This is page numbers 4719 - 4756 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 1:37 p.m.

---Prayer

Prayer
Prayer

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Good afternoon, colleagues. Welcome back to the Chamber. Item 2, Ministers’ statements. The honourable Minister of Health and Social Services, Ms. Lee.

Minister’s Statement 16-16(5): Supplementary Health Benefits
Ministers’ Statements

Range Lake

Sandy Lee Minister of Health and Social Services

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, as we begin our public meetings on supplementary health benefits, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the substance of the changes being proposed.

Mr. Speaker, we want to improve “ACCESS” to the program. Our proposed changes will expand access to a group of people in our population who are currently shut out or have limited access. This will ensure that access to supplementary health benefits is no longer determined by a specific condition or by age but by income level. This is the accepted practice across the country. The change will also mean that high income earners, people who can afford to contribute, will be asked to pay a percentage of the cost of the benefits.

Mr. Speaker, depending on the final determination of the income threshold, supplementary health benefits could be provided to between 1,700 and 2,300 people, primarily children, who currently have limited or no access. This would also mean we will no longer have to tolerate a situation where a single parent making $50,000 a year, with no employer benefits, has to go without dental benefits for their children while a single person, with no dependents, making $190,000 a year with third-party insurance, still get their dental coverage under this program. The existing program is exclusive, unfair and inequitable and it is time that we rectify this situation.

Mr. Speaker, the response to our public discussion paper has been highly productive. Our residents generally support the direction of this proposal but they would like to know how the changes would

impact them personally. Therefore, we will include in our public discussions going forward two options. The starting thresholds of $30,000 net income or $50,000 net income as defined by line 236 on the federal income tax form.

The number of people who will be covered at 100 percent and those who would have to pay a co-payment varies depending on net income and number of dependents. Moreover, unlike the previous proposal, benefits will not be eliminated when the income threshold is reached. Instead, residents will be asked to contribute a co-payment to their supplementary health benefit coverage. The co-payment will start at 20 percent and increase in 5 percent increments every 20,000 as net income increases.

This means a single person or couples who make $190,000 net income would still have access to the benefits, albeit with a co-payment, making this program one of the most robust in the country. In fact, Mr. Speaker, under the proposed changes, 55 to 75 percent of our non-aboriginal population will have 100 percent coverage in Supplementary Health Benefits Program. The remaining 25 to 45 percent of the population would pay a co-payment depending on their income level.

Mr. Speaker, this is not about reducing the basket of benefits. The program will continue to cover prescribed vision care, dental benefits and prescription drugs and supplies.

During last session, Members of this House passed a unanimous motion calling on the government to come up with an anti-poverty strategy. The changes being proposed under supplementary health benefits are a step forward in poverty reduction and addressing the cost of living issue in our Territory.

Mr. Speaker, the Supplementary Health Benefits Program has been reviewed for over 10 years because so many of our residents do not have full access to it. Let me be clear: doing nothing is not an option nor is it in the public interest. Expanding access without rectifying the inequity and unfairness in the program may be a quick fix and perhaps the easiest action to take, but it is not a good public policy. The changes proposed are going in the right direction in the most inclusive, fair and equitable manner.

Mr. Speaker, I urge everyone to seek out the information they need from reliable sources and to use the formal channels that have been provided for feedback. I would also urge everyone to attend public meetings on the proposed changes, which started yesterday in Fort Simpson and which will continue on to Hay River, Fort Smith, Norman Wells, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that we make these changes so that those who need this program will have access to them as soon as possible and not have to wait another 10 years of studying, reviewing and talking about them.

Mr. Speaker, with constructive and productive public discussion, this process will be able to conclude this spring. In coming weeks I look forward to continue our work with all Members of this House and the standing committee to implement the changes necessary to ensure this program is available to those who need it the most, regardless of specific conditions or age. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Minister’s Statement 16-16(5): Supplementary Health Benefits
Ministers’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

2010 Arctic Winter Games
Members’ Statements

David Krutko Mackenzie Delta

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the Arctic Winter Games were held in Grande Prairie, Alberta, March 6th to the 14th , in

which many athletes took part. I would like to mention the athletes in the Mackenzie Delta riding who came home with a record number of ulus.

The representation of the games from my region was 39 individuals who represent the region. Mr. Speaker, they took part in dog mushing, snowshoeing, snowshoe biathlon, Dene games, female hockey, cultural events, volleyball, indoor soccer and cross-country skiing. I would like to congratulate each and every one of these athletes and all the athletes in the Northwest Territories that took part in the Arctic Winter Games. They demonstrate their commitment and also fair play.

