chronic illness that has required them to establish a doctor/patient relationship with a specialist who knows that patient, who knows their case well, and an argument can certainly be made for the merit of continuity of care and the comfort it would give that patient knowing that they can continue to see the doctor who knows them and who knows their case.

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure what the solution is to this problem, but it has arisen numerous times in the last month in my office and in Hay River. I am

not sure, again, how we can address that, because, of course, we do want to have those specialist services available here. But when they are something new that is brought on stream, how do we deal with those people who already have a longstanding relationship with a physician in the south? Later today, Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask questions to the Minister of Health and Social Services on that and see if we can come up with a system that would be fair to everyone. Thank you.

Delivery Of Specialist Health Services
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mrs. Groenewegen. The honourable Member for Sahtu, Mr. Yakeleya.

GNWT Support For Traditional Harvesters
Members’ Statements

Norman Yakeleya Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I listened to the Premier, and in his sessional statement he talked about the Northwest Territories and he made reference to the Assembly goals that we were going to try to achieve through this Assembly. He mentioned two of them: healthy, educated people and one of the other goals was an environment that will sustain the present and future generations of our people.

Mr. Speaker, I fully support these goals, but how do we get to them? Well, there is a means that we can achieve them. Mr. Speaker, by doing some research from the NWT Bureau of Statistics, it shows that in our communities in the Sahtu our traditional activities are heavily supported by our people in the manner that people live off the land, they hunt and fish, they trap and use country foods. Mr. Speaker, it’s very high in our communities in regard to the numbers that show up in the stats of people that go out on the land to practice the tradition to live their culture and to teach and to educate their children about the land. These values are very strongly supported, as these numbers indicate.

Also, Mr. Speaker, the number of young people in our region is very high. In the entire Sahtu region, Mr. Speaker, 45 percent of our population is under 25 years of age and, Mr. Speaker, you know that the Sahtu has only seasonal jobs up to six months at best and people with low... The economic wage salary scale is way down. There’s a high percentage of families with less than $30,000 of income coming in per year. So a lot of people rely on country foods, rely on the land. So I want to ask the Premier, when questions are asked, about what type of programs will the government do to support trappers and hunters and families to go out and live on the land, to support them due to the high cost of living we have in the Sahtu region. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

GNWT Support For Traditional Harvesters
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Yakeleya. The honourable Member for Great Slave, Mr. Abernethy.

Community Health Nursing Program
Members’ Statements

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Later today I’ll be asking the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services some questions on the Community Health Nurse Development Program. This program is a competency-based, on-the-job training program to train nurses so that they’re competent to work in community health centres.

It’s a great program, but research shows that this program, since it was developed in 2005-2006, has graduated about 20 nurses into community health positions. Of these, 14 are still working as community health nurses in the Northwest Territories and, for the record, six of these individuals are indigenous aboriginal nurses who have either returned to their home communities or to their regions.

Bottom line, this is a great program. My concern today is the fact that over the summer I’ve heard from a number of people that this program has either been cancelled or that it has been postponed and there’s no intake, or that it is being reviewed and it may no longer exist in the near future. Given the success of this program and the value this program adds to our health system, I’m very concerned by these rumours that I have heard. So today I’ll be asking the Minister whether or not this program exists, and what we’re doing to ensure that it does continue to exist, and what we’re doing to get nurses in community health centres. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Community Health Nursing Program
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Abernethy. The honourable Member for Kam Lake, Mr. Ramsay.