This is page numbers 5321 - 5360 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 housing.

Topics

The House met at 1:45 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Good afternoon, colleagues, Welcome back to the Chamber, I’d like to welcome our guests in the gallery today. In particular, colleagues, I would like to draw your attention to the presence of a former Member of this House, a former Minister, a former Speaker, a former Commissioner...

---Laughter

...and just when we thought he’d done it all, he has now been given the distinction of an Honourary Canadian Naval Captain. Welcome, Mr. Tony Whitford.

---Applause

Orders of the day, Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Miltenberger.

Minister’s Statement 70-16(5): Devolution Agreement-In-Principle Net Fiscal Benefit
Ministers’ Statements

Thebacha

Michael Miltenberger Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would like to address a key element of the draft devolution agreement-in-principle: the net fiscal benefit that would accrue to Northwest Territories governments and residents once a final agreement has been reached and implemented.

Once devolution is achieved, 100 percent of the resource royalties that are currently paid to the federal government will stay in the Northwest Territories, However, our government’s transfer payments from Canada under formula financing will be reduced, but not dollar for dollar. The difference represents the net fiscal benefit. The draft devolution agreement-in-principle provides for a net fiscal benefit of 50 percent of resource revenues up to a cap.

This means that for every dollar of resource revenues received by the GNWT, 50 cents would be deducted from our formula financing grant. The cap would come into effect if the net fiscal benefit is

greater than 5 percent of the gross expenditure base set out in our formula financing arrangements, which stands in as an estimate of the GNWT’s spending needs.

The cap would amount to $61 million now, but would increase annually as the gross expenditure base grows, For example, if total royalties amount to $100 million, the net fiscal benefit would be 50 percent of that, or $50 million. If royalties are $200 million, the net fiscal benefit would be equal to the cap. Based on the royalties actually collected by Canada from the NWT over the last 10 years, we would have reached the cap only twice. In all other years, had we finalized a devolution agreement on the terms we have currently negotiated, the NWT would have received its full 50 percent share of resource revenues in addition to regular transfer payments from the federal government.

The arrangements contemplated in the AIP are completely consistent with what the provinces would receive under the Federal-Provincial Equalization Program. Under equalization, 50 percent of the province’s resource revenues are excluded from the equalization calculation and the net fiscal benefit is subject to a cap.

Therefore, no province receiving equalization receives better treatment for their resources than is contemplated in the draft devolution AIP. Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, over the years, have negotiated special time limited arrangements with Canada for revenues from the offshore. The draft devolution agreement applies to the NWT’s onshore resources, which, if they were in a province, would be subject to the equalization cap. Treatment of revenues from the offshore will be negotiated during future discussions with Canada.

The Yukon achieved devolution from Canada in 2003. Their net fiscal benefit provisions are different from those in our draft AIP, but not better. We have compared the results using the Yukon formula to the provisions of our draft AIP, under the number of NWT revenue scenarios, and the arrangements in the AIP always come out ahead.

Some provinces, like Alberta, keep 100 percent of their resource revenues, but this is because Alberta’s revenues are high enough that the province is not entitled to equalization payments and, therefore, there is nothing for the federal

government to claw back. If, sometime in the future, the royalties received by the GNWT are high enough that we don’t qualify for formula financing, we will also get to keep 100 percent of resource revenues.

In the meantime, every year that passes without a devolution agreement means that we forego another year’s net fiscal benefit. Over the last five years, the NWT has lost $208.6 million in potential net fiscal benefit.

Finally, since we cannot know how the world might change in the future, the net fiscal benefit provisions will not be written in stone. The AIP contemplates periodic reviews of the net fiscal benefit. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 70-16(5): Devolution Agreement-In-Principle Net Fiscal Benefit
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Miltenberger. The honourable Minister responsible for Education, Culture and Employment, Mr. Lafferty.

Minister’s Statement 71-16(5): Social Assistance Appeal Committees
Ministers’ Statements

Jackson Lafferty Monfwi

Mahsi, Mr. Speaker. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has successfully established the social assistance appeal committees to serve all Northwest Territories communities. The committees hear appeals for income assistance and child care user subsidy programs. Getting these local appeal committees now ensures that Northerners have access to a fair and impartial appeals process within their home communities.

To date we have appointed 87 committee members to hear appeals. There are still spaces available for more committee members in some communities. I encourage the public and my fellow Members to support residents in applying and participating on the social assistance appeal committees.

This was not a small task. In three short months, staff were able to solicit nominations to appoint and train committee members. This involved the development of a train the trainer appeal committee manual and to travel to communities to deliver the training sessions. I also want to thank the departments of Human Resources and Justice for their assistance with processing the appointments. This ensures that department clients receive local and quick access to a fair and equitable appeals process.

