This is page numbers 4657 - 4718 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 project.

Topics

The House met at 1:40 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Good afternoon, colleagues. Welcome back to the Chamber. Colleagues, notwithstanding the extended adjournment of the House to May 11, 2010, I was asked by the Premier, on behalf of the Executive Council, to convene a sitting of this House to commence today, Tuesday, March 23, 2010. The Premier advised me in a letter dated March 4, 2010, that the government was requesting this sitting of the Assembly to allow for the consideration of important financial matters which must be dealt with prior to the May 11th sitting.

Our rules do not specifically address the recalling of the House during an adjournment, so I turned to the House of Commons Procedures and Practices, Second Edition, 2009, for direction. Accordingly, Members, I sent a message to each of you advising the request and asked any Members who objected or who were unable to attend this sitting to contact me. I did not hear from any Members who objected or were unable to attend. I then advised the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, in a letter dated March 8, 2010, that I would be convening a sitting of this Legislative Assembly at 1:30 p.m. on March 23, 2010. I also advised the Clerk that the purpose of the sitting was to consider a supplementary appropriation bill. At the appropriate time, colleagues, I will table the letter which was received from the Premier, on behalf of the Executive Council, concerning this recall.

Colleagues, it is now my duty to advise the House that I have received the following message from the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories and 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 (Infrastructure Expenditures), No. 2, 2010-2011, during the Fifth Session of the 16th Legislative Assembly. Yours truly, Anthony W.J. Whitford, Commissioner.

Orders of the day. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Transportation, Mr. Michael McLeod.

Minister’s Statement 13-16(5): Deh Cho Bridge Project
Ministers’ Statements

Deh Cho

Michael McLeod Minister of Transportation

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide Members and the public with an update on the status of construction on the Deh Cho Bridge Project.

This project has had its share of challenges, but these challenges have been effectively addressed. As a result, I am pleased to note that the project is now 50 percent complete, with the recent completion of the foundation work. The bridge contractor, Ruskin Construction, has completed installing the pier bents and is now in the process of removing the temporary bridge. The bridge project is now “out of the water,” leaving behind the highest risk component of the entire project.

We have a reviewed and approved design of the bridge superstructure. This cable-stayed bridge, which has been designed to accommodate barging traffic on the river, will be impressive once constructed. It will provide a clearance of 23 metres for river traffic, with towers that will reach over 45 metres in the air. The new design is also more conventional, simpler to construct and at a more reasonable price. The new design will ensure that the bridge will serve us well for its entire expected lifespan of 75 years.

This project is on track for completion by November of 2011, one year later than originally planned. We now have a general contractor, Ruskin Construction, who has teamed up with capable subcontractors to complete the bridge construction over the next 20 months. Work on the bridge superstructure is already underway, with the purchase of the steel and the production of the shop drawings for fabrication of the truss and deck. This summer the contractor will complete the construction of the abutments for both approaches, and this fall the contractor will begin to launch the truss itself.

We also have a new project management team in place, led by Associated Engineering. This team is already on site working to ensure an orderly transition for engineering oversight of the construction.

The Government of the Northwest Territories and our partner, the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation, have risen above the challenges with which we have been presented. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the community of Fort Providence for their dream of constructing this bridge. Without their determination it is doubtful that this project would be entering the final phase of construction. While there have been challenges on this project, we all look forward to the economic development opportunities that will come from the bridge. I am optimistic that we can successfully define a new partnership arrangement with the community as we move forward.

The benefits of construction of this bridge have been outlined on many occasions in the past. It was these benefits that resulted in the support for proceeding with this project from my colleagues in this House and I thank you for that support. These benefits include all-weather road access to and from the North Slave region 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year. The bridge will result in economic benefits to the NWT from more efficient trucking operations and more reliability in deliveries for businesses. More competition can also be expected as the risks associated with freight transportation over a ferry and ice crossing system is reduced. And let us not forget the environmental and safety risks. The risk of fuel spills will be substantially reduced once a permanent bridge is in place. Idling vehicles waiting for the ferry will also be a thing of the past. The need for approximately half a million litres of fuel currently being used by the Merv Hardie will be eliminated.

We are looking to the future of the Deh Cho Bridge Project with a great deal of confidence. A key piece of infrastructure will be put in place without sacrificing the financial future of the NWT. The completion of the bridge will be a significant achievement for the government and people of the Northwest Territories. In less than two years this will be a reality.