Mr. Speaker, the Arctic Winter Games gives our athletes in small communities an opportunity to participate at the regional, territorial and national level and represent the Territory. The success that is given to our athletes and, more importantly, our communities, is not only the success of the individual but the communities they come from. With the commitment, dedication, community volunteers, family members and the many hours of volunteers it takes to assist our athletes to get to these games, I would like to thank each and every one of the individuals who took the time to support

our athletes and the residents of the communities who assisted to ensure our athletes were able to take part in these games.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I would like to congratulate all of the athletes from the Mackenzie Delta who came home with gold, silver and bronze ulus and wish them well as they move into their future years of competition. Mahsi.

2010 Arctic Winter Games
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

Thank you, Mr. Krutko. The honourable Member for Sahtu, Mr. Yakeleya.

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

Norman Yakeleya Sahtu

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. People in the Northwest Territories have been dreaming about building a bridge over the Mackenzie River for the last 50 years. A bridge will provide year-round, reliable access to the North Slave and eventually down the Mackenzie Valley. Toll fees will provide revenues.

Every week, all year round, Buffalo Airways flies loads of freight, fresh food and mail up to the communities in the Sahtu from the Yellowknife Airport. All of that will cross the new bridge, so I know the new bridge will be good for the Sahtu.

In a year and a half we have fulfilled the dream of having a bridge. However, this is a bridge over troubled waters. The bridge has been delayed due to the need for a redesign of a portion of the bridge’s superstructure. The original construction contractor pulled out. The project management team was removed. Delays cost money and to cover the costs we are forced to pass a supplementary appropriation bill of $15 million. Given the delay, the lenders called the loan provided to the Deh Cho Bridge Corporation. The list goes on.

What have we learned from this experience? Have we learned that there must be caution when undertaking a public/private partnership? It seems that when things go sideways, always the GNWT alone is left accountable. Have we learned that it may not be wise to go forward with an innovative superstructure when a more economical, tested and true design exists? The project management team and engineering firm should be selected by a competitive process rather than sole sourced.

We must improve policies and practices to ensure that we do better in the future. In order to learn from this experience, I will be supporting a motion to have the Auditor General of Canada review the Deh Cho Bridge Project. What we learn should be reflected in the revision to the government’s financial and procurement policies or a new P3 policy.

All said and done, the Deh Cho Bridge is going to be a great achievement. It will be a bridge over troubled waters right now, but we will sort this out.

This generation and future generations will benefit from this bridge. It will open up the Mackenzie Valley to reduce the cost of living and to allow for responsible development.

We need to get going. Let’s get on with it and let’s build this bridge.

Deh Cho Bridge Project
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I made a Member’s statement with respect to the Taltson expansion and the importance of making decisions on a territorial resource that is in or for the public good. I followed that statement up with questions to the Premier and encouraged him to put the interests of the people of the Northwest Territories at the forefront of Cabinet decision-making on this project.

I strongly encouraged the Premier to work with Deze in the best interest of the people and, as a stakeholder, encourage them to consider alternate routes where long-term benefits are greater for the people. The Premier’s response, as presented in yesterday’s unedited Hansard, was, “alternate routes have been looked at by the Hydro Corporation and the Power Corporation.” He went further and indicated that, based on those reviews, “this project will not work. We will not be able to sell energy to the mines for an acceptable rate. They will not sign power purchase agreements for a cost higher than they’re able to develop it for in today’s environment.” This is a rather defeatist attitude and suggests that the only opportunity we have to make this work is to rely on the existing diamond mines.

I suggest that there are other opportunities. There are other mining development possibilities, and with access to local and reasonably priced power in the North Slave Geological Province we may find greater amounts of exploration and development, which is good for the entire Northwest Territories.

Further, the Premier must not fail to consider the advantages of linking existing systems by way of grids; grids which would open the possibility for exploration and development in areas which could access power from resources such as Snare Hydro where their current capacity is completely consumed by Yellowknife. This project has huge potential for all of the Northwest Territories. It must not be given away for short-term gain.

Related, I was concerned that the Premier discussed only one alternate route. Specifically, he said, according to yesterday’s Hansard, “Adding approximately $100 million-plus to the project by going around the west side of the lake would put that project in a place where it is uneconomical and

we have no project.” There are other alternatives. Yes, the western route is the most expensive, but other routes like the trans-island route, which has a projected cost of base plus $40 million, are not that much more and put power within reach of Yellowknife, the diamond mines, and other mining opportunities such as Avalon’s rare earth metal project north of Great Slave Lake. This cannot be ignored.