I encourage Members to reassure their constituents that the community appeals process is available to review their claims in their home communities.

Minister’s Statement 71-16(5): Social Assistance Appeal Committees
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Lafferty. The honourable Minister responsible for Industry, Tourism and Investment, Mr. Bob McLeod.

Minister’s Statement 72-16(5): Support To Traditional Economy
Ministers’ Statements

Bob McLeod Yellowknife South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. In a modern world filled with laptop computers, cell phones and iPods, traditional life skills such as trapping and boat building that have served our people so well in the past are in danger of being lost. But the Government of the Northwest Territories is taking action to ensure this doesn’t happen and that is why I want to take a few moments to talk about the success of our Take a Kid Trapping Program.

The program began in 2002, and from the beginning, it’s been built on one simple premise: learning by doing.

The program is a cooperative effort between the departments of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Municipal and Community Affairs, and Environment and Natural Resources.

It is often delivered through aboriginal organizations in schools, and our elders are an integral part of the program. They teach our young people the skills and knowledge that was passed down to them. In turn, these young people gain something you can’t put a price on. They gain a greater sense of pride in who they are and they learn how traditional life skills can be a useful part of their lives.

The program has clearly struck a chord with our people. Since 2002, almost 6,000 school-aged youth have participated in a variety of Take a Kid Trapping projects. Demands for these types of activities grow every year. In fact, we have now developed a sister program, the Take a Kid Harvesting Program, to help us meet the demand.

An example of some of the successful traditional life skills projects that took place in 2009-2010 include: a traditional moosehide boat project in Tulita and a birch syrup collection project held in the North and South Slave regions.

The work we are doing is also being recognized at the national level. In June, the Fur Institute of Canada announced the recipient of its Jim Bourque Award: Industry, Tourism and Investment’s very own Guy Erasmus. This is the most prestigious national award given in the Canadian trapping industry, and Mr. Erasmus was specifically recognized for his work in the design, development and implementation of the Take a Kid Trapping Program.

---Applause

I’m pleased Mr. Erasmus was able to join us in the visitors gallery today. Guy, you’ve done a great job with this program and so has everyone else who has been involved with it.

On behalf of the Government of the Northwest Territories, I want to thank you for the excellent service you have provided the Canadian trapping

industry and the people of the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, the Take a Kid Trapping Program is an example of steps this government is taking in building our future, one of the five strategic initiatives of the 16th Legislative Assembly. Our

work in this area is leading to a greater sense of pride among our young people in their culture and their heritage. It is assisting us in achieving our goals of developing healthy, educated people and sustainable, vibrant communities. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 72-16(5): Support To Traditional Economy
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. McLeod. Item 3, Members’ statements. The honourable Member for Mackenzie Delta, Mr. Krutko.

Maximum Community Rental Rates For Public Housing
Members’ Statements

David Krutko Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The issue that I’d like to speak on today in regard to the area of housing is the area of maximum rent rates in every community in the Northwest Territories. What we’re finding is that in most communities, their rates are different from one community to the other.

I’ll illustrate a situation I have in my riding in regard to the community of Tsiigehtchic. To rent a five-bedroom unit in Tsiigehtchic would cost you $3,700, which is the maximum rate. Yet, half an hour down the road in Fort McPherson, the same five-bedroom unit is rented for $2,500, a difference of $1,300 between two communities, yet they’re only half an hour apart.

Mr. Speaker, there are other situations through the Northwest Territories such as Paulatuk where you pay the maximum rate of $4,600 compared to, say, a rate in Hay River or even Yellowknife, which is around $1,700 or $1,800 for a five-bedroom unit.

Mr. Speaker, I think it’s time that we looked at this situation similar to how we’re dealing with the Northwest Territories power rates, where the power rates were previously based on a community-by-community rate, which was called a community postal rate, but again, through the discussions with Members in this House and the residents of the Northwest Territories, we decided to take that issue head on and consider community rates by way of diesel communities, hydro communities and, again, that is going to benefit everyone.

I think it’s important, Mr. Speaker, that we do the similar arrangement when it comes to rental of housing units in the Northwest Territories, and if that means we have to do it gradually, I suggest that we look at regional-based rates for housing units in the specific regions, either the Beaufort-Delta region, the Sahtu, North Slave, South Slave,

and eventually work our way to a territorial rate throughout the Northwest Territories.