Minister’s Statement 13-16(5): Deh Cho Bridge Project
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. McLeod. The honourable Premier, Mr. Roland.

Minister’s Statement 14-16(5): Deh Cho Bridge – Fiscal Implications
Ministers’ Statements

Inuvik Boot Lake

Floyd Roland Premier

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to take this opportunity to inform Members and NWT residents about the fiscal implications of the recent developments surrounding the Deh Cho Bridge Project.

Later today I will be tabling a supplementary appropriation estimates that will request the necessary authority for the GNWT to assume and administer the assets of the Deh Cho Bridge Project. The GNWT is also taking steps to assume the debt of the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation, totalling $165 million.

First, I want to assure Members and the public that assuming responsibility for the Deh Cho Bridge Project will not change the GNWT’s fiscal situation or the GNWT’s ability to pay for programs and services. The GNWT has always stood behind the project and is already committed to the payments needed to service this debt. Payments to meet the interest and principal obligations have been planned for and represent less than 1 percent of GNWT revenues. The bridge will be financed by the savings from the elimination of the current ferry and ice bridge operations and a toll on commercial vehicles crossing the bridge. The need for a GNWT contribution of approximately $2 million per year has also been planned for and factored into the costs.

Second, the request for appropriation authority is not a request for additional money for the bridge project. The projected cost of the project will be met from the $165 million already committed by the lenders plus the $15 million approved by the Legislative Assembly in February. The legislation we will be introducing will allow the funds to flow through the GNWT and be spent in accordance with the Financial Administration Act.

Third, assuming the project debt will not require the GNWT to take drastic fiscal measures to avoid hitting the debt wall.

With over $300 million in unused borrowing room as of April 1, 2010, taking on the $165 million debt associated with the project will not immediately cause the GNWT to exceed its borrowing limit. More importantly, federal Finance Minister Flaherty has agreed to work with us to accommodate the possibility that our medium-term borrowing needs could exceed the current limit by temporarily adjusting the borrowing limit.

We are currently in discussions with Minister Flaherty on the specifics of this accommodation. Minister Flaherty is taking steps to seek the appropriate federal Cabinet approvals for this temporary adjustment well before the GNWT could reach our current borrowing limit.

This accommodation will give us the room to implement the fiscal strategy already set out in the budget presented in January. One that will, through tight control over spending and a return to historical levels of capital investment, return to a sustainable fiscal path over the medium term.

We do not expect our Aa1 credit rating will be affected by assuming the debt. Moody’s Investors

Service has already factored our obligation to support the debt into our credit assessments.

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure those listening today that this government is committed to the Deh Cho Bridge Project. We will continue to ensure the project is completed in a fiscally responsible manner. We have taken, and will continue to take, the measures needed to make this important NWT infrastructure project a success. Thank you.

Minister’s Statement 14-16(5): Deh Cho Bridge – Fiscal Implications
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Roland. The honourable Premier, Mr. Roland.

Minister’s Statement 15-16(5): Ministers Absent From The House
Ministers’ Statements

Inuvik Boot Lake

Floyd Roland Premier

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to advise Members that the Honourable Robert C. McLeod will be absent from the House today to attend the Northern Housing Forum in Inuvik.

I also wish to advise Members that the Honourable Michael Miltenberger will be absent from the House for the remainder of the week to attend to a personal family matter. Thank you.

Minister’s Statement 15-16(5): Ministers Absent From The House
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Roland. Item 3, Members’ statements. The honourable Member for Nahendeh, Mr. Menicoche.

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

Kevin A. Menicoche Nahendeh

Mr. Speaker... [English translation not provided.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This week Members have been called back to consider legislation to establish the necessary authority that will provide for the GNWT to administer the completion of the Deh Cho Bridge. I spoke in the House in February to point out that Nahendeh people don’t want to see any more over-expenditures on this project. As taxpayers, they do not want to be left to pay for the cost overruns. I trust that, as Minister Michael McLeod advised in response to my questions in February, over-expenditures will eventually be offset by the revenues collected by toll fees.

Mr. Speaker, the vision we have for the Deh Cho Bridge is partly a symbolic one. The bridge is a link to the rest of Canada, and if we build a bridge across the Mackenzie, my vision is an improved highway to the rest of the Deh Cho and the Nahendeh will come.