Regardless, once we have signed supp No. 2 later this week, the GNWT will have no room in its borrowing limit and this whole thing can’t go ahead unless a reasonable and responsible third-party partner is found. I encourage the Premier to refocus this project to find a third-party partner who, in addition to understanding the value of making a profit, understands the social importance.

I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement.

---Unanimous consent granted.

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

Glen Abernethy Great Slave

I encourage the Premier to refocus this project and find a third-party partner who, in addition to understanding the value of making a profit, understands the social importance of this project and that the people of the Northwest Territories who are stakeholders and owners of the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and the NWT Hydro Corporation, and that their desires and wishes must be heard and addressed as the Taltson expansion moves forward.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Later today I will be asking the Premier some questions based on my Member’s statement. Thank you.

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

Tom Beaulieu Tu Nedhe

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

Mr. Speaker, today I weigh in on the proposed Deze project. I realize we are just in the process of approving the Deh Cho Bridge costs by taking over the debt as the GNWT. Furthermore, the revenues that flow from the Deh Cho Bridge are largely predicated on the fuel haul to the diamond mines. Meanwhile, we are contemplating the Deze proposal, which will reduce the need for that fuel in those same mines. In addition to that, Mr. Speaker, I understand the route favoured by Deze is not acceptable to the Lutselk'e First Nations.

Mr. Speaker, I support the expansion of Taltson in order to provide more efficient clean energy to the diamond industry. However, Mr. Speaker, we need to look beyond just the diamond industry. Deze needs to look at an alternative route and they must look at the route that takes long-term users into

consideration. Mr. Speaker, a route that considers Avalon and the city of Yellowknife could allow the supply of hydro power through the Snare Hydro to the diamond mines by tying the Taltson into the Snare River grid.

Mr. Speaker, I’m no expert in this area, but I feel that Deze must give up on the route that goes through the Lutselk'e territory and look at alternatives as soon as possible. I firmly believe that the extra costs of the alternative route that I speak of will have a greater cost recovery potential in the long term. I believe that rare earths and the city of Yellowknife will be around long after the diamond industry runs their course.

Meanwhile, Mr. Speaker, when considering this proposal we must need to ensure that we act responsibly and act with due diligence and strive to take into account properly all of the various interests of all parties affected by this project and only move forward in a fair, open and transparent process. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

The Speaker Paul Delorey

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

Taltson Hydro Expansion Project
Members’ Statements

Bob Bromley Weledeh

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, earlier this month I made a statement on the Deze Corporation’s Taltson Hydro development and transmission routing to the diamond mines, suggesting that we might get far greater benefits from our $13-plus million investment by giving straightforward consideration to the public good.

Environmentally and socially sound economic development remains a priority of this government, and I believe this project needs a critical look to ensure that our public and our regional economies are well served by the work. I would like to see us sharpen our pencils and come up with new estimates of alternative routings to the current Reliance proposal, estimates that should be developed as if we really mean it.

Along with these estimates we need an analysis of what the broader range of benefits are that can accrue from the alternative routings. What is the value of finally having the Taltson and Snare grids linked into one system that runs through mineral rich territory, that serve larger communities currently depending to some degree on diesel power and which would allow the diamond mines to be serviced from Snare Hydro? What is the value to project proponents of adding very long-term customers at current or competitive rates?

In the NWT Hydro Strategy our first strategic goals are promoting economic development and diversification and aboriginal partnerships that serve communities and regional economic benefits. To my mind, linking our hydro systems into one

grid, a grid that focuses on communities and their environs is best served by routing of the Taltson transmission line that achieves that linkage. This is not to say that the system would not serve the diamond mines, but rather that it must also serve our larger goals and thus strive for long-term public benefits rather than just large and immediate profits for our private partners.

In our Hydro Strategy we state that our first underlying socio-economic goal for residents is to stabilize and reduce over time the energy component of the high cost of living. Focusing on alternative routing that actually links existing grids and complements community energy systems will directly serve this goal.

Mr. Speaker, on March 3rd , in response to my

questions, the Premier said, from unedited Hansard, “If we want to, as a government, go alternate routes, then let’s take a look at that.”

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the Premier up on his offer and go forward with him to take a critical look at the cost and benefits of alternative routing to the Taltson transmission line.

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

---Unanimous consent granted.