Mr. Speaker, we have some 2,200 units in the Northwest Territories that are operated by the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation and the local housing authorities, but again, we receive a subsidy for those units from CMHC to the tune of $28 million to operate those 2,200 units. So again, Mr. Speaker, I think it’s important enough that we seriously take a look at this issue. I will be asking the Minister questions on this later. Mahsi.

Maximum Community Rental Rates For Public Housing
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Krutko. The honourable Member for Weledeh, Mr. Bromley.

Accumulated Public Housing Rental Arrears
Members’ Statements

Bob Bromley Weledeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today I want to describe the tragic consequences created by our housing policies by providing the experience in just one family’s life.

Last Thursday a woman at my Dettah constituency meeting explained her situation this way: A mother of five children, aged two to ten, she and her spouse lived in public housing. Based on their combined modest incomes, rent was pegged at $1,200 per month, or 30 percent of gross earnings, equivalent to about 40 percent of take-home pay. Groceries are $1,200 a month for five kids and two adults. Add $1,200 for rent on a household take-home income of $3,200 and that leaves a family of seven with $800 a month for all the other necessities of life. These are the working poor and, not surprisingly, they couldn’t make it on this income.

When the Housing Corporation switched rent collection to what everyone in Dettah calls “the welfare office,” my constituent went every month to Yellowknife to personally deliver her documents. You can’t fax them in. She quit going when she got sick of “being treated like dirt.” That’s when arrears began mounting. She now owes $50,000. She has filed her husband’s last four years’ pay stubs with Housing and has been waiting since June to have the arrears rolled back. In the meantime, she and her spouse are both paying down arrears, taking $200 a month more out of their $800 disposable income. Based on her current deduction, she will clear her arrears in about 25 years.

So how did my constituent get by and provide for the kids? I will tell you. Despite her young children, she started working and moved out of her own home and is now living with a friend so that household income for the rental unit would drop, making her spouse eligible for a greater rent subsidy. The net result, Mr. Speaker, we forced a mother of five children to move out on her young family. We tore a family apart, made them jump

through the only hoops available to keep a roof over their kids’ heads and food on the table.

This is beyond tragic. It is inhumane. I could go down the streets in my riding and find an equally desperate story at almost every public housing doorstep.

Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. Mahsi.

---Unanimous consent granted

Accumulated Public Housing Rental Arrears
Members’ Statements

Bob Bromley Weledeh

This isn’t about theory or process or policy reform; this is about misery and a broken home this government caused with poorly considered, ultimately destructive operational changes.

I will be asking the Minister questions on how any of us can hold our heads up and what we plan to do about this. I will ask the House to consider a motion later today. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Accumulated Public Housing Rental Arrears
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

Need For Flexibility In The Administration Of Housing Programs
Members’ Statements

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Following my colleagues, I, too, will be talking about housing.

Over the last year I have had an opportunity to get into a number of the communities. In pretty much every community we go to, one of the issues that comes up over and over again is housing, whether it is about affordability, accessibility or suitability.

There has been a lot of talk about arrears and vacant units and rent costs, as well as lack of flexibility within the Housing Corporation itself when it is delivering programs. To the Minister’s credit, I have heard some movement from the Minister. He is committed to getting rid of the vacancies, which I applaud. He is committed to working with the LHOs to find out whose arrears are real and whose arrears may not be real based on the move to Education and back. I applaud the Minister for that.

But one area I haven’t seen a lot of movement on, and I think there is certainly room for movement, is flexibility. I will give you an example of what I’m talking about.

Earlier this month I attended the Prospects North conference. While I was there, I was talking to an economic development officer from one of the smaller communities. He indicated to me that a mining company had been in touch with him. He was looking for 13 labourers to come and work for a three-week period. This mining company was going to pay quite well. The EDO officer went out into the community to find people and there were enough

people to fill those 13 temporary jobs, but he couldn’t find anybody who was willing to take the jobs even though the money was good, because every one of them was concerned that if they took the job, the rent would immediately go up and they would be working for nothing or very little. Five dollars, $10 or even $100 to go and do three weeks of hard labour when you can stay home and watch TV and not be any better, or worse off, lacks common sense.

Our programs have led people to make these types of decisions, which is unfortunate. We need to be working with people to get them back out into the workforce, where appropriate and where possible.

Later today I will be talking more during the motions about flexibility that this government, this Housing Corporation, needs to put in place to ensure that we are providing incentives to people to go back to work, and we are encouraging people to go back to work even if that means we have to not do immediate collections once people start working or tier a payment system back into place. There is room for flexibility here. We need to find it and we need to work with our clients to help them get back into the workforce and get off public housing. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.