I do support the government’s recent decision to take over the project and see it to completion. I have been asked to be vigilant over our management of the Deh Cho Bridge. My residents do want to see its completion, but do not want to

see any more delays and increased costs paid by our tax dollars.

Minister McLeod earlier advised that the government was looking at providing signage on the highway and a website to keep the public informed of the progress on the bridge construction. I believe that this will be of interest to NWT residents and I look forward to seeing Northerners being informed on this major project. It is important that the remainder of the project goes smoothly in order to keep costs of both construction and borrowing in line. Residents have never been asked to carry the cost of this bridge, and they are not prepared to do so, Mr. Speaker. Mahsi cho.

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Menicoche. The honourable Member for Tu Nedhe, Mr. Beaulieu.

Application Of GNWT Policies On Seniors Residing With Extended Family
Members’ Statements

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe

Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker. [English translation not provided.]

Mr. Speaker, today I wish to talk about elders in Fort Resolution and Lutselk'e that have their adult children and adult grandchildren living with them. In a lot of cases these children are providing a service to the elders in the area of health care, home care and other basic services elders are no longer able to do.

Mr. Speaker, because of the support provided by the elders’ grandchildren and children, it essentially absolves the GNWT of their responsibilities. Many of these services, even things as simple as taking medication, are menial but cannot be done by the elder. Mr. Speaker, the costs associated with elders living at home to the GNWT can be fairly substantial. However, many of these costs can be averted by making it feasible for the adult children or grandchild to live with the elder.

Mr. Speaker, currently the GNWT has policies insofar as fuel subsidies, land leases and land tax exemptions for elders based on household income. If a live-in child has any sort of income at all, the elder will lose their fuel subsidy or will lose their lease or tax exemption.

Mr. Speaker, this simply does not work in Fort Resolution and Lutselk’e. With employment rates hovering around 40 percent in these communities, Mr. Speaker, a person cannot afford to refuse work that is available. But in doing so, the elder is at risk of losing their government support.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of simple real scenarios that can happen where the live-in adult or adult child or grandchild takes on some sort of short-term employment. They do this to better their situation and includes bettering the situation of an elder as well. However, Mr. Speaker, doing this

negatively impacts the GNWT benefits of the elder and is something that needs to be reviewed.

Mr. Speaker, with the current policies, the GNWT seems to promote a lower standard of living for elders in their own homes. Mr. Speaker, later today I will ask questions of the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment as it pertains to the seniors programs. Thank you.

Application Of GNWT Policies On Seniors Residing With Extended Family
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

David Ramsay Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My colleagues, especially the Premier and Minister of Transportation, are well aware of my questions of the Deh Cho Bridge Project at every turn since becoming a Member of this House in 2003. Mr. Speaker, as much as it might pain some people in this building, I am going to continue to question the project over the course of this special sitting of the House.

Mr. Speaker, during this sitting, I will be seeking clarification on a number of issues. The first is what exactly we have committed to as a government with Ruskin for the remaining work on the project. I want to know specifically when the contracts were signed and by whom they were signed. When were milestones reached on negotiations for the notice to award and the intent to award and the notice to proceed? What currently is the Government of the Northwest Territories’ legal authority over these contracts and can we avoid taking on the responsibility that these contracts entail?

Mr. Speaker, my belief is we continue to compound bad decisions with more bad decisions. If we are to take this project on lock, stock and barrel, then work should be stopped on this project. A complete and thorough audit has to be done of the work performed by the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation and contractors who have worked on this project. Before we rush into spending almost $100 million more, should we not take complete stock of where we have been and get assurances that the construction to date is of a quality and standard that would warrant us spending additional money? This seems only logical to me.

Why then have we rushed into and negotiated a sole-source contract when we know full well that others would have submitted bids? If we went to tender, perhaps even Ruskin may have gotten the bid.

Don’t we have an obligation to the taxpayers and the public to manage the public purse? I am left wondering why was the government so intent on a sole-source deal with Ruskin. It would seem to me that perhaps it was the easy way out. Ruskin was owed money. They are familiar with the project and

they know, Mr. Speaker, in which closets the skeletons are hung. The government would not have to answer questions from a new contractor.

Mr. Speaker, I have not wavered from my belief that the Deh Cho Bridge Project has got to be seen through to its completion. Given the history of the project, I just want to make sure that good…

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Mr. Ramsay, your time for your Member’s statement has expired.